Rocky Marciano was one of the greatest boxers of all time, finishing with a 49-0 record. His second to last fight was on May 16, 1955 against Don Cockell. Taking place in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, no one knew that Marciano was so close to retirement, nor did they know much about Don Cockell. What took place on that cold spring night of 1955 has often been viewed as a slaughter, but there is more to the story than a simple nine round demolition. This is their story.
Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born on Septemer 1, 1923 in Brocton, Massachusetts. Born to Italian immigrants, Marciano trained with homemade weights and a stuffed mailbag used as a heavy bag when he was young. After dropping out of school in the 10th grade, Marciano was drafted into the US Army in 1943 where he began his amateur career.
He went 8-4 as an amateur and began fighting professionally in 1948. By 1952, he had defeated Jersey Joe Wilcott for the heavy weight title and had changed his name to “Rocky Marciano”. By May 16, 1955, Marciano had defended his title four times and was looking at retirement.
Donald John Cockell was born on September 22, 1928 in Balham, London, England. Raised by a single mother, Cockell became a blacksmith, developing a strong physique which would serve him well in the world of prize fighting. He began boxing in the fairgrounds and became a professional in 1946. In his first 25 professional bouts, Cockell went 22-3.
Along the way, he decided to pursue fighting in the heavy weight division, having spent the early part of his career as a light heavy weight. Since he also had a thyroid issue, he struggled to manage his overactive thyroid while making weight. As a result, he looked sluggish in the ring and for the rest of his career he would be ridiculed by the media as a man who didn’t give his best effort in the ring due to how he looked.
His first fight in America was on August 7, 1953 in Sick’s Stadium in Seattle, Washington against Harry Matthews. After defeating Matthews, Cockell became known in America as a potential contender for the heavy weight title. After five more wins, Cockell’s record stood at 66 wins and 11 losses before his match against an undefeated Rocky Marciano.
Going into the fight as a 10-1 underdog against the heavy weight champion, Don Cockell knew that he would have to be nearly perfect in order to defeat the tenacious Marciano. He began the fight by going after Marciano’s chin and nose. When it became clear that both of those body parts would hold up, Cockell reverted to trying to outbox Marciano, an ill-fated decision. Many people thought Cockell would only last until the fifth or sixth round, but he proved them wrong. Round after round he stood his ground, taking the ferocious punishment that the champ was unleashing upon the challenger.
Cockell’s best round was in the second when he scored a slight edge over Marciano. But after that round, the fight got uglier and uglier as Cockell continued to absorb the blows that Marciano rained upon him. In the eighth round, Don Cockell was knocked down but managed to get up. It was the beginning of the end for him. Within the first minute of the ninth round, Rocky Marciano knocked Don Cockell down twice. The referee stepped in to protect Cockell from further punishment, awarding Marciano a technical knockout.
After the fight, both fighters were towards the end of their careers. Rocky Marciano fought his last bout in September of that same year against Archie Moore in Yankee Stadium. He retired with a perfect 49-0 record. On August 31, 1969, Rocky Marciano died in a plane crash at the age of 45.
Don Cockell fought two more bouts, losing both, before retiring in April of 1956; owning a record of 66 wins, 38 knockouts and 14 losses with one draw. Since retiring as a boxer, Cockell bounced around from one job to the next. He eventually settled in as a blacksmith in the machine shops at the London Underground Lillie Bridge Depot. He passed away from cancer on July 18, 1983.