LAS VEGAS — "He was a fighter, that's what he was," Archie Moore says of Rocky Marciano, the only heavyweight champion to retire unbeaten.
"There was only one Rocky Marciano."
But Moore feels he could have beaten "The Rock," and become the only light-heavyweight champion to move on to the heavyweight title, if Marciano had not gotten what Moore considered outside help the night of Sept. 21, 1955, at Yankee Stadium.
Next Saturday night, on the 30th anniversary of the Marciano-Moore match, Michael Spinks will try to do what Moore and eight others who held the light heavyweight title failed to do, when he challenges Larry Holmes at the Riviera Hotel.
Holmes, the International Boxing Federation champion who generally is considered the world's premier heavyweight, will be trying to match Marciano's 49-0 record.
For a few moments on that September night three decades ago it appeared Marciano might be beaten by 41-year-old Archie Moore, the "Old Mongoose."
Early in the second round, many of the 61,574 fans at the stadium were on their feet. Marciano was down.
"He (Moore) had hit him right if ever I saw a boxer hit right, with a classic brevity and conciseness," A.J. Liebling wrote in his account of the fight in his collection of boxing pieces, "The Sweet Science."
However, Moore, in a recent interview, did not recall the punch as being perfect.
As Marciano missed with a left hook, Moore "pulled my fight foot back and threw a right hand. But my right foot slipped. Therefore, I did not get all my power into the punch."
Marciano went down on his right knee with both gloves on the canvas. Obviously hurt, Marciano got up at "2," but referee Harry Kessler continued to count to "5," although the count was supposed to stop when a fighter got up.
"The referee was so amazed he began to count and counted to '5,"' Moore recalled. Marciano walked to the ropes, where, said Moore, "Rocky put his forearms on the top rope and gazed out apologetically."
"Strangely enough," Joseph C. Nichols wrote in the New York Times, "the ring-wise Moore . . . did not avail himself of the opportunity of springing at the puzzled champion."
"The referee saw me stepping toward Marciano, and the referee put his butt in my stomach and kept me off Marciano," Moore said.
"He grabbed Marciano's hands and wiped off his gloves while my corner yelled, 'Hit him, hit him.' All of a sudden, Kessler jerked his (Marciano's) hands, and Marciano's head jerked and brought him to.
"I never forgave Kessler and I won't until I die."
Moore cut Marciano beside the left eye in the third round, but Marciano's strength, aggressiveness and superb physical conditioning began to come to the fore.
Marciano knocked down Moore twice in the sixth round, and the bell saved the challenger at "6" in the eighth. Moore became Marciano's 43rd knockout victim at 1:19 of the ninth.
Afterward, Marciano was asked about rumors of his retirement.
"Yeah, I've given it some thought," Everett M. Skeehan quotes the champion as saying in his 1977 "Rocky Maricano: Biography of a First Son." "My family would like it. My mother and father have been after me to retire. But there's nothing definite."
On Apil 27, 1956, Rocky Marciano became the only heavyweight champion to retire without having lost. On Aug. 31, 1969, on the eve of his 46th birthday, he was killed in the crash of a small airplane near Newton, Iowa.
Moore fought 43 more times, including four defenses of the light heavyweight title and a second bid for the heavyweight championship.
On Nov. 30, 1956, Moore was knocked out in the fifth round by Floyd Patterson at Chicago Stadium in a fight for the title made vacant by Marciano's retirement.
"Everything went wrong," Moore said. "He was just too fast."
At age 49, Moore knocked out Mike DiBiase in the third round in his last fight on March 15, 1963, at Phoenix. His record was 199-26-8, with 145 knockouts.