Skip to main content

Rocky Graziano: Boxing Champion, Actor, and Business Owner

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Rocky Graziano (L) Tony Zale (R)

Rocky Graziano (L) Tony Zale (R)

Boxer Rocky Graziano Record

Rocky Graziano is remembered as a legendary boxer. His record as a professional boxer was 67-10-6. He held the middleweight title after defeating Tony Zale in 1946. Graziano is still considered one of the most successful boxers in the sport. During his boxing career, he fought some of the best middleweights of the time. These included Sugar Ray Robinson and many others.

Early Years

Thomas Rocco Barbella was born on January 1, 1919, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother's name was Ida Scinto and his father's name was Nicola Barbella. Graziano's father was a boxer known as “Fighting Nick Bob.” His family eventually moved to Manhattan's East Village. During his youth, Graziano was known as a street fighter and it was said he learned to take care of himself before he could even read or write. His younger years were filled with incidents of him being placed in reform school, jail and Catholic protectories. His father always had boxing gloves around their home and regularly encouraged Graziano and his brother to box one another. The two brothers fought almost every night.

Amateur Champion

In 1939, some friends of Graziano told him about a local boxing tournament that provided a gold medal for the winner. Graziano won all four boxing matches. This made him the winner of the New York Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Union Boxing Competition. After selling the gold medal for $15, he felt boxing was a good way to make money.


A few weeks after his success at amateur boxing, Graziano was caught stealing from a school and was arrested. He then spent three weeks at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility. When he was there, he made friends with future boxing legend Jake LaMotta. Graziano then spent five months at the New York City Reformatory. After he was let go, he went to the gym to earn some money. During this time, he met Eddie Cocco who started Graziano's professional career. He adopted the name Robert Barber for his boxing persona. A few weeks later, Graziano was charged with violating his probation. He was then sent back to reform school. When there, he was charged with instigating a minor riot. Graziano was then sent to Rikers Island.

World War II

Graziano was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. After punching an officer, he deserted. He became a professional boxer and used the name Rocky Graziano to evade the army. Graziano was still found by the Army. He was then sentenced to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, for nine months. He was given a dishonorable discharge.

Rocky Graziano

Rocky Graziano

Professional Career

In 1943, when Graziano was released from Leavenworth, he resumed his professional boxing career. He could see no other way for him to make a living. Graziano signed a couple of boxing contracts. He didn't like the discipline and rigors of training. Graziano and the managers he had during his early career always went their separate ways. A man named Irving Cohen picked up Graziano and didn't try to discipline him. He lined up a fight, and Graziano didn't train too much. He did show up to fight that night with his killer instinct. Graziano won several fights by a knockout. Cohen would line up fighters who were more than a match for Graziano in the hope that being defeated would show him the value of training.

Impressive Victories

Graziano scored an impressive victory at Madison Square Garden in 1945. He upset Billy Arnold. Arnold was considered to be a slick boxer with fast combinations as well as a powerful knockout punch like Sugar Ray Robinson. Many managers in the boxing world expected Arnold to be the next Joe Louis. Graziano knocked out Arnold in the third round of the scheduled eight-round bout.

Middleweight Boxing Champion

After some more knockout victories, Graziano was ready for a title fight. He fought three middleweight title bouts against Tony Zale. During the first bout in 1946, Graziano was knocked to the floor during the first round. After this, he gave Zale a savage beating. Zale eventually came back to knock out Graziano in the sixth round. A year later in Chicago, the two met again. The referee considered stopping the fight in the third round because of a bad cut over Graziano's eye. The bleeding was able to be stopped and the fight resumed. Graziano took a beating, had a closed eye, and appeared about to be knocked out. He rallied back to knock out Zale in the sixth round. He then became the world middleweight boxing champion. The last fight between Zale and Graziano took place in 1948 in New Jersey. Zale won back his title by knocking out Graziano in the third round. In 1952, Graziano fought Sugar Ray Robinson to the middleweight title but lost in the third round. A loss in a 10-round decision against Chuck Davey was Graziano's last boxing match.

Miami Undercover poster featuring Rocky Graziano

Miami Undercover poster featuring Rocky Graziano

Acting Career

After retiring from boxing, Graziano began a career as an actor. He appeared with comedian Henny Youngman in The Henny and Rocky Show. Graziano also appeared as Martha Raye's boyfriend on The Martha Raye Show. He was a regular on the TV series Miami Undercover. Graziano appeared in many TV series and shows. They included Car 54, Where Are You?, Naked City, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom and I've Got a Secret. In a 1967 film called Tony Rome, Graziano played an ex-boxer named Packy.


Graziano opened a pizza restaurant during the 1960s. It was called “Rocky Graziano's Pizza Ring" and was located in Kips Bay, Manhattan. The restaurant was successful and eventually developed into a franchise restaurant in the New York City area.

Movie poster for Somebody Up There Likes Me

Movie poster for Somebody Up There Likes Me

Life Story

In 1955, Simon and Schuster published a book about Graziano's life called Somebody Up There Likes Me. In 1956, a movie of the same name was made starring Paul Newman. It was successful and won two Academy Awards.

Rocky Graziano grave marker

Rocky Graziano grave marker


On May 22, 1990, Rocky Graziano died of cardiopulmonary failure in New York City. He was 71 years old. His funeral took place at St. Patrick's Cathedral. His body was interred at the Locust Valley Cemetery.


Graziano is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He was named to the list of Ring Magazine's 100 all-time Greatest Punchers. Graziano was also inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.



New York Times



© 2021 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on February 12, 2021:

Fran, thanks. It's rare you find a person who is good at boxing, acting and business.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on February 12, 2021:

Mike, thank you for a detailed article about Rocky G. I have always heard about him but your facts shed another light for me about Rocky. Seems he simply needed direction to stay out of trouble. I love history but not a real fan of boxing, seems brutal.

Readmikenow (author) on February 12, 2021:

Miebakagh, Thanks. It was quite something that he didn't like to train, but still was able to become a boxing champion.

Readmikenow (author) on February 12, 2021:

Pamela, thanks. I agree. He had a full life.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 12, 2021:

ReadMikeNow, I had never heard of this boxer, though, I like boxing. What? A boxer that does not take on training but beat trained champs is ingeneity. Thanks.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 12, 2021:

Rocky Graziano sure had a life of many victories, and some defeats since he spent time in prison. You have given us a great overview of his life.