The absence of flair, physical and social, was hardly a shortcoming during those times. Rocky was a straightforward champion, genuinely, and the toast of his nation, which gathered excitedly about their radios on June 17, 1954.
The lucky ones—some 47,000—had tickets to see him defend against former champ Ezzard Charles at Yankee Stadium that night. Although the nation was preoccupied with the fight, the days of million-dollar gates were long since over, thanks to the easy alternatives of TV and radio. (Lesser fights were saturating the country on regularly scheduled network broadcasts, virtually the only sport being shown nationally.)
Charles was the better boxer—almost any fighter was—but nobody was better prepared than the champion. Rocky, not one to rest on his laurels, had essentially been training for this fight for almost seven months. And that was a good thing because Charles would test him as no other fighter ever had.
Charles was scoring early in the bout and, in the fourth round, struck Rocky with a lacerating right hand that produced so much gore that the Police Gazette would later show Rocky's bleeding mug on its cover, with the headline WHEN TO STOP A FIGHT!
Again, though, Rocky would come back with the imperturbable violence of his heavy hands, settling for a decision this time. Of course, who had doubted his cumulative effect? Victory, however narrow, was the only possible result for so honest a workman in these simple times. Effort was rewarded, a nation reassured that it had selected the correct traits to worship after all. Now that we were a country of ringsiders, it was important to have such reliable displays of dignity. Marciano, whose calm courage would resonate throughout this optimistic land, had done it again.
Back in Brockton, the townspeople scrambled to collect on their bets.