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By Veersen Bhoolai,

June 14, 2023

When Claude Noel passed away on

Sunday May 21, Trinidad & Tobago

said farewell to one of its finest sports legends.


The Noel story is a classic case of a youngster coming from relative obscurity, overcoming immense

adversity to eventually bestride his countrymen as a sporting colossus.


Sadly, it is also a story of a boxer who rose to great heights only to tumble back down. He spent his

last years in TT beseeching the government forfinancial assistance, blind and with one leg.


However, turn back the clock almost fifty odd years ago when a 25-year-old Noel turned pro, he

would spend more than a decade commanding

local headlines as a knock out artist who ducked no one.


This was a golden era in Caribbean boxing, Guyana had Lennox Beckles, Mark Harris, Vernon Lewis, Pat Ford, Lennox Blackmoore and Kenny

Bristol. Barbados had Tyrone Downes and then there were the Jamaicans Bunny Sterling and Mick Mcallum. Whereas in TT, in addition to Noel,

we had Mike Paul, Eddie Marcelle, Fitzroy Guisseppi, Carlos Marks, Matt Donovan, Levi Campbell and Mike Parsons amongst others.


It was not abnormal to have four cards in a month in TT and Noel took advantage of the opportunity. Turning pro in 1976 and at an age

when most men are already well on their way, he took on all comers, he knocked out Fitzroy Guisseppi twice. Despite being KO’d by

Blackmoore twice in three months in 1977, he was in the ring just five days after the second Blackmoore loss and beat Rafael Solis over

10 rounds in Point a Pitre.

After the second defeat to Blackmoore, Noel won 11 fights in a row which culminated in a shot at the vacant World Boxing Association

Lightweight title in July 1979, vacated by Roberto Duran. He was TKO’d in 13 rounds by the Venezuelan Ernesto Espana in Puerto Rico.

Noel was behind on the scorecards and later claimed that he fought with an injured hand.

In true Noel style he refused to be deterred and won five on the trot in 1980. Noel was positioned as the number one Contender for the

WBA title now held by Sean O’Grady. The fighter’s father/Manager refused to accept a Noel fight. Noel won two more fights by KO vs

Gaetan Hart and Robert Madrid while his Manager, Richard Farah, championed his cause.


He was curiously demoted to the number two spot by the WBA. The astute Farah took them to court and won his case. The first time

anyone had ever won a court battle against the boxing organisation. Painted into a corner, the O’Grady camp forsook the title rather

than fight Noel.


He was then pitted against the number two contender, the Mexican phenomenon, Roldolfo “El Gato” Gonzalez for the vacant WBA title

on September 12, 1981. Many considered the 22-year-old Gonzalez to be the future of the lightweight division. The 33-year-old Noel was

a decided underdog.


However, under the direction of his Trainer, the legendary Bertram Legall, Noel was well conditioned and ready for action. If Noel was an underdog in this fight, he was certainly unaware of it.


Despite being a heavy-handed puncher, he possessed underrated boxing skills. He won a comfortable 15 round decision over the Mexican, sending him to the hospital with a reported fractured jaw.


The Roxborough Kid was now TT’s first World Champion.


Not surprisingly he was feted by the government both in Trinidad and his native Tobago. The TT government embraced him with open arms, he was given a house and a highway was named after him in Tobago.


An overweight and ill prepared Noel lost the title to last minute substitute, Arturo Frias by 8th round TKO in Las Vegas a few months later in December.


The TT public dismissed him as an old man who was lucky. However, Noel swore he would bounce back.


He beat future Jr. Lightweight Champion Barry Michael in his native Australia for the Commonwealth title. However, with his best years behind him, he then lost to contender Howard Davis Jr over 10 rounds and former three division World Champion Alexis Arguello by TKO. He was actually coming on in the Aguello fight when he got hit low and had his hip dislocated.


Considered to be finished he had his swansong vs All African Champion Davidson Andeh, ranked

number nine in the world. Defending his Commonwealth Crown in TT, he outfought the Nigerian

and knocked him out cold in the seventh round at the Jean Pierre Sports Complex.


However, now in his mid-thirties he was used as an opponent for the aspiring contenders, future

World Jr. Welterweight Champions, Rene Arredondo and Tsuyoshi Hamada both defeated him by

TKO. Losing his Commonwealth Crown to Australian Graeme Brook in Melbourne in 1984, Noel

immediately retired after the fight.


Noel had little to do with the fight game after that. He was arrested in the nineties for allegedly

having stolenelectronics. Noel insisted that he was holding it for a friend, however, he went to prison.

Upon his release was later given a position with the Trinidad Housing Authority.


At the turn of the century, a list of the country’s 100 greatest athletes was comprised for the previous

century. Astoundingly Noel, one of the finest Lightweights of his era, the first TT national to win a

National, Latin American, Commonwealth and World Title could not make the list. It was a slap in the

face to a national icon. Many believed it had to do with his checkered past.


A spokesperson for the Ministry of Sport had the audacity to say Noel could not make the top 100 but

perhaps could make the list for the next century. It was a statement steeped in stupidity.


Noel, in response perhaps put it best when he was quoted in the Press, “They cannot fool the grassroots man. The man on the street.

They know who Claude Noel is. He is the people’s Champion.


As the twenty-first century progressed so did his problems. Diagnosed as a diabetic,

he lost vision in one then both eyes. He later had his

right leg amputated. Just a few months before his death a video of an obviously

distressed Noel on the floor pleading for his cane and

shouting for assistance was shown on social media. It was the former champ

perhaps at his lowest. He continued to beseech the TT

government for help. It has never been ascertained whether or not he received

any; however, it was reported in the Press that the TT

Boxing Board of Control had given some assistance to him over the years.


Feted by the TT government when he won the World Title 42 odd years ago, not one

member showed up at his funeral save a member of

the Tobago House of Assembly, Wane Clarke.


Perhaps it was fittingly poignant that those who did show up were his family, friends and members of the boxing community. Claude Noel

remained until the day he died, the people’s champion. Who then better to pay their respects than the people themselves. His true fans.

Claude Noel, 

the people's champion

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A fit Claude Noel in training as he is observed by onlookers.
(L-R) Former national and Caribbean lightweight champion Alric Johnson, light middleweight boxer Kurt Sinette, 1987 WBA light heavyweight champion Leslie Stewart, flyweight boxer Peter Kin, boxing referee McKenzie Granger, middleweight and light heavyweight Michael Paul and lightweight boxer Michael Drayton attend the funeral for TT boxing icon Claude Noel at K Allen and Sons Funeral Chapel, Braodway, Arima on Saturday. - Anisto Alves
leslie stewart claude noel funeral june 2023.webp
PAYING HIS RESPECTS: From one Champ to another - former WBA Lightheavyweight Champion Leslie Stewart pays his respects to Claude Noel. (Photo taken from the TT Express)
Claude Noel vs Rodolfo "El Gato" Gonzalez for the WBA Lightweight Title, Sept. 1981.
Mover over VS Naipaul, the next great book in Caribbean literature. From the cocoa plantations of Trinidad to the capital city, a coming of age story encompassing love, adultery, murder and the trials and tribulations of a young boy approaching manhood. Number one on Amazon Canada's Biographies and Latin American/Caribbean list in October 2022.
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