Villemain: No Surrender Monkey

By Clarence George on September 22, 2014
Villemain: No Surrender Monkey
Villemain defeated LaMotta via unanimous decision at the Garden on December 9, 1949.

Everyone remembers Marcel Cerdan and Marcel Thil, but there was another French middleweight deserving of a word or two…

“Bonjoooouuurrr, ya cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys!”—Groundskeeper Willie, The Simpsons

Everyone remembers Marcel Cerdan and Marcel Thil, and quite right too, but there was another French middleweight deserving of a word or two.

Born in Paris on January 10, 1924, Robert Villemain fought from 1944 to 1952, winding up with a record of 52 wins, 14 by knockout, seven losses, one by knockout, and four draws. Save for a draw, Villemain won his first 34 fights. He became France’s welterweight champ in 1946 by outpointing Omar Kouidri and EBU welterweight titleholder in 1947 by stopping Ernie Roderick. Although he never got a crack at the Middleweight Championship of the World, he took on Sugar Ray Robinson for Pennsylvania’s version of the title at the Municipal Stadium in Philly on June 5, 1950, losing by unanimous decision.

Villemain also lost to Steve Belloise by unanimous decision at the Garden on January 7, 1949, his first defeat; Jake LaMotta by highly controversial split decision at the Garden on March 25, 1949; Dave Sands on points at the Olympia in Kensington, London, on July 5, 1949; Sugar Ray by ninth-round TKO at the Palais des Sports in Paris on December 22, 1950, the only time he was stopped; Norman Hayes by split decision at Boston Garden on December 17, 1951; and Bobo Olson by split decision at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, on July 7, 1952, his last fight.

The Frenchman drew against Mark Hart, Laurent Dauthuille, Gene Hairston, and Joe Blackwood.

But Villemain had plenty of victories, many of them impressive, beating Dauthuille twice, Anton Raadik, Kid Gavilan, Danny Nardico, the only guy to ever knock down “The Bronx Bull,” Joey DeJohn, one of only three men to kayo Lee Sala, Jose Basora in his last fight, and paying back LaMotta by beating him via unanimous decision at the Garden on December 9, 1949.

Villemain, who died age 60 on September 4, 1984, was feather-fisted, despite one of his opponents, Gino Verdinelli, dying from injuries sustained in the ring. But that doesn’t mean he was a cheese-eating surrender monkey. He was a tough Frenchie. There are some. Anyway, there were.

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Robert Villemain Training his bout with Steve Belloise. RARE

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  1. Clarence George 08:21am, 09/23/2014

    Yeah, both guys had good records, Bouttier in particular.

  2. Mike Casey 08:02am, 09/23/2014

    Jean Mateo was a terrific hitter in the seventies but not much good at getting hit! Jean-Claude Bouttier was a nice stylist who gave Monzon a couple of good fights.

  3. Clarence George 07:26am, 09/23/2014

    Yeah, Tonna…I think he beat Alan Minter.

  4. Clarence George 07:24am, 09/23/2014

    Thanks very much, Mike. 

    We’re not alone in our admiration for Villemain—I’m being outbid on a photo of his second fight with LaMotta (though I did pick up a nice one of Nathan Mann the other day).

    On an episode of “Pawn Stars,” a guy brought in a Carpentier memento.  They offered him nothing for it, saying that there was pretty much zero demand.  Sad, but true, not to mention inexplicable and indefensible.

  5. Eric 07:16am, 09/23/2014

    Gratien Tonna, decent middleweight, not great but not bad either. Belgie or Frenchie, nearly the same thing,  just as similar as German to Austrian.

  6. Mike Casey 07:07am, 09/23/2014

    Excellent, Clarence. Villemain was a seriously good operator. Thanks too for the well deserved nod to Carpentier, who - for reasons beyond me - is lightly regarded by many.

  7. Clarence George 09:31pm, 09/22/2014

    Good point, ch., and that’s an article in and of itself.

    Isn’t Royer-Crecy still alive?  I think so, though I wonder if his death would be reported in the American press.  These guys are so little known or regarded outside France.  Particularly true of Humez, I think.  He retired, I recall, after a savage beating from Gustav Scholz.

    There was also Cyrille Delannoit, who actually beat the phenomenal Marcel Cerdan.  But I think he was Belgian.  “I’m not a Frenchie, I’m a Belgie,” as Milo Perrier (James Coco) put it in “Murder by Death.”

  8. ch. 06:51pm, 09/22/2014

    I don’t know if it was because of the german occupation but France had some pretty tough middleweights after the the war. Villemain, Dauthuille, Charley Humez, Pierre Langlois, Jacques Royer Crecy. They all held their own against top American competition.

  9. Clarence George 02:47pm, 09/22/2014

    And let’s not forget light heavyweight Georges Carpentier.  A Hall of Famer, and rightfully so.

  10. Eric 01:54pm, 09/22/2014

    Oops. Forgot the “Fighting Frenchman,” the late Scott LeDoux. RIP. Again, not a true Frenchie, but close enough.

  11. Eric 01:45pm, 09/22/2014

    France sure taint what it used to be, that is for sure. However, saw a couple of lists of the top ten superpowers in the world and France ranked respectfully on both, finishing at #4 on the first, and #5 on the second list. France was ranked higher than Britain, Japan, and Germany, I would have never thunk it. Georges St-Pierre isn’t a boxer, but he was a top notch fighter. He isn’t a native of France but being a French speaking Canadian from Quebec, that’s close enough. Then you have a couple of tough Frenchies like Jos/Joe Leduc, another Canuck, and the Russian born French Angel. Vive la France!

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