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Tribute to Ernesto Marcel

Ernesto Marcel
Matt Christie on the underrated former featherweight titlist Ernesto Marcel

WHEN you drive off into the sunset with your world featherweight belt glistening on the dashboard and a beaten Alexis Arguello in your rear view mirror, greatness is surely the next stop. But Arguello was only 21 years old when Ernesto Marcel defeated him and then retired while still champion. Arguello was yet to cement his own place in history and by the time he did – winning belts in three weight classes – the boxing world had forgotten about Marcel. Justice remains elusive for the Panamanian, who died last week aged 72. He is yet to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Comparing his record to others who have made it to Canastota in recent years suggests Marcel deserves his place.

He turned professional in 1966 and by the end of the decade a bout against Roberto Duran, another Panamanian who used the same gym as Marcel, was inevitable. The bout occurred in 1970 and Marcel was stopped in the 10th and final round with Duran in control. The spidery underdog had to rise in weight for the fight but objected only to the stoppage. Ironically, Duran – one of the greatest of them all – emerged triumphantly from hospital after a brush with coronavirus last week while Marcel’s death went largely unnoticed.

The year after the Duran defeat, Marcel was cursing his luck again when WBC featherweight boss Kuniaki Shibata kept the title out of his reach when the two battled to a 15-round draw in Matsuyama.

By 1972, Marcel was the WBA boss. He would his showcase his swarming but refined style against Antonio Gomez in Venezuala, winning a 15-round majority decision. He would defend the title three times before his defining moment, beating Arguello in a gruelling 15-rounder.

His retirement at 25 was a surprise. A rematch with then-world lightweight boss Duran had been discussed and, at featherweight, names like Danny Lopez and Ruben Olivares were lucrative options.

Instead, Marcel decided to go out on top. He’s one of a select few to do so. And one of an even smaller group to do so after beating a fighter as dangerous and talented as Alexis Arguello.

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