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On This Date in Sports July 16, 1947

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Rocky Graziano captures the World Middleweight Championship with a thrilling sixth-round knockout of Tony Zale in the sixth-round at Chicago Stadium. The two had staged an epic fight at Yankee Stadium in September of 1946 with Zale rallying to win in the sixth round with a knockout after Graziano nearly had the fight won. This fight was nearly a mirror image as Tony Zale was in control most of the fight before Rocky Graziano scored the winning blows in the sixth round. The two would meet again, with Zale regaining the title with a third round knockout at Newark’s Ruppert Stadium in June of 1948.

Rocky Graziano was born and raised in New York, and grew up fighting as his father forced him to box against his brothers. Graziano lived a harsh life, and spent much of his early years in and out of jail. When he was not having trouble with the law, Rocky Graziano was one of the top amateur fighters in New York, winning the Metropolitan Middleweight Championship. After initially being reluctant to turn professional, Graziano made his pro debut in 1942, knocking out Curtis Hightower. Three years later, Rocky Graziano scored a major upset against Billy Arnold, with a third round knockout at Madison Square Garden. Graziano often thrilled fans with his brawling style that allowed him to score a knockout at seemingly any moment.

Tony Zale was born and raised in Gary, Indiana a steel town, which led to the nickname “Man of Steel”. Zale had an incredible ability to take a punch, often taking great punishment while wearing down his opponent to score a knockout. Zale first won the Middleweight championship in 1941, beating George Abrams. Zale remained the champion during World War II, despite putting his career on hold to serve in the military.

Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale first met in the ring on September 27, 1946 at Yankee Stadium. Zale put Graziano on the canvas early, scoring a first-round knockdown. The brawler from New York was used to getting knocked down, and preceded to lay a savage beating on the “Man of Steel” over the next four rounds. Most experts thought that Rocky Graziano was going to score a knockout at any moment, but Zale would not go down. In the sixth round, Tony Zale found his legs and rallied to out Graziano to retain the title. The fight so thrilled fans, that it was named Fight of the Year as fans anticipated a rematch. In the rematch in Chicago, it was Graziano that appeared to be on the verge of going down after suffering a bad cut over his eye in the second round. Rocky Graziano was able to remain in the fight thanks to the work of cutman Whitey Bimstein who stopped the bleeding. Much like the first fight, the title was decided by a sixth-round rally as Rocky Graziano became the Middleweight Champion of the World. Tony Zale would fight Rocky Graziano again on June 10, 1948 at Ruppert Stadium in Newark, New Jersey. The fight was all Zale, as he regained the Middleweight Championship with a third-round knockout. Zale’s second reign would last just three months as he was knocked out by Marcel Cerdan. Rocky Graziano would get another shot at the title in 1952, losing to Sugar Ray Robinson.