Former 3 time Commonwealth and World Champion Claude Noel, 31-10, 15 KO’s, cuts a curious figure. A native of Trinidad and Tobago he was born in Roxborough, Tobago on the 22nd August 1949. His rise from selling fruit as a teenager to making waves in boxing is as simple and as recognizable as any outside of the Caribbean. Noel’s fighting career began when at school he seemed to always be fighting with other boys. Because he was spotted at an early age, he was advised to get some lessons – he did and then channeled that aggression in a more positive direction.
He was a hero at home and because of his achievements, his home government awarded him a national medal – the Chaconia Award and named a highway after him. Whilst it was a career that brought recognition outside of the sport, his retirement was not to sparkle as his career in the ring did.
Inside the ring, the bald facts are that he was briefly the WBA lightweight champion in 1981, having had his first shot at the lightweight title in 1979. He was also the Commonwealth champion, not once but on 3 occasions between 1982 and 1984 winning the title against Barry Michael in 1983 by majority verdict, against Steve Assoon in 1983, on points, and against Davidson Andeh in 1984, winning this time by 7th round stoppage.
In a 41 fight career that spanned 11 years his career included fights against notable boxers including Fitzroy Guiseppi as well as those two wins against Steve Assoon. Professionally we got to know early of his prowess thanks to winning his first six professional-career fights by either knockout or stoppage. It began a reputation as a hard hitter with the ability to knock people out with either hand. Often though Noel was patient, waiting for the right time to land. He was astute both tactically aware and devastatingly able – a dangerous combination.
He gathered the baubles needed to challenge up the rankings with the Trinidad and Tobago lightweight championship in 1976, in 1977 he suffered some setbacks as he was stopped in the ring twice by Guyana’s Lennox Blackmore but he got up off the canvas and in 1978 he beat Pedro Acosta to become the Latin American Champion.
He was to be rewarded with two shots at the WBA lightweight title. Firstly, against Ernesto Espana of Venezuela in 1979 in Puerto Rico, he was knocked down for the third time in the 13th round of the 15 round bout and was stopped.
Having lost the 79 fight, meant he had to battle again through the rankings leading to the 1981 opportunity. The title became vacant when the WBA removed it from Sean O’Grady for not defending against Noel. Noel was the No. 1 contender. In a twist to the politics of the time, Noel sued O’Grady in Federal Court alleging that O’Grady had been unfairly rated ahead of him for a title shot and that O’Grady had had a commitment to fight him. It led Pat O’Grady to start a new sanctioning body, the World Athletic Association, in Oklahoma City.
His destiny came on the 12th of September 1981, in Atlantic City, when he became the first ever world boxing champion from Trinidad and Tobago, beating Mexican contender Rodolfo “El Gato” Gonzalez. His prize was the World Boxing Association lightweight title. It was a cracking fight and one where it swung between them, with Gonzalez coming back strong in the later rounds. Noel could not get his man out the ring and after 15 rounds he was left to hear the judge’s verdict. It was a unanimous points decision with one judge, Harold Lederman, scoring it 145-140, Frank Cappuccino scoring it 145-141 and Sam Sangis 144-141.
After the fight it was revealed that “El Gato” had sustained a broken jaw! The defeat was the first for Gonzalez in 21 fights.
Interviewed after the fight, the new world champion Noel outlined his future plans, ”I intend to give everyone an equal chance. Whoever feels he wants what I have is welcome.”
Noel, at 33, became the oldest fighter of the time to win a world boxing title. Just over 3 months later he defended his title against the American Arturo Frias and was knocked out in the eighth round in Las Vegas. He never had another chance to win a world title.
The Commonwealth title was to see him fight in his last contest when he lost the fight against Graeme Brooke of Australia in 1984. His sharpness was already going and he retired.
His involvement in the sport extended beyond his fights in the ring it is believed that he continued as a coach, subsequent to his retirement. Unfortunately, he has also had a checkered retirement with claims made of hard drugs, run-ins with the law and imprisonment.
His health has also been a cause for some concern. 2 years ago, when he was 67, he is now 69, he was reported in his local press as saying, “All I can see now is the shadows of people. I used to cook for my¬self but my sight has be¬come so bad that I can no longer do it. I am really in need of some help.”
In Trinidad and Tobago there is a group of former boxers known as the “Friends of Claude” who also pay him regular visits. It’s a truly sad state of affairs and it serves as a reminder to us all that this sport is but a fleeting moment in your life and lifelong dedication is needed to safeguard your health. We are hopeful that the care he needs is in place and that our memories of a such a great warrior are what sustains us and keeps him more healthy for his future.