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Famous boxing brothers: Rocchigiani's


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There is a slight touch of irony that Germany's probably best known and most successful boxing brother duo bears an Italian name: brothers Ralf and Graciano Rocchigiani, known as Rocky II and Rocky respectively, despite Ralf being the older sibling. Born to an Italian father and German mother, only 10 months apart, the two brothers became two of Germany's most popular and successful boxers, along with Graciano's rival, Henry Maske. Ralf won the WBO cruiser title and Graciani first became the IBF super middle champion before vacating it to concentrate on light heavyweight and challenging Maske for the IBF title there as well. He would much later win the WBC title there but what followed was a bizarre and controversial twist. This is the story of Rocchigiani brothers.


First we focus on the elder brother Ralf. Born in Duisburg, a city on the river Rhine, on 13 February 1963, Ralf turned pro in late 1983 and won by a KO1 in his first fight. At first he fought as a light heavyweight, standing 6 feet and weighing in sometimes above 175 but 1 December 1984 he fought Manfred Jassmann for the German title and lost to him on points. The rematch between them on 10 May next year ended in a draw. After that Ralf moved to cruiserweight and won the German title there by TKO 2 against overmatched Josef Kossmann, 21 August. He however decided he wasn't yet done as a light heavy and challenged the European champion, Alex Blanchard of Netherlands, dropping a 12-round decision to him 3 October 1986, at home in Germany. He finally got his revenge over Jassmann when he decisioned him in his second defense as the German cruiser champion on 25 September 1987. He again tried to win the European title at 175 but yet again failed as his fight against another Dutchman, Jan Lefeber, ended in a draw. On 3 May 1991 he also lost his German cruiser title on points to Markus Bott, the other top German cruiser back then. On 2 October 1992 he fought for the WBO title against Tyrone Booze of USA in Berlin but dropped a rather close decision to Booze. After losing in an attempt to reclaim his old title on points to Torsten May, everybody pretty much thought that was it and that he would never reach the top.


But then he got the offer to fight for the vacant WBO title against Carl "The Cat" Thompson, probably the best British cruiser back then. It was 10 June 1995 at the G-Mex Centre in Manchester and the fight was a hotly contested one. They were of equal height but Thompson was considered a clear favorite, because he only had 3 losses and Rocchigiani 8. Both were down once in round 5 from right hand punches but Thompson was the one in charge and was comfortably ahead on the scorecards while Ralf was cut on the eye from round 4 and looked like he was in trouble. With his brother cheering him on from the audience, Ralf then produced a great turnaround when he put Thompson down in round 10 with a right to the head and a follow up body punch. In the next round, Rocchigiani put Thompson down again with a big right and Thompson injured his hand while falling and was unable to continue, thus Ralf won by a TKO. The impossible had happened. Perhaps even more surprising is that he managed to defend the belt six times, among others beating faded former world class contender Bash Ali by UD. He finally lost the title to Thompson on 4 October 1997 in Hamburg, on points. It was a split decision but the scores were very uneven, two judges had it clearly for the challenger while the third scored it 115-113 for Rocchigiani. Any which way, he was no longer the champion and after winning two easy fights, he retired in 1998, with a record of 42 wins, 17 ko's, 9 losses and 7 draws. Ralf was a hard hitting but somewhat slow-footed and static fighter who didn't score as many knockouts as he could have because of that. He had a good conditioning and a good chin and was never stopped.


Now we come to the more talented and younger Graciano. Graciano was born 29 December 1963 in Duisburg but like his brother grew up in Berlin. He was the 1982 German light middleweight amateur champion and turned pro around the same time as his brother, September 1983. At first he fought as a middleweight. He won the German title here by TKO 3 against Rudiger Bitterling, 8 November 1985, but then fought for the national light heavy title against Manfred Jassmann, who of course had beaten his brother for it, 3 October 1986. Graciano fared better and beat Jassmann on points. He went down to super middleweight to fight the former world title middleweight challenger, Mustafa Hamsho of Syria on 5 December 1987 and sensationally stopped the rugged Syrian by TKO in the first round, first hurting him with a left hook and then following it up with four more before Hamsho collapsed to the canvas. Hamsho would have one more fight before retiring. After such a spectacular performance, he was given the chance to win the IBF title at the weight, against Vincent Boulware, a hard-hitting Philadelphia fighter. It was 11 March 1988 when Graciano made history in becoming the first German world super middle champion by stopping Boulware by TKO 8, at Phillips Halle in Dusseldorf. He was ahead on all three scorecards at the time of stoppage. In his first defense he outclassed another American, Nicky Walker, to win by a wide unanimous decision. In the second he stopped Chris Reid by TKO 11 before he fought and decisioned future WBC champ Thulani "Sugar Boy" Malinga in the third and final defense, 27 January 1989. He then opted to go back to the light heavy division and vacated his title. On 21 February 1991 he faced the tall Crawford Ashley of England for the European title and beat him by SD12, after Ashley also had a point deducted. In his first defense he stopped another man who had beaten his brother, Alex Blanchard, by TKO 9. That was Blanchard's final fight. He was 35-0 and one of the hottest names in Europe when he was chosen as Chris Eubank's next defense and accepted the fight, despite it being at 168, a division he had left. Eubank was also 35-0 but also had 2 draws, against Ray Close and Nigel Benn. He agreed to come to Germany to fight Graciano.


The fight was in Deutschlandshalle (could it have been more patriotic?) in Charlottenburg on 5 February 1994 and was not a pretty one, marked by Eubank's constant ducking, for which he was in the end penalised, but for the first time, Rocchigiani met someone he couldn't outbox while Eubank's cast iron chin also made him impossible to stop. In the end, two judges saw it close and the third saw it wide, but all scored it for the champion. It was his first loss but an honourable one. He also tried to win the European title at 168 at the end of that year against Frederic Seillier, but it ended as a draw. He then went back to 175 to face off in the great domestic showdown against national rival Henry Maske. There was no love lost between the two and the war of words flared up in the press before the fight. It was on 27 May 1995 at Olympiahalle in Munich and it was unforgettable, a war for 12 rounds where in the end Maske prevailed by UD. The rematch happened 14 October because some people thought the decision was not just. But again, after a great and bruising fight, Maske was the winner by a clear unanimous decision and remained unbeaten while Graciano was handed his third loss. He was then involved in a controversial fight when he faced the WBO champion, Polish Dariusz "Tiger" Michalczewski, who was 31-0 coming in, 10 August 1996; Graciano dominated most of the first 6 rounds and was ahead on 2 of the scorecards while the third was even. In the seventh, he started punishing Michalczewski and seemingly had him on the verge of being stopped. The referee then stepped in between them to call the break but Rocchigiani punched Michalczewski who collapsed to the canvas and looked like he couldn't continue. Because he had hit him during a break, Rocchigiani was disqualified. Some have since accused Michalczewski of faking that he was in worse shape than he really was to avoid getting stopped and get the disqualification victory. Michalczewski was after all known for having a very strong chin. Graciano then decisioned John Scully before fighting his second biggest fight against Michael Nunn for the vacant WBC title, which Roy Jones had vacated because he wanted to campaign as a heavyweight.


It was 21 March 1998 in Berlin when Rocchigiani scored his greatest victory, giving Nunn a beating and winning by a split decision. The judge that scored it for Nunn was obviously partial because Graciano really dominated the washed up Nunn, who was almost 35. However, this great triumph was ruined soon thereafter by dirty politics of WBC; Jones soon changed his mind (his trainer Alton Merkerson later revealed it was he who talked him from fighting Buster Douglas, as planned) and was re-instated as the "champion in recess" by WBC, while Rocchigiani was first declared an interim champion and then stripped outright as Jones again became the regular champion. A fight was then scheduled between the two for November 1999 but Graciano failed to come to a press conference in New York and Jones' manager Murad Muhammad called off the fight. Graciano sued WBC and nearly forced them into bankrupcy as they had to pay him 31 million dollars, ruled by a New York court in 2003. He was also reinstated as the official champion, but in the meantime, this stuff kept him out of the ring for too long and he lost his return bout with Michalczewski on 15 April 2000, quitting on his stool after 9 rounds after doing well early on but then being dominated. Before his last fight against Olympic bronze medallist Thomas Ulrich on 10 May 2003, he announced his retirement. He lost the fight clearly on points to Ulrich who turned out to be a disappointment as a pro later on. His record is 41 wins, 19 by ko, 6 losses and 1 draw. He has only been stopped once, by that corner retirement against Michalczewski. Graciano was a very good technician who had power at 168 and was a strong, tough guy who at around 6'2 was tall for his divisions and had long hands.

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Re: Famous boxing brothers: Rocchigiani's


Graciano is among my favorite German boxers. He fought some great names like Eubank, Michalczewski, Nunn and Maske, not necessarily being a favorite and looked very tough.


Yes he did. He was definitely one of the best German boxers of that era, along with Henry Maske.

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