Born Thomas Rocco Barbella this all-time great middleweight champion grew up a juvenile delinquent and got pinched for stealing things that began with the letter “A” like a radio, a watch, a car, a wallet or a purse. A true anti-authoritarian, Barbella entered the armed forces to avoid jail time but was dishonorably discharged for striking an officer. Barbella started boxing under the name of his sister’s boyfriend, Rocky Graziano to avoid his own past. As Graziano would say years later “turns out he had longer rap sheet than I did!”
Graziano’s blend of powerful punches, freakish durability and raw, relentless pressure were the perfect foil to the classic boxing expertise of the Man of Steel, Tony Zale and the two middleweights fought a classic three bout series.
Graziano didn’t have much education; he left school on account of pneumonia, not because he had it, because he couldn’t spell it. But Graziano’s charisma propelled into a lucrative career in tv and commercials after he left the ring and made more there in tinsel town than he ever did in the squared circle.
Rocky Graziano died in 1990 and was inducted in to the IBHOF in 1991.