, born Thomas Rocco Barbella
in New York City
– May 22
), was an American boxer
. Graziano was considered one of the greatest knockout artists in boxing history, often displaying the capacity to take his opponent out with a single punch. He was the son of a boxer, known as 'Fighting Nick Bob', and was born in Brooklyn, he later moved to "Little Italy," or New Yorks lower East Side. He grew up as a street-fighter and learned to look after himself before he could read or write. He spent years of his life in Reform School, Jail, and Catholic Protectorys'.Graziano, Rocky
; Rowland Barber (1955). Some Body Up There Likes Me
. New York: Simon And Schuster..
Starting at the Age of 3, Rocco's father would make him and his brother Joe (who was three years older) fight almost every night in boxing gloves. All the washed up boxers from around the neighborhood would go to the Barballa's house to drink and watch the two brothers fight. The fights usually ended badly for Rocco, as he would get hit more and more, he would get angrier and angrier, usually he would fall asleep from getting punch or sheer tiredness. The only person in Rocco's life to feel any sort of sympathy for him was his mother, she believed Rocco was here lucky child as he was born on the first day of the New Year. As it turned out though, Rocky was just a scoundrel and wild child.
Instead of going to school he would skip out and run around the city, stealing food, items, and money. Usually he would hide in the shadows of stoops, or door ways around the areas of Italian Bakeries. When the kids came out with their Italian Bread dipped in Olive Oil he would punch them in the mouth steal their bread, and then send them home crying to their mothers. He often found himself in Children's Court with his mother by his side always bailing him out of trouble.
At the age of eight Rocco went to live with his grandmother and grandfather on Second Avenue near Houston Street. There Rocky Bob Barbella met his first friend, Houdini.(Houdini A.K.A. Sam Villa, got his name for "disappears when work or trouble around.")Houdini being Rocky's first friend also became his second hand man to everything. Houdini introduced Rocky to the pool hall among other new games on the East Side such as Stick Ball, Football, and hand ball. Around this time Rocky saw kids on the street riding scooters, went up to a kid and told him to give him the scooter, the other kid denied him. Rocky enraged went a couple blocks up found another kid, punched him in the face, and came back down to where the other kids were. He sped down the street and devised inside his head to do a cool spinning stop, but before he was able to finish the stop he was hit by a car which broke his leg and sent him to the hospital for two months.
When Rocky gets out of jail, him and Houdini start robbing gum machines in the subways of New York as their making their round trip one day Rocky forgets to check a utility closet and they're caught stealing from the machine when a detective bursts out of the door. Rocky is sent to Children's court and is sentenced to probation.
One morning he wakes up early one morning and steals fifty cent's from his grandfather. When he comes home later that day his grandfather knows he stole the money.
As his grandfather advances on Rocky with a shaving block, Rocky jumps out the window and runs down the fire escape, then continues to run to Brooklyn to his old house. There he tells his father what had happened and is beaten anyway since he didn't let his grandfather do it.
He spends the next couple days at his old house. He see's his brother playing in the street one day and goes to steal his brother a bicycle. He returns with a bicycle and gives it to his brother, his brother rides up towards the Jew Town. As his brother rides away he forgets to remind him that the bike was stolen from that part of town. About three hours later a cop goes to Rocky's house and announces that Joe is being held at the police station on a count of theft of a bike. Rocky run's over to the station and confesses to the stealing of the bike. But his confession did nothing as his brother already ratted on him.
Rocky attends a court meeting and his old record of not going to school and probation records catch up with him. He is sent to a Catholic Protectory. There he will spend three terms, one as a child at age 11, age 14, and age 16.Graziano, Rocky; Rowland Barber (1955). Some Body Up There Likes Me. New York: Simon And Schuster..
Eddie Coco is the main reason Rocky started Amateur Boxing. Rocky heard from a couple of his friends about a tournament going on and Gold Medal for the winner, he decided he would enter the tournament. Rocky entered the tournament under the name of "Joe Giuliani." He fought four matches and ended up winning the AAU New York Metropolitan Boxing competition (1939). He sold the gold medal for $10 and decided that boxing wasn't a good way to make cash and that stealing and ripping apart houses was a better idea, although trainers who saw him fight thought he could make a real mark on boxing.
A couple weeks into Amateur fighting he is picked up on stealing from a school. he goes to Coxackie, where he spends three weeks, then he goes on to the NYC Reformatory where he spends 5 months.
After Rocky gets out of the Reformatory he heads back to the gym to make money, there he meets Eddie Cocco who starts his professional career. He enters the ring under the name of Robert Barber, a couple weeks down the road when he's making good money he lends out a car and his friends Rob a couple of bookies and shoot them in the chest. Rocky is charged with probation violation and sent back to Reform School. There he starts a minor riot between the "East Side Gang," and the "Blacks." He is sent to Rikers. When Rocky get's out of jail he is approached by the military and told he has to join. Rocky goes A.W.O.L in the Military by punching a Lieutenant. He escapes from Fort Dix in New Jersey and starts his real boxing career under the name of "Rocky Graziano."
Graziano was world boxing champion, and he fought Tony Zale
in one of boxing's most storied rivalries ever. He also fought Sugar Ray Robinson
, losing by early knockout in three rounds. In his early days, he fought Mickey Caderelli
. He is most famous for his three title bouts with Tony Zale, all for the middleweight title.
In 1948 the National Boxing Association
indefinitely suspended Graziano in all parts of the world under NBA supervision, announced President Abe Green
, following similar action by the California State Athletic Commission
. This was due to Graziano's "running out" on a scheduled Dec. 1 bout with Fred Apostoli
. The suspension covered all of the American states, Great Britain, the European Boxing Federation, Cuba, Mexico, and Canada. Almost two years earlier, Graziano had been suspended by the NYSAC
for failure to report an alleged bribe attempt. Boxing promoter Ralph Tribuani
got Graziano a license in Delaware, where the allegations were perceived as ridiculous. This led to the reinstatement of Graziano by both the NBA and NYSAC and Rocky’s return to prosperity.
In 1950, he ended the career of the boxer Pete Mead, a native of Arkansas, with victory in the third round.
Post Boxing Career
After his retirement from boxing, he became a well-known television
comedian, participating in the Beerhat Mcfly Show
for a number of years, and co-hosting a short-lived series titled The Henny and Rocky Show
with famous comedian Henny Youngman
. He was also a semi-regular on the Martha Raye Show,
portraying Martha's "boyfriend." He portrayed Packy, an ex-boxer, in the 1967 Frank Sinatra film "Tony Rome
In his retirement, Graziano dabbled in painting and developed an admiration for the work of Pablo Picasso.
Paul Newman portrayed him in the 1956 film Somebody Up There Likes Me as having an abusive childhood and criminal background, using boxing as an outlet for his violent behavior.
- Graziano was the son of Fighting Nick Bob, who had a brief boxing career.
- Bert Sugar wrote in his book "The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time": "Graziano was raised on the lower East Side where both sides of the tracks were wrong." He overcame coming from a disadvantaged background, to rise to the top of the ring and entertainment world.
- He died from cardiopulmonary failure on May 22, 1990 in New York City.