He is unanimously considered the greatest French boxer of all time. With 108 victories in 110 fights, Marcel Cerdan was one of the first great icons of French sport, if not the first. As he became world middleweight champion in September 1948, following his resplendent victory over Tony Zale, his popularity knew no bounds. Likewise, his relationship with Edith Piaf brings him into a new dimension, beyond sport. The “Moroccan bomber” embodied the perfect champion, already at ease in his communication and spectacular in the rings. His brutal death in a plane crash still arouses strong emotions, 73 years later.

This sudden disappearance comes at a time when Marcel Cerdan is in a rather unprecedented situation in his career: that of being in the shoes of the defeated. A few months after his victory over Zale, the 33-year-old boxer must defend his belt against Jake LaMotta, a rising but controversial American boxing star. The shock organized in Detroit on June 16, 1949 unfortunately did not keep all its promises: disturbed in its preparation after a change of manager and an advanced fight of 30 minutes, Marcel Cerdan fell from the start. A shoulder injury caused by his opponent? An unfortunate slip? The versions differ.

The Moroccan bomber, Marcel Cerdan pic.twitter.com/gv1TyB7rJ3

If he gives everything to keep his crown, the Frenchman cannot fight forever with such a diminished body, and ends up giving up in the tenth round. Invited on TF1 in 1981, LaMotta described this confrontation with the ardor which characterized him on the rings: “It was a very exciting but also exciting fight. I must say that we were almost even until the start of the last round. He was a very tough man. He never backed down, he stood firmly on his feet. It was a thumping thump all the way. Nobody was doing any skirmishes. And to conclude with a fine posthumous tribute, worthy of the reputation that Cerdan had made in America. “He remains the best fighter Europe has ever seen. »

However, not everyone is of the same opinion on this failure and the reasons surrounding it. The son of the French champion, Marcel Cerdan Jr., does not budge: this fight was rigged. “It was arranged for LaMotta,” he told L’Équipe. No one wanted to fight my dad anymore, so there was an agreement that there would be three fights. […] I’m sure it was LaMotta who proposed to him, because he was a thug. They won’t get it out of my head that they did business like that. He wasn’t the one who could beat my father. »

The failure of Detroit obviously leaves Cerdan on his hunger. That’s good, the return leg is planned fairly quickly between the two boxers: Madison Square Garden in New York says it is ready to welcome this new clash of the titans at the end of September 1949. Except that, a few days before the fateful date, Jake LaMotta affirms that he was injured in training. Tainted by a sulphurous reputation, did the American lie to keep his title of world champion a little longer? In reality, he wanted a financial extension for this fight. He will prevail.

�� 79 years ago, Marcel Cerdan corrected a fascist boxer at the Vél’ d’Hiv In front of an audience of Germans and 16,000 spectators, the “Moroccan Bombardier” knocked down the Spanish fascist José Ferrer eight times ➡ https:/ /t.co/uDLH7Rcj1x @Ina_audiovisuel pic.twitter.com/Fsnq4HmXwD

Returning to Morocco, where he spent his childhood and discovered the world of boxing, Marcel Cerdan is fixed on his fate after a few weeks. His opponent has finally made up his mind: the rematch will take place on December 2 in Manhattan. Sharpened and back on his feet after his physical hiccups, the man with hands of clay is ready. If her clan first thinks of taking the boat to cross the Atlantic and reach America, it is Edith Piaf who urges her lover to join her as soon as possible. It will therefore be the plane and flight F-BAZN of Air France. While the apparatus was complete, the manager of the boxer, Joe Longman, manages to win three places: an American couple and a director of a perfume house agree to leave their seats to Cerdan and his family.

Marcel Cerdan will never see New York and Edith Piaf again. The capricious weather forces the pilots to choose the Azores rather than Ireland as a stopover. The plane heads for the Portuguese archipelago, but it lands on the wrong island: rather than Santa Maria, São Miguel and its heights are in sight. Around 3 a.m. on October 28, 1949, Commander Jean de La Noüe could not avoid Pico Redondo and its 1,150 meters of altitude. The debris from the aircraft was spotted the next morning. It was rumored that there would be survivors, but at 5:30 p.m. the announcement fell on all French radio stations: none of the 48 members on board had survived. Marcel Cerdan is no more.