Fate was not always kind to Marcel Cerdan. The charismatic French-Algerian had movie star looks, a dashing fighting style and a long-running romance with singer Edith Piaf that earned him the adoration of the French fans, but his career was cruelly cut short when he perished in a plane crash in the Azores on October 27, 1949.
That plane had been taking him back to America for a rematch with the “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta, whom Cerdan (pictured right with LaMotta) had lost his world middleweight title to on a freak shoulder injury. When you consider that Cerdan’s only other three defeats came via two disqualifications and a highly-contentious points loss to Belgian Cyrille Delannoit for the European title (later reversed), it could be argued that he was never truly beaten in a fine 123 fight career.
Born on July 22, 1916 in Sidi Bel-Abbes, Algeria, Cerdan came from a fighting family. His elder brothers boxed and Cerdan followed their lead, turning professional at 17. He won French and European welterweight titles before enlisting in the French Army at the outbreak of World War II, where he remained until the fall of France.
Progress was understandably slow during the war, but afterwards Cerdan moved up to middleweight and gained the French and European titles in 1945 and 1946 respectively. That European crown was lost and regained against Delannoit in 1948 before Cerdan hammered “Man of Steel” Tony Zale to defeat after 11 rounds to win the world middleweight title in Jersey City in September of the same year.
But Cerdan lost his hard-earned title after sustaining a shoulder injury in the first round of a defence against the super tough LaMotta in Detroit in June 1949. He battled on for nine rounds before reluctantly retiring on his stool. Four months later, he died in that terrible plane crash at just 33 years old and the boxing world mourned the loss of one of its favourite sons.
Marcel Cerdan: Fights 123, Wins 119 Losses 4 (Knockouts 74).
By Mark G. Butcher