Classic Series With Tony Zale
Graziano immediately began compiling an impressive record in his professional career with a string of knockout wins against his opponents. Overall Graziano racked up sixty-seven wins—fifty-two by knockout—ten losses, and six draws over the next ten years. The high point of his career came in a three-match duel for the title of World Middleweight Champion with Tony Zale between 1946 and 1948. Zale, the son of Polish immigrants known as "The Man of Steel," had served in the military during World War II. In addition to his status as a war veteran, Zale was regarded as a much more skilled boxer than Graziano. The popular favorite going into their first match in Yankee Stadium on September 27, 1946, Zale knocked out Graziano to take the fight in the sixth round. Graziano immediately demanded a rematch, but the bout was delayed when the boxer had his license suspended by the New York State Boxing Commission for failing to report an attempted bribery to the board.
Undaunted by the bad publicity, Graziano capitalized on his underdog status to fuel his rage against Zale in their second match on July 16, 1947 in Chicago. This time Graziano knocked Zale out in the sixth round to take the title. He declared at the end of the bout, "Hey, Ma, your bad boy done it…. I told you somebody upthere likes me." The utterance later inspired the title of Graziano's colorful, if somewhat fictional, 1955 autobiography, Somebody Up There Likes Me. After publishing his autobiography in 1955, Graziano agreed to serve as a consultant for the film version of his life, which appeared on movie screens in 1956. He spent several weeks helping star Paul Newman learn his boxing technique, speech patterns, and physical movements in preparation for the film. Although Somebody Up There Likes Me took some dramatic licenses with the facts of Graziano's life and career—most notably, his second (and winning) title fight with Zale is the film's climax, but his defeat in their third match is not included—the film's realism won praise from critics. Indeed, it is still cited as one of the best dramas of the 1950s, ranked alongside On the Waterfront, Marty, and Rebel Without a Cause. It also remains one of the best films about boxing ever made.
The third Graziano-Zale match took place on June 10, 1948 in Jersey City. In their final match, Zale took back the title after knocking out Graziano in the third round. After Zale retired, Graziano made one more attempt to regain the middleweight crown in an April 1952 bout against Ray Robinson, which he lost in a third-round knockout. Graziano's last professional fight occurred in September 1952.
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