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In Nat Fleischer's future encyclopedias of swat you will find that Ezzard Charles fought Rocky Marciano twice, first on June 17 and again September 17, but the 35,000 who waited out the rain for two days to see the heavyweight title match finally get off last Friday night are not to be fooled by technicalities. They will tell you that Charles fought Rocky only once, and that was in his agonizing, pain-resistant effort three months ago. The 185�-pound Charles who dared to trade punches with the soft-spoken, hardhitting Champion of the World had the same name and bore some physical resemblance to the passive 192�-pound challenger of last Friday evening. But there similarity ends. In June, Charles the Bold was still in there with the rough and ready Rocky at the end of 15 livid, vivid rounds. Last Friday, Charles the Tender hesitated and lost in less than 24 minutes of indifferent fighting, as Marciano, a pocket-sized Jeffries who bleeds and keeps coming, won as he pleased in an eight-round anticlimax to the show of courage this pair put on in the same Yankee Stadium before a larger audience in June.
Henry James, that elegant man of letters, wasn't in the house last Friday evening, and indeed, as he would say, he would have cringed at the thought of so brutal a spectacle as prize fighting, but he once said something relevant to Charles's half-hearted effort to become the first of eight ex-champions to win it all back. "A second chance," said James, "that's the delusion, there never was but one." After a pleasing first round in which the aging (33) Ezz outboxed the slugger-champion, Charles succumbed like a man who agreed with James's disparagement of second chances. As did Conn in his second-time around with Louis, like Schmeling in his rematch with Joe, and Walcott in his one-round fiasco with Marciano a year ago, Charles was merely going through the motions in this second chance at Marciano.
THE LOOK OF DEFEAT
He was still boxing with some confidence in the second round when Rocky hit Ezz a terrible punch under the heart. The handsome, ebony-skinned, introverted challenger took an inadvertent half step backward. A different look came into his eyes. It wasn't fear that front-rowers read there so much as defeat. "Oh my God," you could almost hear him saying to himself, "now I remember what it was like in June. My head swollen out of itself like an overblown balloon. My eyes lost somewhere in the welted flesh. That frightful hematoma in my cheek. Oh God, now I remember. If I'm not careful it will happen again. My mother will weep when she sees me. A man could even get killed as I once killed poor Sam Baroudi. Or maimed for life like young Carmine Vingo after this same rough-tough Rocky got through with him."
Not as clear as all that, of course, but Charles, a sensitive man who talks to himself without moving his lips, felt more than a single punch as he shuddered under that blow to the heart. He felt: I can't win, I was lying to myself with all the brave talk about learning from the first fight and being able to punch harder with the extra pounds and figuring to improve more than Rocky because he's always the same, just a crude, awkward swinger. All those things I told the reporters with an easy smile. But this Rocky has improved. He's hurting me early this time. Last time my ticket to Painville wasn't punched until the sixth round when I was five big rounds in front. And this is only the second round and—Ezz was down, chopped to the canvas with a series of vicious rights.
THE ATTACK PHASE—ABANDONED
He was up at the count of two but the fight was out of him. He wasn't fighting to win now as he was in the first four minutes. He was running for cover. Backing away. Gone was the careful strategy talked out week after week with Trainer Jimmy Brown and Advisor Izzy Kline, with Managers Jake Mintz and Tom Tannas. The attack phase of the operation was already abandoned and panic took over from plan. It was a disorderly retreat, from Marciano instead of Moscow.
There were six more rounds but they were like a superfluous epilogue X'd out of a play before it's brought to New York. The Charles of June who stood up under the bone crushers in one of the memorable modern exhibitions of stamina and the sponging up of pain, that worthy suddenly had departed the premises and in his place was a more familiar Charles, the Charles of the spiritless road shows with that old trouper Jersey Joe, Charles the Ferdinand who wished they would open the gate because he really didn't want to hurt anybody and he didn't want anybody to hurt him.
A CHAMPION OUT OF BALLADS