In the sixth round Ezz made a bloody hash of Rocky's nose, a strange, unsightly ripping of flesh that poured blood in a messy flow. It was just the sort of wound that a sharp-jabbing, right-crossing Charles could have exploited, for if Rocky ever blows one it will be on cuts that are widened and deepened by a sharp-shooter. But Ezz was all out of ammunition.
A New York Times literary critic who occasionally doubles as a boxing observer invoked his literary heroes to describe his fistic heroes in borrowing from a celebrated Hemingway-Fitzgerald exchange to define Marciano and his camp as speaking with the authority of success while Charles's spoke with the authority of failure. Now in the sixth round Rocky was even bleeding with the authority of success and Charles was unable to press his advantage because that punishing second round made it painfully and finally tediously clear that his motions were directed by the authority of failure.
In the eighth round Rocky's face came apart a little more as Charles managed to tear open the scar tissue over Rocky's left eye, a memento of their primeval battle in June. Rocky's heart, however, remained in one piece. He tore after Ezzard like a Dempsey—or maybe, since he has truly come into his own, like a Marciano, a now familiarly terrible figure, a champion out of the ballads in his ability to remain bloody and unbowed. Charles was down a second time, on his hands and knees as if in unconscious prayer for mercy. Mercy is a word left out of Rocky's fighting vocabulary. He raked the weary ghost of a better Charles with lefts and rights until the hapless and now witless former champion sagged back onto the canvas in a position of abject prayer. There was a wistful, faraway look on his dark, finely made face as Referee Al Berl reached the count of nine. He was up at "10" but a fraction of a second too late, recalling Walcott's tardy ascent in his farcical Chicago one-rounder. The doubting Thomases and Jimmys of the press row were of the opinion that Ezzard had chosen to sit this one out, surrendering pride to discretion in the manner made infamous by Maxie the Baer, the song and dance man, who included himself out in his fourth round with Louis. Boxing is a cruel sport and it makes inexorable demands of its professionals. Just as a Prussian duelist must not flick an eye when his face is laid open, so a prize fighter must fight on until he can no longer rise or lift an arm. Anything less brands him as a bum who should be in wrestling or some gentler endeavor. In Ezzard's case it may be more complicated than the harsh, quick verdict of cowardice. The psychoanalysts, who seem to get into everything these days and might as well be dragged in here, probably would describe Ezzard's hesitation to rise as a June-17 trauma. Or you might say that Ezz is not so totally committed to what he is doing as is the champion.
Their dressing rooms after the fight provided an ironic contrast. Unlike the post-battle interviews in June when a gallant, disfigured Charles had answered in tortured whispers, this unmarked Charles chatted cheerfully with the press and when he dressed he was a natty, smiling figure in his dark-blue silk suit, his blue sport shirt and his fedora worn at a smart angle. He was up at ten, he said, but if he was feeling any deep resentment at not having been allowed the privilege of further punishment, he hid it convincingly. He was smiling like a winner, perhaps in anticipation of the $90,000 he'll share with Managers Jake Mintz and Tom Tannas, representing a net 20% (as against 40% for Rocky) of the disappointing, weather-damaged $350,000 gate plus $160,000 from radio-TV. The prospect of this bundle did not affect the gloom of Mintz and Tannas, nor Corner Men Jimmy Brown and the veteran Izzy Kline, who were unable to reflect Ezzard's incongruously sunny spirit.
"I wouldn't say Ezz quit," a knowing old-timer summed it up in the dressing room while Charles was holding court with the reporters. "Sure he was hit good and hurt to the body where it don't show. But I will say this, I've seen some fighters get up better."
Over in Marciano's dressing room the big winner looked like a loser. His nose had been split out grotesquely and may require plastic surgery. Manager Al Weill was hovering over him like an anxious father while Rocky's actual father, a simple, friendly little immigrant Italian shoemaker from Brockton, Mass., waited nearby.
HE CHOPS YOU DOWN
Rocky may be a crude champion, missing plenty and easy to hit, but he's a champion in the classic tradition. Like Joe Louis he has innate taste and graciousness. As is often true of fighters, his ring manners, which are not too couth, have nothing to do with his social manners, which are gentle and warm-hearted.
But in the ring he'll take the heart out of the current crop of heavyweights, just as he removed it in his crude surgical operation on Ezzard Charles. Dempsey fought you as if he had just caught you with your hand in his pocket. Tunney stabbed and sliced you like a fencing master. Louis was an executioner setting you up for the hangman's trap with decisive hand movements sometimes quicker than the eye. Rocky chops you down like a tree, with an ax swung by a powerful if somewhat inaccurate woodsman. If he misses he just swings again, always taking it out on the trunk of his opponent. He chops a deeper and deeper wedge into his man until the victim falls of his own top-heavy weight, as Ezz went timbering back into the ranks of ex-champions and ex-challengers who had nothing left for the fatal second try.