Tuesday night’s “Learn from the Fight” lesson focused on the career and three fights of Marcel “The Casablanca Clouter” Cerdan. The first fight acts as a direct sequel to last lesson’s rubber match finale of the Rocky Graziano/Tony Zale trilogy as it was Zale’s first defence.
Tony Zale versus Marcel Cerdan Undisputed World Middleweight Title Defence 21.09.1948
After winning the title back from Rocky Graziano, Tony Zale only fought one more time and that was to defend this very title. His opponent was Marcel Cerdan. Cerdan was born in the “Little Paris” neighbourhood of Sidi Bel Abbès in Algeria on 22nd July 1916. He was the fourth son of Antonio Cerdán (1880–1946), a day labourer, and Asunción Cascales (1886–1942), pied-noirs of Spanish origin. Cerdan was 5’5” and first fought at welterweight before going up to middleweight.
Cerdan toned professional on 4th November 1934 in Meknes, Morocco, beating Marcel Bucchianeri by a decision in six rounds. He won his first 44 fights before losing on a low blow DQ to the UK’s Harry Craster. He then won the European welterweight title on a points-victory over Saverio Turiello. Winning a continental championship was considered pretty essential at this time if one wanted to challenge for the world title. He lost for the second time in his career via another low blow DQ this time to France’s Victor Buttin in Cerdan’s 69th fight in 1942 before his first title defence where he knocked out Spain’s Jose Ferrer in the first round. He would avenge the Buttin defeat three years later in 1945 with a third round knockout. By this time he had also gone up a weight category and beaten Assane Douf for the French title.
In 1946 he landed in the US with a record of 93 wins, only two losses (both by DQ) and no draws. 54 of his victories had come via knockout. He would fight Georgie Abrams, who would next fight Sugar Ray Robinson and lose on a much disputed decision. Abrams would lose also lose to Cerdan on a unanimous decision in a very exciting match that won Cerdan a lot of praise from the press. He would then win the European middleweight title from Giovanni Manca in 1948 and defend it once before losing it to Belgium’s Cyrille Delannoit in a points-decision. His next match (110th in his career) was a rematch for the title, which he won back from Delannoit via points. He was then given his first shot at the World Middleweight title against Tony Zale. Cerdan entered the fight with a 107 wins against three losses.
Cerdan, like Zale, was another slugger by nature and style, but is can be seen to have had good head movement. Cerdan’s record was 110 wins and 4 losses, with 65 wins by knockout. Tony Zale, the defending champion, entered the match with a 67–17–2 record. The fight was Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year 1948”.
The fight’s start took longer than usual due the fact that the ring instructions met a language barrier.
Round 1 – After some caution, Zale took the lead – as he was wont to do – going to the body. Cerdan defended with a double left hook to the head. Zale used a lot of tie-ups during the bout and both fighters went to the body. Zale was noticeably rocked by an overhand thrown by Cerdan.
Round 2 – Zale tried to take the initiative early again, as we had previously seen in the Graziano fight. However, Cerdan’s retaliated powerfully and scored with several overhand rights – along with the left hook, his preferred punch. He also clearly stung Zale towards the end with a stiff jab.
Rounds three and four were missing from our fight footage. However, reports were that Cerdan maintained the lead yet Zale kept the rounds close.
Round 5 – This was another round to Cerdan although Zale landed his signature uppercut. This technique appears to have motivated Cerdan to hit back harder.
Round 6 – Despite Cerdan taking the initiative this time, Zale deftly tied him up and appeared to be wearing the challenger down.
Round 7 – The pace of the match slowed down at this point as Cerdan clinched at least as much as Zale. This would be Zale’s strongest moment and looked like he might turn the fight around.
Round 8 – Zale began fairly strong although was now on the back foot, which was virtually unheard of for him. He countered early on and worked hard in the clinch, but then Cerdan began to reignite again and dropped his overhand.
Round 9 was missing from the footage.
Round 10 – Cerdan led the charge with hooks to the head and body. Zale did well to manage the challenger, even catching him after being pinned against the ropes. However, Cerdan still held a strong lead and, after his long career and wars with Graziano, Zale had little left in him.
Round 11 – Cerdan was now totally in charge and was moving at a much faster pace than Zale. Towards the end of the round a stinging left sent Zale back but not out, but Cerdan was back in two big left hooks that dropped him into the ropes. The referee actually caught Zale who was quite possibly unconscious at the bell. His seconds took him back to his corner and made the correct decision to withdraw their man. Cerdan was the new World Middleweight Champion and Tony Zale entered retirement with full respect intact.
Cerdan became an overnight celebrity in Paris and the pride of France. It was during the summer of 1948 at the height of his popularity that he began an affair with the famous singer Édith Piaf despite Cerdan being married with three children.
Marcel Cerdan versus Dick Turpin 29.05.1949
Cerdan fought twice in non-title bouts before he defended the title against Jake LaMotta. He knocked out former British and British Commonwealth Champion, Dick Turpin, in round seven. There was a short piece of footage on this fight, showing highlights one minute 40 seconds of the match. Turpin is regularly listed as the first black fighter to win the British title. During the match, Turpin showed skills as an out-boxer. He had fast feet and head movement. However, Cerdan consistently cut him off and punished him on the ropes. In the end, Turpin was pinned into a corner where a couple of left hooks did the damage that sent him to his knockout finish.
“World middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan knocked out Britain’s Dick Turpin in the 7th round of a scheduled 10 round, non-title fight at Empress Hall tonight. Turpin was doing all right until Cerdan caught him with a terrific right to the body early in the 7th. Marcel then applied the finisher, a short left hook to the jaw. Turpin flopped on his face and never moved while the referee counted him out at 1:22 of the 7th.” -Associated Press
Marcel Cerdan versus Jake LaMotta Undisputed World Middleweight Championship 16.06.1949
Cerdan then knocked out the Frenchman Lucien Krawczyk in the fourth round of their bout before he put the middleweight title on the line and took on the “Bronx Bull” Jake LaMotta.
We last covered LaMotta in our lesson on Sugar Ray Robinson and went past his bout with Cerdan as Robinson was our focal point. Therefore, this is a step back on his timeline due to the fact that we actually found footage of his bout with Cerdan and it was worth covering. For details on his fifth bout with Robinson, seven bouts after this one, check out my lesson report on Sugar Ray Robinson?
The Cerdan fight was LaMotta’s first shot at the world middleweight title. He stood at 5 ft 8 in (173 cm) and had a reach of 67 in (170 cm) and was a classic swarmer. At the time he fought Cerdan his record was 72-13-3. However, LaMotta was definitely a fighter tainted by the mob and in 1960 he revealed to the senate subcommittee that he had agreed to throw his 1947 fight against Billy Fox and paid the mob $20,000 to get a shot at the middleweight title. He went into the fight as the 2 to 1 underdog. The fight took place in Detroit.
In round one LaMotta came out hard in his typical swarming style. Cerdan certainly had attributes of the swarmer and was definitely a pressure-fighting slugger. The two traded blows in the centre the ring. However, from what I saw of the round, LaMotta was definitely the aggressor. There are also reports of the two falling to the ground in the clinch or LaMotta shoving Cerdan. This isn’t what I watched. They clinched and LaMotta blatantly threw Cerdan to the canvas. The fall dislocated Cerdan’s left shoulder.
Round two saw Cerdan take the round although the footage doesn’t show a lot. Apparently he won the round by a wide margin despite his injury. We saw him fight back hard at LaMotta. According to writer, Red Smith, he also won the third and fifth rounds. The footage shows Cerdan wailing down lots of right hooks at the end of the clip of the fifth round. LaMotta says he probably fractured his left middle finger in around the third or fourth round.
Boxing writer, Red Smith said, “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.”
In round six we see LaMotta pummel away at Cerdan who just covers up and does his best to wade forward. There is more footage of round seven where we see more of the same. Cerdan presses forward and tries to land his rights whilst LaMotta continuously chips away in his swarming style, even going backwards. There is no footage of round eight. Round nine, as reported in the popular press, saw LaMotta land punch after unanswered punch as Cerdan kept moving forward. It was recorded that LaMotta threw 104 punches in this round whereas Cerdan barely threw one. We saw a few attempts at body shots by the champion, but this was the most one-sided round of the bout and it was clear the Frenchman was injured. Although the bell rang for the tenth round, Cerdan did not answer it and LaMotta was declared the new middleweight champion of the world.
A rematch was scheduled for 28th September that year, but this time LaMotta injured his shoulder six days beforehand and the fight was rescheduled for 2nd December and the contract was signed. It would never happen. On 27th October Cerdan was travelling via Air France to visit Edith Piaf in New York where she was singing before he was to start his training camp. The Lockheed L-749 Constellation crashed into Monte Redondo (São Miguel Island, Azores), killing all 11 crew members and 37 passengers on board, including Cerdan and the famous French violinist Ginette Neveu, while approaching the intermediate stop airport at Santa Maria. Cerdan’s record was 110 wins and 4 losses, with 65 wins by knockout.
In 1950 Edith Piaf dedicated one of her most famous songs, Hymne à l’amour, to Cerdan. In 1983 their affair was turned into a big screen biopic: Edith et Marcel. In 2007 it was retold to a lesser extent in the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose. In 1991 the Palais des sports Marcel-Cerdan sports arena was dedicated in his name.