At about 8:30 on the morning of September 24,
1952, I woke up in a hotel room in Philadelphia.
You know how it is when you wake up in a
strange place, and at first you don't know where
"Something nice happened to me," I thought
to myself, and then I remembered. "That's right.
Last night I won the heavyweight championship
of the world."
When I tried to turn it seemed like my whole
body was sore. I had cuts that had been stitched
over both eyes and another on the top of my
head, but I was happy as I think anybody can
be. Jersey Joe Walcott had given me the tough-
est fight I'd ever had, but I'd knocked him out in
the thirteenth round, and I was heavyweight
champion of the world.
I've had the title now for almost three years.
In that time I've found out that, in most ways,
it's everything you think it's going to be, and in
other ways it's very different.
It's easy for me to remember what I thought
it would be like to be champion, because I can
remember the first night I ever thought I had a
chance. On December 19, 1949, I had Phil Mus-
cato down five times and knocked him out in
five rounds in Providence. This was my twenty-
fourth win without a loss as a pro and my twenty-
second knockout, and after the fight I drove back
to Brockton, like I always did after my Provi-
dence fights, with my pals Ali Colombo and
Nicky Sylvester and Snap Tartarlia.
It was a nice night, clear and cold, but as
as I got into the car I felt something was differ-
ent. Usually on the way home after the fight we
laughed and kidded a lot, but this night every-
body was very serious.
"You know, Rock," one of the guys said while
we were driving along, "you haven't got very far
to go now."
I said, "To go where?"
"For the title," one of the others said.
"Ah," I said. "Take it easy."
"No," somebody said. "Figure it out. About
five good wins and you can be on top of the
Then we started figuring who I'd have to get
by _ Roland LaStarza, Rex Layne, Joe Louis, if
he made a comeback, Jersey Joe Walcott and
Ezzard Charles _ and when they dropped me off
at my house and I went to bed I couldn't sleep.
I was a kid who never dreamed he could be
heavyweight champion. I wanted to be a major-
league catcher, but then I threw my arm out and
I started to fight just to help my Pop support the
family. Now I got to thinking what it would be
like if I could be champion.
I remember the night Primo Carnera won
the title from Jack Sharkey. I was nine years old
at the time, and in the Italian section of Brock-
ton they had big bonfires burning and they sang
and shouted around them almost all night long.
I could remember those fires in the James Edgar
playground right across the street from our house
and I figured that gee, if I could win the title, I'd
come back to Brockton and I'd throw a big
party for the whole town and every kid would
be invited and get an expensive gift.
Right after he won the title Carnera came to
Brockton to referee at the old Arena that was
across Pleasant Street from the Brockton Hospi-
tal. My uncle, John Piccento, took me that night
to see him, and on the way out Carnera walked
right by us and I reached out and I touched his
"I saw Carnera and I touched him," I told my
Pop when I got home. "I really did."
"How big is he?" my Pop asked me.
"Bigger than this ceiling," I said, "and you
should see how big his hands are."
The year before I licked Muscato and was
lying there thinking about what it might be like
to be champion of the world I had met Joe
Louis for the first time. He was boxing an ex-
hibition with Arturo Godoy in Philadelphia, and
I was fighting Gilly Ferron on the card. We were
all in the dressing room for the weigh-in when
Joe came in.
"Say, Joe," my manager, Al Weill, said, "I
you to shake the hands with my heavyweight."
Joe stuck out his hand and we shook. He
looked like a mountain, and he had on a big,
beautiful overcoat and a mohair hat, light-brown
with a nice feather in it. I figured that hat alone
must have cost fifty dollars, and now I got to
thinking about the money he must have made.
When Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in
2 minutes and 4 seconds in their second fight,
Ali Colombo and I were talking about all that
dough. We were just kids talking, but it said in
the paper that, figuring the purse Louis got for
the fight, he made over $150,000 a minute,
which is more than the President of the United
States gets paid in a year.
I got to imagining now what it would mean to
have money like that, not just for the clothes, but
the security and what I could do for my family
and my friends and others. I thought that boy,
when you're the heavyweight champion of the
world it means you can lick any man in the world,
and wherever you go in the world everything
must stop and what influence you have.
There were a lot of things I didn't know then
that I know now that I'm champion. I didn't
know that my life would be threatened a couple
of times. I didn't know that, although you do
make a lot of money, it isn't what people think
it is, expenses and taxes being what they are, and
that you can't begin to do the things with it that
you dreamed about. I didn't know that being
heavyweight champion of the world is almost a
full-time job, and that the influence you have on
people is sometimes so strong that it worries you
and can even bring tears to your eyes.
After I knocked out Joe Louis, for example,
my mother got a letter that said that, if I came
home to Brockton for the celebration that was
planned, I'd be shot. Then, just before my first
fight with Charles last June, my folks got another
note from a man who said he was a Charles
rooter and that if I beat Charles I'd be killed,
because Charles is a gentleman and I'm a bully.
The Brockton police found the first letter was
written by a thirteen-year-old girl. I don't know,
or care, who wrote the second one, but although
letters like that don't worry me, they worry my
After that first letter my sisters had to take
to Dr. Rocco Del Colliano, in Brockton, and now
every time I fight he picks her up at the house
and drives her around all evening until the fight
is over. I never imagined I'd put my family
through anything like that, because I never real-
ized how many people's lives are tied up in a
I had a friend in Brockton named Miles Demp-
sey, and he was my first real fan. He used to go
to all my amateur fights, and he was the first guy
who asked me to arrange for him to buy good
seats when I started to fight pro. During the ex-
citement of the sixth round of that June fight
with Charles he died at ringside of a heart attack.
In my mind this is a part of that fight.
When you're the heavyweight champion the
money, of course, is the big thing you're going
for, because that's why you become a fighter in
the first place. Before I started fighting, the most
I ever made was $1.25 an hour as a manual
laborer. When I retire, if I'm lucky, I should
never have to worry about money again, but it
isn't what you think it is, and your security is
still a problem.
Last year, for example, I fought Charles twice.
At the end of the year, after expenses and taxes,
I came out with a lot less than $100,000. When
I fight twice in a year I don't figure to net more
than about $15,000 out of the second fight, and
that's not a lot when you've only got four or five
more years of fighting and when, each time you
go into the ring, you're risking the heavyweight
championship of the world.
I'm not complaining, because I couldn't make
that kind of money doing any other thing, and
when you come from a poor family you know
it's a privilege to pay taxes. It's just that you feel
that other people don't understand.
I'll never, you see, be able to afford that big
party for all the kids in Brockton. That's not im-
portant, just kind of a foolish dream, but the
important thing is that you can't do all you want
for charities and churches and just good people,
and you have a feeling that they go away not
liking you because of it. You want to be liked by
everybody, not just for yourself, but because
when you're heavyweight champion of the world
you represent boxing and boxing did everything
There will be a church that needs $10,000 or a
hospital that needs that much to help build a
new ward. I'll get a letter from a woman I don't
even know but she'll write that if I'd give her
$1,500 her little boy could be made well again.
How do you think I feel?
They run at you, too, with all kinds of
schemes, but that's only a nuisance, and not like
the others. There are people who want me to sign
notes for them or loan them money or sponsor
them on singing or acting careers. One guy
wanted to start a band, and another I had never
heard of wanted me to go halves with him in a
night club in Buffalo.
They tried to sell me uranium and copper
and oil wells, a dairy and an oil route. Any sales-
man near Brockton, where I'm home only about
two months a year, tries to get me to buy what-
ever he's handling, and it might be a carving
machine or a salad mixer, books, furniture, a
car or a horse.
Some of the things you do with your money
don't pan out the way you dreamed, either. I
always said that, if I became champion, one of
the first things I'd do would be to send my Mom
and Pop back to their home towns in Italy, and
I used to think a lot about what a great time that
would be for them.