BROCKTON — Immediately after the towering 2-ton Rocky Marciano statue was unveiled Sunday afternoon, onlookers jostled to take photos, many backing up to capture the entire piece, while others closed in to snap details, such as Rocky’s famous right punch, which hovered over the crowd.
“I’m trying to take some unique pictures, you know,” said Rick Analoro, who stood near the left foot of the 22½-foot fiberglass-and-polyester resin statue, a $250,000 gift to the city from the World Boxing Council.
Icons from the boxing world, including promoter Don King and former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, celebrated the statue’s unveiling along with an estimated 3,500 fans and Marciano’s relatives.
In praising the hometown hero — a man who was considered undersize but went on to become the only undefeated heavyweight champ — Marciano was remembered Sunday as a humble and giving man outside the ring but a fierce competitor inside the ropes.
The event was scheduled to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Marciano’s victory over Jersey Joe Walcott to grasp the heavyweight title. Marciano never looked back, amassing 49 wins with 43 knockouts. He died in a plane crash on Aug. 31, 1969, the day before his 46th birthday.
Sunday’s event marked the culmination of hundreds of hours of meetings over several years, heldlocally and in Mexico, where the World Boxing Council is based.
“I’ve been reading about this since they were doing the work down in Mexico,” Analoro said as he took pictures. “It took a while, but it’s here now.”
“The detail is unbelievable,” said Cheryl Blanchette, who grew up here. “He is Brockton.”
Her husband, Steve Blanchette, also gave the statue his approval. “It’s fantastic, much bigger than I thought, but it’s like Rocky himself, much bigger than life,” he said. “Finally seeing him recognized like this is really inspirational.”
The champ’s son, in addressing the debate over how his father’s career ranks in history, said there was one thing the specialists couldn’t gauge.
“The thing they have not been able to measure properly is my father’s heart,” said Rocky Marciano Jr., speaking to the crowd assembled on the bleachers of the stadium named after his father.
Other relatives told of Marciano’s insistence on giving to charity during his youth, and how, when he was in the Army, he would write to his family every week to get updates about their life in Brockton.
King, the promoter, said Marciano left a message.
“That ‘Yes I can,’ ” King told the crowd. “In the foot-race of life, Rocky Marciano gave this message to us, and it is one that is everlasting.”
Vinny Pazienza, who held world titles in the lightweight and junior middleweight divisions, said he became interested in boxing at the age of 5 because of Muhammad Ali, but said he also admired Marciano, a fighter with a lot of grit.
“It’s awesome for Brockton, great for his family, but I wish they would have done this for him when he was alive,” said Pazienza, 49.
“He was one tough guy, an animal in the ring, and the record speaks for itself.”
Brian Ballou can be reached at email@example.com