HEAVYWEIGHT greats risking their health and legacies in ill-advised comeback fights may feel like a modern phenomenon, but back in 1966, word had it that Rocky Marciano was set to risk his perfect 49-0 record with a ring return at age 43. Although Rocky would have been 15 years younger than Holyfield was for his disastrous exhibition bout last month, suggestions of the Rock re-entering the ring raised more than a few eyebrows.
“Talk of Rocky Marciano planning a comeback is ridiculous,” thundered BN reader Joseph Simon on our letters page. “Does Marciano, at the age of 43, seriously believe he can beat any top contender, let alone Clay? He is supposed to have had three private fights and forced all three into retirement. If this is true, it still wouldn’t mean anything because I believe two of the boxers to be Wayne Bethea and Bob Foster. Both second-raters. Marciano was the best of his day and I hope he doesn’t dent his image by choosing to follow Jim Jeffries.”
While Mr Simon’s assessment of Foster was wildly wrong (despite failing to make the grade at heavyweight, Bob would become an all-time light-heavy great), and his use of Clay (instead of Ali) two years out of date, it is hard to argue with his views on a Marciano comeback 11 years after Rocky’s last fight. Thankfully, the comeback never happened, although a virtual comeback of sorts occurred when Marciano and Ali met in a gym in 1969, to act out moves for a fantasy fight whose outcome would be determined by a computer. The result remained a strict secret until the film’s cinematic release. The so-called “Super Fight” was screened in 1970, when US and Canadian audiences saw Marciano KO Ali in the 13th round. How this outcome was decided is unclear, but tragically Rocky was not alive to see it. He had died in a plane crash the previous year, aged 45.
On the domestic front, in that week in 1966 there were several notables in action. At London’s Anglo-American Sporting Club on October 17, Ayr’s Evan Armstrong, the reigning Scottish bantamweight champion, showed his potential as a threat to British titlist Walter McGowan by the way he handled Nigeria’s Orizu Obilaso, who retired in three. “If [Armstrong] can maintain his strength at the bantam limit and tighten his defence, he could trouble most of the leading men in Europe,” wrote BN’s reporter. Evan would challenge unsuccessfully for Alan Rudkin’s British crown in June 1969, then captured the featherweight title with a 12th-round KO of Jimmy Revie in July 1971. He beat José Legrá for European feather honours the following February, and won a Lonsdale Belt outright.
Also fighting in London that evening, rising lightweight Ken Buchanan made it 14 straight wins as a pro, outscoring Brazil’s Antonio Paiva over 10 rounds at the NSC. Remarking on Buchanan’s development, BN noted: “From being a versatile all-round fighter with a useful offensive right-hand punch, the Scot has been turned into almost a carbon copy of his stablemate, Howard Winstone.” British, European and world title glory lay ahead for Ken, but he wasn’t the only future titlist on the bill.
There was also a six-rounder between Willie Turkington of Belfast and Bunny Sterling of St Pancras. Turkington outpointed Bunny to hand the London-based Jamaican his second defeat in two pro bouts. Sterling would lose his third fight as well, before mounting a remarkable career turnaround. In 1968, he was crowned Southern Area middleweight king, and in 1970 became the first immigrant British titlist since the BBBofC’s formation. He would win a Lonsdale Belt outright, plus the European crown.