Tag Archives: Marcel Cerdan

Cerdan vs Robinson

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.

Zale vs Cerdan

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.”

Cerdan vs LaMotta

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.

Robinson and Cerdan

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.

Ray Robinson Attending Cerdan’s Funeral

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.

Marcel Cerdan

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.
https://youtu.be/OKfD77DfSoI

Zale vs Cerdan

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

by Bobby Franklin

Zale Cerdan (1)

In 1946 a French middleweight by the name of Marcel Cerdan arrived in the United States to campaign for a shot at the world title then held by Tony Zale. Zale would lose the title to Rocky Graziano in 1947 but regain it again the following year in his third fight of an epic trilogy he fought with the explosive punching Graziano.

When Cerdan first arrived on these shores he had an amazing record of 93 wins with only 2 losses, both of those losses came via disqualification. 54 of those victories came by the knockout route. While his record was impressive he was stil a bit of a mystery to American fight fans. He had defeated an aging Holman Williams, a very great fighter, but one who was nearing the end of his career.

In his American debut, Cerdan did not chose an easy mark for his opponent. He took on the very tough Georgie Abrams in Madison Square Garden. Georgie Abrams was another great fighter. He had  held the legendary Charlie Burley to a draw, and just two fights after his bout with Marcel he fought Welterwieght Champion Sugar Ray Robinson in a non title fight. Robinson was awarded a very disputed decision and would never face Abrams again.

The Cerdan vs Abrams bout was a blistering affair

The Cerdan vs Abrams bout was a blistering affairwith the Frenchman winning a close but unanimous decision. That night he proved he was worthy of the praise that preceded him form the European press.

After the Abrams fight Cerdan hit the road compiling 10 wins against 1 loss. That loss was in a fight for the European title against Cyrille Delannoit. Marcel would avenge that loss in a rematch earning himself a shot against champion Tony Zale also know as the Man of Steel.

Tony was a very hard punching fighter who never took a backwards step.

Tony was a very hard punching fighter who never took a backwards step. His three bouts with Rocky Graziano are considered among the greatest slugfests in boxing history. Tony had held the title since the early 1940s with the exception of the brief period when he lost it to Graziano. Tony had taken on all comers and even fought light heavyweight champion Billy Conn in a non-title fight.

The bout between the two was scheduled to take place on September 21, 1948 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. Everyone knew this would be a fight to see as neither contestant had ever been in a dull fight.

Now the reason for the title of this article has to do with the photo accompanying it. I got the picture from the great boxing historian Gregory Speciale.

This photo not only tells the story of the fight, but it also shows some very great moves, moves you will not see today, being executed. It also gives us some insight into Tony Zale on that night.

Right from the bell starting round one this was an exciting fight. Cerdan came out on fire. He was extremely quick and aggressive. While you would most likely describe him as a slugger, it should be pointed out that he used great head movement in slipping punches. Zale met him head on but was having trouble landing effectively. This is where the photo shows us something about the champion. If you look closely you will see Zale is throwing a very hard left jab, the only way he threw any punch. But notice how he appears to be lurching forward and is off his feet. This is a sign of an aged fighter. His legs no longer have the spring in them, and while he is throwing an excellent jab his legs are not carrying him in. Tony had had a long career at this point and his wars with Rocky Graziano had to have taken something out of him.

Now look at Cerdan. You will see that he has stepped slightly to his right and tilted his head to the outside of the jab. It appears he is about to deliver a left hook as he is shifting his weight at the hips from the right to left side of his body. He is also in perfect position to follow up with a right hand. On top of this, he is in great defensive position. While Zale is off balance and being driven forward by the force of his punch and the stiffness of his legs, Cerdan will still be in perfect position to throw more punches as Tony turns towards him. So much is going on in this photo which only captures a fraction of a second of the fight. You might also note how carefully the referee is monitoring the action. This is like viewing a master class in boxing.

This is like viewing a master class in boxing.

Watching footage of the fight is even more enlightening. While Cerdan dominated most of the bout, Zale was keeping the rounds close. Cerdan was amazing in his use of double and triple hooks, going to the head and body. He also countered beautifully with right hands over the champion’s left jab. Cerdan was very aggressive and fast. He was moving forward throughout most of the fight but at angles. He was throwing magnificent combinations, and was methodical in how he would go from body to head and back again.

Tony Zale, being the great champion that he was, looked like he might have been turning things around in the 7th round as it appeared Marcel was slowing down and Zale may have been changing the tide of the fight. Unfortunately for Tony, this would be his last stand. Cerdan began to pick up the pace again in the 8th round and really began turning it on in the tenth where he was battering the never say die Zale.

In the 11th round Cerdan was unleashing brutal and blistering combinations with incredible speed and power. Tony was taking an awful beating and was dropped by a vicious left hooks just before the bell rang ending the round. His seconds helped him to his corner where they wisely told the referee the fight was over.

Tony Zale went out like a true champion that night

Tony Zale went out like a true champion that night and would retire. Cerdan would have two non-title fights and then defend the title against Jake LaMotta. Marcel’s shoulder was seriously injured in the first round when he was thrown to the canvas by LaMotta. The champion fought on with just one arm until the 9th round when his corner stopped the fight.

A rematch was immediately scheduled, but Marcel Cerdan was killed in a plane crash while on his way to America for the fight.

Cerdan was a great fighter and a charismatic personality. If he won back the title he may very well have gone on to fight Sugar Ray Robinson in what would have been a very interesting fight. Fate stepped in and prevented us from learning just how great a fighter he was. But judging by what you van see in the Zale fight, even from that one photograph, you know you are looking at one of the best.

Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan, The Boston Strong Boy, And Boxing At Boston City Hall Plaza

Williams-Cerdan-RooftopThe photo of Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan which accompanies this article, having a conversation on a Paris rooftop has always fascinated me. I first saw it in the International Boxing Research Organization Journal, and Dan Cuoco, the director of that fine organization shared it with me. On July 7, 1946 Williams and Cerdan fought each other in Paris with Cerdan winning a decision over the American. Holman Williams was one of a group of boxers that came to be known as The Black Murderers’ Row. Others in this elite crowd were Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Eddie Booker, Bert Lytell, Loyd Marshall, Jack Chase, and Aaron “Tiger” Wade. All were great fighters who never got a shot at the title partly because of race, and partly because they were just too good. Author Harry Otty has written a fine book chronicling the careers of these boxers who deserve to be recognized by all boxing fans. His book, “Charley Burley and The Black Murderers Row’’, is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the sport.

In this photo, we see Williams who is at this point on the downside of his career, speaking with Cerdan who would two years later win the Middleweight Title from Tony Zale. I don’t know if this was taken before or after the bout, but it is interesting to see how intently they are listening and speaking to each other. This is not a photo of two wise mouth punks talking trash to each other, but of two professionals, of two gentlemen spending some time together. Are they talking about their fight? About boxing in general and the techniques they use? Perhaps they are having a conversation about the cultural scene in Paris. What I find striking is how relaxed they are with each other. These are two great fighters who would, or have already, put on a very tough fight; yet they are completely at ease in each other’s company. In this photo, both men convey class and dignity. The backdrop of Paris further enhances them. Both are impeccably dressed and could easily pass for a couple of writers or actors. It is a snapshot of a very different and interesting time. Take a moment to study this picture and let your mind wander to just what their conversation was about that July afternoon on a rooftop in Paris.

Strong Boy, The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan
America’s First Sports Hero
By Christopher Klein Published by Lyons Press

John-L-SullivanJohn L. Sullivan was America’s first larger then life sports star, and author Christopher Klein has written a fine account of the Boston Strong Boy. Sullivan, the son of Irish immigrants who had arrived in Boston during the great wave of Irish migration in the mid nineteenth century, was born in Boston’s South End, not Roxbury as many have believed. He made a reputation for himself at an early age with his amazing strength, intimidating stare, and powerful right hand punch.

Klein’s book follows Sullivan’s life in detail and shows just how the Great John L was the right man at the right time to win the adoration of fans nationwide. His fistic talent along with his magnetic personality and booming voice made him an instant celebrity. But, he never would have attained the prominence he did had it not been for the completion of the intercontinental railroad system. This feat of technology, comparable with the internet today, allowed Sullivan to crisscross the country putting on exhibitions and taking on all comers in four round matches. For the first time, Americans were able to see one of their heroes up close, sometimes too close, because Sullivan’s proclivity to drink would make him a very difficult character to control.

I learned much about John L from Klein’s book. Many things I didn’t know, such as the fact that after Gentleman Jim Corbett defeated Sullivan for the crown, the men would later engage in at least two exhibition matches. That Sullivan was a somewhat talented actor who loved performing on the stage, and that he was the first athlete to earn over a million dollars, most of which went to living the high life. The only fault I find in this book is that often times I found myself wanting more details about some of the events, such as the time in Augusta Georgia where Sullivan, who had been drinking heavily grew so verbally abusive that a train hand knocked him out. Surely, this was a big deal, and I would love to have had more details about that incident. I found this book a very interesting read and highly recommend it.

Boxing At City Hall Plaza
June 29th

This Sunday a live boxing show will take place out doors at City Hall Plaza in Boston. It is the Neighborhood Youth challenge and will feature a team of young amateurs from the local gyms going up against a team of boxers from Connemara, Ireland. Outdoor boxing in Boston is a bit of a throwback to the days of the Great John L and should be a lot of fun. I hope to see you there.