Boxing fraternity, Tobago mourn Claude Noel
Former Trinidad and Tobago and World Boxing Association (WBA) lightweight champion Claude Noel died on Sunday at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope. He was 74 and had suffered from diabetes for several years.
Noel, a Tobagonian, became the country's first lightweight world titleholder when he defeated Mexican Rodolfo El Gato Gonzales in September, 1981. The following year, he received the Chaconia Gold Medal, and the Claude Noel Highway in Tobago was named after him.
Three months after winning the WBA lightweight belt, Noel was carded to face American challenger and late replacement Arturo Frias. Frias dominated the fight, which took place in Las Vegas, before knocking Noel out in the eighth round to claim the world title.
Noel went on to win three Commonwealth lightweight titles.
He fought ten more times after his world title fight and lost six. His final fight took place in November 1984, which he lost, along with his Commonwealth title, to Australian Graeme Brooke by a unanimous decision.
A statement by the TT Boxing Association on Tuesday paid tribute to the “legendary” Noel.
“The TTBA and its members send condolences to the family of Claude Noel. Claude was TT's first World boxing champion. He was the fourth TT boxer to fight for a world title. Before him was Yolande Pompey, Fitzroy Guissippi and Mathew Donavan.
“Claude represented an era when TT produced world-class boxers and professional boxing was at its peak from the 50s to the 80s.
“We produced the likes of Noel, Gentle Daniel, Boswell St Louis, Johnny Duncan ,Carlos Mark, Eddie Marcelle, Michael Drayton, Michael Paul, Johnny de Peiza to name a few.”
TTBA president Cecil Forde knew Noel well and shared some stories on growing up in and around local boxing and its characters such as Noel, Marcelle, Duncan and others.
Forde said, “He won 31 of 41 pro fights and had about 15 amateur fights. When Claude and they were fighting, there was not (as) much emphasis on amateur boxing as today. Everything was geared towards professional boxing.
“I was born into boxing, and from the 50s to the 80s, the main gym (now Cosmic Boxing Gym in Marabella) was in our yard. I knew all the boxers from that era. I’m 75 now, so I grew up with Claude and them.
“There was an exchange kinda thing that used to happen in those days. You found that when south boxers were preparing for a big fight, the north boxers came down to south and they worked together. There was a togetherness.”
Forde said Noel learnt to box at the now-closed St Michael’s Home for Boys in Diego Martin, and then joined coach Ken Matthais.
Back then, most boxers came from children’s homes, he said. The Belmont Orphanage also produced top local boxers such as Duncan and Daniel, among others.
“You had St Mary’s Orphanage (Tacarigua) with Johnny DePeiza (former pro boxer), a couple guys from there, and then you had YTC (Youth Training Centre): they had the bulk.
“When Claude started off and turned pro, his first coach was Don Rajkumar. He stayed with him for a while and then went over the Bertrand Legall, he was a big name back then and managed a lot of those guys.
“From there, Noel linked up with Richard Farah and he, at the time, was into boxing in a big way.”
National coach Reynold Cox, who is currently in Poland with a group of TT boxers, said he did never worked with Noel in any capacity but “remained a fan” of the ex-pro athlete.
“Boxing has lost one of its icons,” Cox said.
Minister of Sport and Community Development and fellow Tobagonian Shamfa Cudjoe also sent condolences to the Noel family.
“Claude Noel has indeed made exceptional contributions to the sporting landscape of TT. May his legacy live on,” Cudjoe posted on Facebook.
Tobago’s Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) leader Watson Duke said the island, particularly Roxborough, where Noel grew up, had “lost a champion.”
Duke said Noel grew up “a stone’s throw away” from his family and visited frequently since his mother was well known to Duke's parents.
He also referred to a viral video of Noel in distress, which circulated last year. The video showed Noel, one of whose legs had been amputated, on the ground, calling for help. Noel’s caretaker said the video was over a year old.
The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services said it would collaborate with the Ministry of Health to provide a prosthetic leg for Noel. It also said he had been a beneficiary of its special achievers’ grant for some years, in addition to receiving the senior citizens’ pension.
But Duke condemned the “Ministry of Sport for allowing Claude Noel to die the way he died, without being celebrated to his last day.” He also blamed the government “for not preparing for the after-life of sportsmen and women.”
He said it was his goal, in the near future, and as a politician there, to rebuild the Claude Noel Highway and erect a statue there in memory of the ex-world champion.
"Boxing fraternity, Tobago mourn Claude Noel"