Boxing on TV in the Fifties

Boxing is divided by weight class. Historically, the most popular in term of fan interest was the heavyweight class. Then came middleweight. Rocky Marciano was the most well-known of the heavyweights in the Fifties. He retired undefeated in 1956, having won 49 fights in a row. Sugar Ray Robinson was the most popular of the middleweights. He won and lost the middle weight title five times during the decade.

There were periods in the late 1940s and early 1950s when it was common to have as many as five or six network boxing shows on during the same week, not to mention the local shows that were also available. Boxing was an institution in early television for several reasons. It was easy to produce, the camera-coverage area was limited to the relatively small space occupied by the ring, and it had tremendous appeal to the first purchasers of television sets in the late 1940s–bars. Even a TV with a ten-inch screen could become a magnet to sports-minded drinkers. All the great names of the era—Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson (the youngest heavyweight champ ever), Rocky Marciano (the only heavyweight champ who retired undefeated (in 1956)), Jersey Joe Walcott (the oldest heavyweight champion (until George Foreman regained the title in 1994), and Archie Moore—appeared on the screen, as well as multitudes of lesser-known boxers who would probably not have had careers if it were not for the voracious appetite of television.

NBC was the first network to carry televised boxing. Cavalcade of Sports began on local TV in the mid-1940s and added network coverage in 1946, with Bob Stanton at the TV mike from St. Nicholas Arena in Manhattan on Mondays and from Madison Square Garden on Fridays. The Friday telecasts, which became the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports in 1948, ran for 14 years, by far the longest continuous run of any televised boxing show. The show went off the air in 1960. CBS’ boxing coverage was aired exclusively on Wednesday nights. The series was given the title International Boxing Club Bouts in the fall of 1949. In the summer of 1951, the title was changed to Blue Ribbon Bouts. ABC took it over in June of 1955. As was true on NBC, coverage was extended beyond the New York area in the early 1950s, to locations where the most promotable fights were being staged.

On the premiere episode of Cavalcade of Sports (airing on September 29, 1944), NBC broadcast a 15-round bout between Willie Pep and Chalky Wright. On June 19, 1946, at Yankee Stadium, Joe Louis defeated Billy Conn in the first televised World Heavyweight Championship bout ever. 146,000 people watched it on TV, also setting a record for the most seen world heavyweight bout in history. One year later on NBC on December 5, Joe Louis defeated Jersey Joe Walcott to retain the world heavyweight title. On February 14, 1951, Sugar Ray Robinson defeated Jake LaMotta in 13 rounds for the world middleweight title.

DuMont’s programming was heavy with both boxing and wrestling in the late 1940s and early 1950s. With its limited finances, inexpensive programming that had a ready audience was something that DuMont could not resist. DuMont boxing shows, however, could not afford traveling to locations where there were no DuMont stations, so that most of the broadcasts originated from the New York area. DuMont covered bouts from Jamaica Arena, Queens, on Mondays, from Park Arena on Tuesdays, from White Plains, New York, on Wednesdays, and from Sunnyside Gardens and Dexter Arena on Thursdays. The longest-running DuMont boxing show was Boxing from Eastern Parkway (Brooklyn), which went on the air in May of 1952. ABC picked up the show in May of 1954. Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena was the last DuMont network series, its last network telecast coming on August 6, 1956.

ABC’s first major entry into the boxing wars came with Tomorrow’s Boxing Champions, a show featuring young, unranked boxers that was aired on Tuesday nights in 1949. It originated from Chicago. January of 1952 brought Meet the Champ, a collection of bouts involving members of the armed forces, on Thursday nights. In 1953 ABC’s boxing coverage really expanded. In January, The Saturday Night Fights premiered. In February, a series of Boxing from Ridgewood Grove bouts began on Tuesdays. March brought Motor City Boxing from Detroit for three months of Thursdays. In 1954, Boxing from Eastern Parkway moved to ABC from DuMont. ABC also picked up the CBS Blue Ribbon Bouts when it was canceled and renamed it The Wednesday Night Fights. It moved to Saturday, and eventually Friday, the title was again changed, this time to The Fight of the Week.

In September 1955, over 400,000 people across America tuned in to watch Rocky Marciano defend his heavyweight boxing championship against Archie Moore.

“The Brockton Blockbuster (Rocky Marciano)” – Johnny Wakelin sings a tribute to one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time, who retired never having lost a bout, Rocco Francis Marchegiano.

Solid like a rock, bite you like a dog

Braver than a lion, two fist of iron

Hit you like a train, enough to stop a rhino

The Brockton Blockbuster, Rocky Marciano

Harder than a brick wall,

meaner than a pit bull

Sharper than a keen edge,

jagged as a rock ledge

Faster than a steel trap, the great Italiano

He was The Brockton Blockbuster,

Rocky Marciano

The Titan of the Fifties never lost a fight

Forty-nine straight, then he quit,

he was right, no comebacks

Rocky, Rocky Marciano, Rocky, Rocky Marciano, rocky Rocky Marciano, rocky

Sounder than a redwood

Clean away the dead wood

Rougher than a roughneck

Should have gone to Hollywood

None so brave as the tough Americano

The Brockton Blockbuster,

Rocky Marciano

Rocky, Rocky Marciano,

Rocky, Rocky Marciano,

Rocky, Rocky Marciano

Stronger than an ox, wily as a fox

Rugged as a rock pile

Show you how to box

Rocky was a hit like a big Luciano

He was The Brockton Blockbuster, Rocky Marciano

The King of the Fifties, man of the hour

Rocky had the strength, the will and the power

No comebacks

Rocky, Rocky Marciano

Rocky, Rocky Marciano

Rocky, Rocky Marciano

Rocky, Rocky Marciano