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Forgotten Champions: Marvin Camel


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Yeah, that's right. Despite being the first cruiser world champion in history, Marvin Camel's name today means nothing to many boxing fans who know something about history but are not experts. Camel was a two-time world champ, first he won the WBC belt and later the IBF belt as well. None of his reigns lasted long, but he lost the IBF belt in an unlucky way. He was a tall guy for a cruiser of that time at 6'2, had a big reach of 79 inches and boxed well. Never a knockout artist, he instead relied on his boxing skills and moxy and was very tough and durable. Here is his story.


Born December 24 1951 on Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, he was the son of an African American father and a Native American mother. His father was physically abusive and later abandoned the family and young Marvin always felt like a full-bloodied Native American, also because of his upbringing on the reservation. His physical talents became apparent early on. From the age of 11, his goal was to become a world champion in boxing. He also excelled at football and track and field. He trained himself up by running in the hills surrounding his home town of Ronan, Montana. Boxing was a natural path for him to take however, because he and his two brothers often got into fights with other Native American kids, mostly because of their half-black heritage. At the age of 15, he won the local AAU and the Golden Gloves. He reached the AUU and Golden Gloves finals 15 times combined. He turned pro on June 25 1973, as a light heavyweight. He beat Joe Williamson by TKO1. He won 14 straight fights before running into Matthew Saad Muhammad (then Franklin) on July 17 1976 and despite putting Muhammad down once in the fourth round, lost by SD10. They had a rematch on October 23 and this time Camel was victorious by a majority decision. He suffered his second pro loss due to a cut eye against Danny Brewer, June 28 '77. He continued winning and on August 22 1978 he beat Ibar Arrington, then considered a top contender, by UD10, in what was in fact a cruiserweight fight, but that division still didn't exist. He won his first title, the Pacific Northwest light heavyweight one, in his next fight, beating Dale Grant by UD12.


After the inauguration or introduction of the cruiserweight division in 1979, the tall and lanky Camel who always was too big for a light heavy and too lean for a heavy, finally found his right fighting weight class. He first won the NABF belt there, by beating Bill Sharkey by a shutout UD on June 5 '79. He then faced off against Mate Parlov of Yugoslavia, who at 6'2 was equally tall and had that same rather lean build as Camel, and was primarily a boxer. They fought on Parlov's ground, in his hometown of Split in Croatia, December 8 that same year. The first WBC cruiser belt ever was at stake, but the fight ended a draw after 15 rounds, with two judges having it even and the scoring referee giving it to Camel clearly. The rematch would happen next year on March 31, this time at Caesars Palace in Vegas. This time, Camel could not be denied and won by clear unanimous decision to become the first world cruiser champion in history! However, the sweet joy of victory would fade soon, as he found himself on the losing end in his very first defense against the excellent Carlos "Sugar" De Leon. It was a hard and gruelling fight at Superdome in New Orleans, November 25th, and Camel got cut up pretty badly and lost by a majority decision after a 15-round war. He came back next year by winning the vacant Nevada State title by UD12 against Rahim Muhammad, May 5 '81. He then got a chance to reclaim his title and avenge the loss to De Leon on February 24 '82, fighting the champion at Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. But it wasn't to be his night and he was pounded into submission and forced to surrender in 8 rounds, losing by a TKO after being clearly behind on the scorecards. It seemed now as his moment of greatness had passed and that he had lost his "moxy" and would slide into obscurity. After also getting knocked out by the undefeated John Odhiambo in Denmark in 2 rounds, February 11 '83, this notion seeemed very true. But, he bounced back by stopping the undefeated Rocky Sekorski by a corner retirement in 8 rounds, only 3 months later. He then received a fight for the new IBF title against Canadian Roddy MacDonald, the former national light heavy champion. MacDonald was not on his level, so Camel was expected to win and that he did. It was on December 13 in Halifax, Canada that he hit MacDonald with a hard punch to the solar plexus and MacDonald went down on his knees, unable to make the count. At first, the referee called it a low blow,, but then the bout supervisor called it a clean one. Camel could finally call himself a world champion after 3 years.


Alas, like with the last world title, this one he didn't manage to hold on to for much longer. He made his first defense on October 6 next year, fighting the 20-0 Lee Roy Murphy. Murphy was shorter at 5'11, but had true ko power and was tough and durable. Camel outboxed him for much of the fight, but sustained a bad cut, or several bad cuts and in round 14, after being solidly ahead on the cards, the fight had to be stopped. It was a very sad and unlucky farewell to the title this time. Camel's form and career deteriorated rapidly after that. In his next fight, he drew against an 8-4-3 Jimmy Bills and then lost to Jose Maria Burton on points, fighting away in Argentina. His most devastating loss happened after that, on May 1 '87. He was fighting the fellow Native American Virgil Hill, 12 years his junior, when he was caught by a devastating left hook to the chin and knocked out at the end of the first round. He was also stopped by future WBA cruiser champion Taoufik Belbouli, by TKO4 in Paris, on October 10 that same year. He kept fighting 'til 1990, but would only win two more fights and in his penultimate fight he did something silly: he fought the heavyweight Joe Hipp who weighed in at 246 1/2 while Camel weighed in at only 187 1/2. He got stopped by TKO6. He retired with a record of 45 wins, 21 by ko, 13 losses, 8 by ko, and 4 draws. 7 of those losses came after he lost his prime.


Marvin Camel was a pretty unknown champion and fighter and upon winning the WBC belt, he got no response worthy of a champion upon his return to Montana. He was still popular with the local people and still is. In 2006, he was honored with the honorary championship belt by the WBC president Jose Sulaiman. The reason for his lack of popularity or recognition was the fact that the cruiserweight division was very new when he fought in it and didn't get a lot of coverage. One can argue that always was the case with it, until recent times. Camel was trained by Eddie Futch and managed by Elmer Boyce. He was the first Montana native and the first boxer of Native American descent to win a world title. And he will remain chiefly remembered for that. Thank you.

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