In a career marked by comebacks, Hall of Fame boxer Rocky Graziano (1922-1990) was born Thomas Rocco Barbella in New York City. With a tough upbringing on the mean streets of the Lower East Side, he was a scrappy street fighter who turned to professional boxing at a young age.
"Anybody that becomes a fighter has got to be wacky or crazy because it's a tough business," he once said.
A tenacious fighter with a killer right hand, he became the Middleweight Champion of the World in 1946 after beating Tony Zale in their second match. Zale won back the title in an all-out battle in 1948, knocking out Graziano in the third round.
After winning 20 of his next 21 fights, the colorful Graziano tried again for the title in 1952, this time against champion Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson likewise knocked him out in the third.
Soon after the match Graziano retired, tallying a career record of 67-10-6 with an amazing 52 knockouts. He published a popular autobiography, Somebody Up There Likes Me, which was adapted into a commercially and critically successful 1956 movie starring a young Paul Newman and featured the screen debut of Steve McQueen.
Graziano was ever-popular, appearing in television shows and movies as a goofy comedian. The prizefighter even exhibited his art paintings in galleries. Former middleweight champ Vito Antuofermo praised Graziano as "what a fighter should be. He was tough, could hit like a mule and had all the guts in the world."
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