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20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from France: Marcel Cerdan

Cerdan (right) cracks Tony Zale en route to sensational middleweight title victory.
07
Oct

Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.

In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.

The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.

The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.

Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.

FRANCE

MARCEL CERDAN
Birthdate / place: July 22, 1916 / Sidi Bel-Abbes, Algeria
Death date: October 27, 1949
Years active: 1934-49
Record: 110-4 (65 KOs)
Major titles: World middleweight (1948-49)
Greatest victories: Georgie Abrams, Cyrille Delannoit, Harold Green, Holman Williams and Tony Zale.

Background: Cerdan was born in North Africa to French parents and ultimately became a tragic hero in the homeland of his ancestors. The rugged, but tremendously skilled boxer-puncher finished with one of the most remarkable won-loss records in history, an indication that he was nearly unbeatable. And he lost about a year and a half of his prime to World War II. Cerdan won the French and European middleweight titles but began to make a name for himself worldwide after the war, first outpointing fellow Hall of Famer Holman Williams in Paris, doing the same against tough Georgie Abrams in his U.S. debut at Madison Square Garden and stopping talented Harold Green at the Garden in 1946 and 1947. He finally received a shot at the middleweight title when he faced champion Tony Zale in New Jersey the following year and took full advantage of the opportunity, thrashing the great “Man of Steel” until he collapsed at the end of Round 11 and couldn’t continue. Cerdan successfully defended twice before facing another Hall of Famer, Jake LaMotta, in June 1949 in Detroit. In the first round, LaMotta wrestled Cerdan to the canvas and damaged the Frenchman’s shoulder in the process. He fought bravely, one-handed, but couldn’t go on after the ninth round. The rematch was postponed when LaMotta was injured but was finally scheduled for December 2, 1949. Alas, Cerdan’s plane crashed en route from Europe to the U.S. and he was killed. He was 33.

Quote: “I think we’ve seen something like this only twice in France for a sportsman. The first time was Cerdan. The second time was when France won the football World Cup in 1998. He was the most popular boxer … no, sportsman of his time,” French sports writer Aurelien Bouisset said.

Five more from France (in alphabetical order): Georges Carpentier, Robert Cohen, Eugene Criqui, Alphonse Halimi, Marcel Thill

Next up: Germany

Ones you missed:

Argentina: Carlos Monzon
Australia: Jeff Fenech
Canada: Sam Langford
Cuba: Jose Napoles

 

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