The Title Of Greatest Pound For Pound
Fighter Would Have Been At Stake
On September 21,1948 Marcel Cerdan defeated Tony Zale and won the Middleweight Championship of the World. Cerdan had made his American debut just two years earlier with a hard fought win over the very tough Georgie Abrams. With the win over Abrams Cerdan proved he was no paper tiger, and he would cement his reputation as the best middleweight in the world with his decisive victory over Zale. He gave the Man of Steel a terrible beating, dropping him with a left to the jaw at the end of the 11th round. Zale had to be helped back to his corner where his seconds decided he had taken enough punishment and ended the fight.
After the Zale fight Marcel returned to Europe where he had a couple of non title fights stopping Dick Turpin and Lucien Krawczyk. He returned to the States to make the first defense of the title against Jake LaMotta on June 6, 1949 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. LaMotta was the top rated middleweight contender and one very tough customer. Never the less, Cerdan was made a two to one betting favorite.
Only fragments of film footage from the fight exists, and these fragments do not include what happened early in the first round of the fight. It was widely reported that LaMotta threw Cerdan to the canvas. Marcel landed on his left shoulder causing an injury serious enough that he was not able to use his left hand for the rest of the fight. Remarkably, Cerdan continued to fight. Sportswriter Red Smith reported:
“In spite of his injury and in spite of a severe beating in the first round … Cerdan won the second round big and the third and fifth by lesser margins. A master at handling his opponent, turning him, tying him up, slipping or blocking his punches, and setting him up, Cerdan could do none of this one-handed. He couldn’t even stick his left out to ward off his foe … it is difficult to believe LaMotta would have a chance with a two-handed Cerdan.”
Fighting Jake LaMotta with two hands would be enough of a problem for any fighter, just ask Sugar Ray Robinson, so standing up to him with one arm was truly remarkable. Unfortunately for Marcel, he just couldn’t keep it up. Cerdan hung in there until the end of the 9th round when his corner stopped the fight.
Because of the circumstances surrounding the end of the fight a rematch was quickly scheduled for September 28th of the same year. Ironically, the bout had to be postponed when LaMotta suffered a shoulder injury while training for the fight. The bout was rescheduled for December 2, 1949. In the meantime, Marcel returned home to Paris.
According to legend, Marcel was booked to travel back to the States via ship, but when he got a call from his paramour, the singer Edith Piaf, asking him to make the trip by plane so he would arrive earlier and they could spend time together before he began serious training, he changed his plans. It has also been rumored that a fortune teller him told him not to fly. If so, Marcel ignored the advice from the seer and on Friday, October 28, 1949 boarded a Lockheed L 749 79 46 Constellation in Paris for the trip to New York City.
After leaving Paris the flight was scheduled to make a stop at Santa Maria, Azores. The flight crew reported into the tower there that they were approaching and traveling at an altitude of 3000 feet.They received their landing instructions and that was the last that was heard from them. The wreckage of the plane was later found on Redondo Mountain, there were no survivors.
Cerdan’s death was widely mourned and thousands attended his funeral which was held in Morocco where he was laid to rest. Marcel Cerdan was extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and it seemed unbelievable that this larger than life man was no longer alive.
Boxing history was almost certainly changed by this tragedy. Most boxing experts agree Marcel would have regained the title in his rematch with LaMotta. While Jake was a great fighter, Cerdan was just that much better, and there seemed to be little doubt that a Marcel with two good fists would prove too much for the Bronx Bull.
Here’s where it gets interesting. If Cerdan had gone on to regain the crown it would have meant that Sugar Ray Robinson would have faced him and not LaMotta for the title in 1951. This would have been a truly great matchup between two all-time greats. At the time if his death Marcel had a record of 111 wins against only 4 losses. He was only stopped once and that was because of the shoulder injury in the LaMotta fight. If the fight had taken place at the same time as Ray’s bout against LaMotta, Robinson would have entered the ring with a record of 121 wins, 1 loss, and 2 draws. Cerdan had defeated 65 opponents via the knock out route while Ray had stopped 77 foes at that point in his career. In spite of these amazing knockout records I don’t see this bout ending in a stoppage. Both of these fighters had rock solid chins along with great defensive skills. Both fell solidly into the category of boxer/puncher. Cerdan had always campaigned as a middleweight while the majority of Ray’s fight at that time had been in the welterweight division where he also held the world title. For the previous few years Robinson had been successfully testing the middleweight waters where he suffered his only loss to Jake LaMotta. A defeat he would avenge.
I truly believe this is a difficult fight to pick. Cerdan would certainly have to rate as one of, if not the, toughest opponent Robinson would ever face. This had all the makings of a dream match and would have been a major attraction. I could see it breaking records for attendance and gate receipts. It would no doubt have been held in a ballpark.
So, who wins? Well, as with any truly great matchup it is impossible to say with any certainty. I will tell you that Marcel Cerdan had a better chance than LaMotta did of defending the title against Sugar Ray, and it would not have surprised me if he won. It must also be kept in mind how different boxing history may have been if Cerdan had defeated Ray and then gone on to defend the title for a number of years. If that had happened we very well may be calling Marcel Cerdan the pound for pound greatest fighter who ever lived instead of Sugar Ray Robinson. Unfortunately, fate intervened so we will never know.