THE CAREER of one of Europe's great champions was interrupted by WWII and cut short when he was killed in a plane crash en route to America for a world title rematch. But while he was active, the Algerian-born Frenchman lost just four of 110 contest (two were by foul) and won European titles at 147 and 160 pounds, and a world title at 160.
Cerdan, known as the "Casablanca Clouter," was one of three fighting Cerdan sons. He turned pro at 18 in 1934. And with the exception of two losses by disqualification, he never saw an opponent's hand raised in victory until May 23, 1948, his 105th bout; a narrow 15-round decision loss to Cyrille Delannoit, which he avenged two months later.
He ran his unbeaten streak as a professional to 46-0, until he was disqualified in the fifth-round against Englishman Harry Craster on Jan. 9, 1939 in London. Four bouts and six weeks later Cerdan beat his first world ranked opponent, Saverio Turiello in a welterweight contest in Paris. Then he beat Turiello again, this time for the European welterweight crown in June.
With the outbreak of WWII and the early fall of France, Cerdan didn't resume his career until 1941 in North Africa. But by the end of the year he was back fighting on the mainland, which was occupied by Germany. A disqualification loss to Victor Buttin, who he later knocked out, is the only blemish in his 28 fights from 1941-44. He continued his winning ways through the next two years, including wins over world-ranked middleweights Holman Williams in Paris, and an impressive 10-round decision win over Georgie Abrams in his New York debut.
In 1947 he won the vacant European middleweight title and, with the exception of the points loss to Delannoit, cruised toward his title shot with world champion Tony Zale. On Sept. 21, 1948 in Jersey City, New Jersey, the 33-year-old challenger dominated the "Man of Steel" and scored a 12th-round TKO for world honors. After two non-title wins in 1949, he lost the crown on June 16, to fellow Hall-of-Famer Jake LaMotta, via 10th-round TKO. Cerdan, who injured his shoulder when the two fell to the canvas during a first-round scuffle, fought one-armed, until he retired in his corner after the 10th.
En route to America for the rematch later that fall, he was killed when his plane crashed.