Rocky Marciano Vs. Muhammad Ali: Who Really Was ‘The Greatest’?

Rocky Marciano 'Beat' Muhammad Ali

Rocky Marciano vs. Muhammad Ali was a fight that never had the chance to happen in reality.

By the time Ali was hitting his stride, the original “Rock” was retired and over the hill. That said, the 49-0 record Marciano left the sport of boxing, which has never come close to being duplicated in the heavyweight division.

At 195 pounds, Rocky Marciano was closer to a light heavyweight, but he had the bulldog tenacity of any larger fighter.

When talk of “the Greatest” picked up steam circa 1969, boxing analysis was in its infancy. Many wondered if this brash young African-American heavyweight could stand a chance against the only man to retire unbeaten.

Enter a computer boxing tournament in which 16 of the greatest heavyweights of all time were placed against one another.

As the Sporting News details in their recent analysis of that now-almost-forgotten-if-not-for-Rocky Balboa event, it was the creation of Murray Woroner, a radio executive, who interviewed 250 boxing experts “to help him develop a fantasy radio boxing tournament matching 16 fighters from different eras,” SN‘s Arthur Weinstein writes.

The computer in use possessed only 20K of memory and was programmed to showcase each participant’s strengths, weaknesses, and a variety of fight scenarios.

Rocky Marciano won that tournament, besting Jack Dempsey for the championship, but many did not take this seriously because the tourney had Ali losing in the quarterfinals to Jim Jeffries, a fighter Ali would later describe as “history’s clumsiest, most slow-footed heavyweight.”

Ali brought a $1 million lawsuit against the founder of the tournament, but the suit never made it to trial because all the involved parties (save for Dempsey and Jeffries, of course) agreed to an unusual settlement.

Ali and Rocky Marciano agreed to stage a filmed simulation, professional wrestling-style. They “fought” between 70 and 75 rounds “in a blacked-out Miami gym, acting out various fight scenarios,” Weinstein writes, adding that there were various knockout scenarios.

Through both computer simulation and the sparring footage, Woroner was able to produce and theatrically release a “Super Fight,” which played to audiences in North America and Europe for one day only in 1970.

“Answering” the question once and for all — yeah right — Rocky Marciano took the fight via Round 13 knockout.

“That computer must have been made in Alabama,” Ali joked, making light of racial tensions that still existed in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement.

In Ali’s autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story, he admitted that both he and Rocky Marciano were uncomfortable with the outcome and the whole scenario.

“I saw myself on the ropes being destroyed by Marciano, in one of the ‘artistic’ endings few actors could equal,” Ali writes, continuing.

“But some people thought it was real. Some sat stone-still, some booed and yelled, some cried … I felt like I had disappointed millions all over the world. It left me ashamed of what I had been doing. I had gone over the country promoting the series as fair and accurate, especially the Marciano v Ali show.”

Considering where race relations were at that point in U.S. history, it’s easy to see why Ali “did the job” to Rocky Marciano (to put it in professional wrestling terms), but the outcome has left many to wonder.

Would Muhammad Ali have really lost that fight?

It isn’t something one could give a definitive answer to without the aid of a time machine. Ali would have been an odds-on favorite for certain. He outweighed the Rock by 20 pounds and had better muscle tone.

That said, Rocky Marciano proved to be impossible to knock out during his career, and he was a heavy hitter despite his size (as the 42 knockouts in 49 fights would indicate).

With Ali’s reach, he would have been a shoo-in for the 15-round decision, but the puncher’s chance could not be discounted. What do you think, readers?

Was Ali or Rocky Marciano the Greatest? Sound off in the comments section below.

[Image via YouTube]