Rocco Francis Marchegiano
Rocco Francis Marchegiano, aka Rocky Marciano, started his boxing career in earnest while serving in the Army during WWII, later made his debut as a heavyweight boxer on March 17, 1947, with a third-round knockout of Lee Epperson and just kept knocking the snot out of guys.
On September 23, 1952, he laid out Jersey Joe Walcott in the thirteenth round to secure the heavyweight title and went on the defend it six times--against Walcott, Roland La Starza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell and Archie Moore--before hanging up his gloves for good following his bout against Moore, a ninth-round knockout on September 21, 1955, at Yankee Stadium. He announced his retirement six months later, on April 27, 1956, at the age of 31.
"I didn't get hurt physically while fighting," Marciano said at the time. "My physical condition has nothing to do with my retirement. My lonesome family convinced me that I should quit while I'm still in good shape."
Marciano had the type of retirement one might expect: a brief temptation to make a comeback; a bit of TV work, both as an actor and commentator; worked as a ref for both boxing and wrestling; and owned a share of a chain of restaurant called Papa Luigi Spaghetti Dens.
On August 31, 1969, Marciano had dinner at the Chicago home of his friend, Andy Granatelli, the CEO of STP, before boarding a flight bound for Des Moines, Iowa, where a surprise party awaited him. He planned to catch an early flight home on September 1 to celebrate his 46th birthday with his wife.
Aboard the single-engine Cessna along with Marciano were his friends Frankie Farrell and Glenn Belz, the latter of who was piloting the aircraft. Belz was woefully under-qualified to be flying at night and in such lousy weather and soon became disoriented. Belz called air traffic control to tell them he was going to try to land at an airfield in Newton, Iowa, but he missed the mark by a couple of miles, crashing to the ground and killing all three men instantly.
Though sometimes overlooked because of a lack of top-notch competition, the Brockton Blockbuster remains the only heavyweight champion to finish his career with an undefeated record and his knockout percentage in title fights, 85.71, is tied with Joe Louis for tops all-time (though Louis had 21 more title bouts). In all, he won 43 of his 49 fights by knockout, only once won by a split decision and was knocked down just twice in his career, in his first and his last title fights.