MARCEL CERDAN lived a life that sounds like a movie: poor boy from a humble background who rose to become world champion, had an affair with famous singer and died tragically young in a plane crash.

In fact, his life HAS been made into a movie, several times. It’s also been woven into films about Edith Piaf, the French songstress he had the fling with while married and a father. Cerdan is the most famous French boxer ever, and his only rival as that nation’s best fighter is Georges Carpentier, who was also world champion but got to live to a ripe old age.

Marcel Cerdan
Cerdan is the most famous French boxer ever

Marcel’s end still seems heartbreaking. Having ripped the world middleweight title from Tony Zale in 1948, he lost it to Jake LaMotta in Detroit in June 1949, when a first-round spill to the canvas separated his left shoulder and meant he was hardly able to punch. Even then, he lasted into the 10th before his manager Jo Longman threw in the towel.

A rematch was arranged for New York so the Cerdan party had to fly across the Atlantic (an adventure in those days). Their plane stopped at the Azores to refuel, but crashed into a mountain with everyone on board killed. Marcel was only 33-years-old.

Born in Algeria, then part of France, Marcel was 18 when he turned pro in Morocco (also part of French North Africa). By 1939 he was European welterweight champion, but the war scuppered any world title hopes, even though he continued to box, and win.

Marcel Cerdan
Cerdan had three sons: Marcel Jnr, Rene and Paul

In 1947 he became European middleweight king, adding the world title when he forced Zale to retire after 11 rounds in Jersey City. The Ring named it the 1948 Fight of The Year, but three fights later he was dead, with the French going into mourning at the loss of their charismatic hero.


CERDAN hadn’t seen his brother Vincent for 22 years when Vincent visited him in his training camp before his title fight with Tony Zale in September 1948. At the end of the fight Vincent was the first man in the ring to congratulate his brother posing for a photograph with the happy new champion.

Although he was married, Cerdan had a very public love affair with famous French singer Edith Piaf, “The Little Sparrow”.

Cerdan knocks out Dick Turpin in 1949 at Earl’s Court

July 22, 1916 in Sidi bel Abbès, Algeria Died October 27, 1949 in the Azores Wins 111 Knockouts 65 Losses 4 Best win Tony Zale w rtd 11 Worst loss Jake LaMotta l rsf 10 Pros Tough, durable and skilful Cons Out-of-ring lifestyle