View Full Version : R.I.P. Alphonse Halimi former Bantam Champion

11-14-2006, 02:48 PM
Alphonse Halimi 1932-2006
By Marty Mulcahey from Max Boxing

Alphonse Halimi was an intriguing mixture of personalities. A French citizen, but a product of their turbulent Algerian colony. Possessed of a trend setting personality with swarthy good looks and elegant style, his presence evoked classic Hollywood scenes from Casablanca in the mind, yet Halimi devoutly observed the tenants of the Jewish faith behind the facade of his Arabic appearance. In the amateurs, Halimi was feared for his ability to stop opponents with a rare tenacity, but found acclaim for his defensive prowess upon turning pro. Halimi was a perfect cocktail befitting the multinational playground Paris was in the 1960's.

The erratic way Halimi fared, at the very highest levels of boxing, precludes him being ranked among the top 20 bantamweights in boxing's long history though. The boxing yearbook wrote of Halimi, "The little Algerian has shown some rare qualities of boxing and slugging." Time magazine agreed, "Alphonse went to work with a street fighter's will. A grown-up guttersnipe from the back alleys of Algeria. He worked like a heavyweight, swung looping haymakers, careless of where they landed, confident that they hurt." Fine qualities to be sure, but Halimi was not a one dimensional boxer. Boxing Illustrated defined Halimi well in asserting, "His vast experience and lightning moves bewilder his foes, often times has them throwing frantic punches at points 90 degrees from where Halimi actually stands." Defense was a quality Halimi needed to rely on more to extend his two title reigns. The problem was that Halimi engaged opponents too much for a man whose chin would not stand up to extended punishment.

The harsh life of Alphonse Halimi began on February 18th, 1932 in the city of Constantine, the third largest city of Algeria, located in the northeast region and removed from the Mediterranean coast line by 50 miles. Alphonse was the last of thirteen children (only seven reached adulthood) born to a postal inspector. Even before his teens, the slums that surrounded Halimi turned him into a little menace who gained a reputation as a street fighter. At the age of ten, he ran away from home for the first time, living on the streets of the war torn nation for extended periods. Alphonse quit school to become an apprentice in a tailor shop at age twelve, and was eventually adopted by a French woman (Marcelle Faty) living in Algiers. Halimi would become known for the stylish suits and boxing trunks that he fashioned for himself well after his ring talents were discovered. Halimi's epiphany came when he learned about fellow Algerian born Frenchman Marcel Cerdan. He became Halimi's hero, and Alphonse carried a picture of Cerdan from the beginning to the end of his career.

Like many French citizens, Halimi knew he would have to serve a mandatory stint in the military, which prevented him from turning professional until the age of 23. Halimi began to box as an amateur at age sixteen, and knew that he could expand on his amateur credentials while in the military. At the age of 21, he won the first recognition for his abilities, capturing the French bantamweight amateur title in 1953 and 1954, and pulling off a double by adding the all-Mediterranean title in 1955 as well. It is generally accepted that Halimi had 189 amateur bouts, but some resources claim up to 240 fights. All cite an amazing 150 stoppage victories. His reputation well established, Halimi was brought to France under the guidance of veteran manager Phillipe Filippi.

Halimi's pro debut went as expected, as he knocked out Georges Lafage in one round at Paris' famed Palais des Sports. He also made a statement with his green and red trunks, decorated with a Star of David (which he wore in every fight, even if he had to put a pair of black or white trunks over the top to suit the TV audiences) that he made himself. For his second bout, Halimi returned to Africa, scoring another first round kayo in Tunis. More international flavor was added when Halimi traveled to Italy and knocked out Rino Stiaccini. Four more low level opponents were lined up, with only one advancing into the seventh round before being knocked out. The big test came in his seventh pro bout, and last of 1955, when he boxed Italian slickster Letterio Petilli. The Italian had not lost in three years, but was outsped and forced to retreat for much of the fight. Halimi deserved his first decision victory, and proved he had no problem going the ten round distance. A year after turning pro, Halimi had established himself as a force at bantamweight, and was ranked third by The Ring magazine in their year end issue.

The win over Petilli and subsequent decisions over Philly's Billy Peacock and Filipino Tanny Campo proved Halimi belonged among the elite. It also confirmed Halimi could encounter and overcome various styles of boxers. The Campo win set Halimi on the title path, with a shot at the crown expected before a year's time. The management of Halimi played the waiting game, staging four keep busy fights in Paris. The fighter did his job by dispatching of all his opponents. Word came that Halimi would get a title shot against world bantamweight champion Mario D'Agata, and that the champ was confident enough to come to Paris for the right price. The fight was made for May of 1957, only a year and a half after Halimi turned pro.

The hard hitting Algerian had a perfect 18-0 record, with the bout held at famed Plais Des Sports, where many of Europe's great sporting men had performed. The diminutive champ came out in his usual hard charging way, digging his head into the challenger's chest and flailing away. D'Agata was scoring well to the head and body of the youngster. Many thought D'Agata was on the path to establishing his will in sweeping the first three rounds. In a chaotic scene, which seems to only curse boxing, D'Agata was burned on his back and neck after a short circuit caused an overhead ring light to explode. Portions of the glass, metal wire, and rubber had to be peeled off the champion's back. The referee told both men to fight on after a 20 minute break to clean the ring up.

With the resumption of hostilities, it was clear that Halimi had refocused and began to push D'Agata back. After the freakish accident, Halimi established a new pace, and won all but one of the ensuing rounds. Halimi countered every offense move of D'Agata beautifully, and using his handspeed, Halimi kept the champ at a distance. The judges rendered a unanimous verdict in favor of Halimi at the end of fifteen rounds. The win spurred parties in two countries of two continents, both of which rushed to claim Halimi as their own. From poor street urchin to well rounded amateur, then on to a professional world championship. Halimi had done it all with flair and threefold pride as Jew, Algerian, and Frenchman. To hold everything together, Halimi had one more continent to conquer...North America.

Before Halimi would risk his title in America, he traveled to England a couple of months after his title win. Shockingly, he was stopped on a cut eye, in a non title affair, by Englishman Jimmy Carson. It was a minor bump in the road, as such things were easily forgiven in that era, and three months later Halimi knocked out Scotland's Chic Brogan to reaffirm his dominance, and put the previous setback in it's right perspective. Manager Filippi shrewdly garnered Halimi more money by loaning him out to France's Amar traveling circus for two months. Halimi shadowboxed, skipped rope, hit a heavy bag and sparred for more money than he made in some title bouts. But the sternest test of Halimi's career lay before him. Wildly popular Mexican Raul "Raton" Macias was a buzzsaw of an opponent, but Halimi was confident of victory, and he accepted a bantamweight record $50,000 purse to meet Macias in Los Angeles.

On November 6, 1957, the duo of Halimi and Macias met before a crowd of 18,385 at Los Angeles' Wrigley Field. The bout was one of the best of the year, with Halimi choosing to give up his speed advantage, turning the bout into a slugfest. Particularly effective for Halimi were his uppercuts, which got under Macias' guard during infighting. Halimi found in the first couple rounds that he was physically stronger than Macias, and he would use it to his advantage by consistently moving forward. Macias was stubborn, and the men stood toe to toe, letting punches fly. The referee's lack of involvement, even though battle was at close quarters, showed how effective both were without clinching.

The fight remained a stalemate for ten rounds, then Halimi made the move to separate himself...literally. Feeling Macias' workrate had slowed, Halimi moved outside, and began to jab and counter. The new strategy worked, and was appreciated by the judges, who gave Halimi the next five rounds. Macias was gracious in defeat, "The only reason I lost was because Halimi was better. He put pressure on me. I would like to fight him again, to redeem myself and Mexico." His biggest challenge, and detractors, now behind him, Halimi returned to the comfortable environs of his adoptive home city of Paris.

The celebrated champ was a regular with the city's elite, invited to the best parties and gala receptions. Life was good, but not to the point of distraction within the ring. The next year and a half saw Halimi defeat the best Europe had to offer (although he was the only champion who did not defend his title in 1958). A Frenchman, Belgian, Scotsman, and two Filipino fighters were beaten back. Wins over Peter Keenan and Tanny Campo were particularly impressive in terms of style. Halimi was winning in Europe, while a new threat was establishing itself in America. Once again a brash young Mexican battled his way to a mandatory challenger position. Once more, Halimi would travel to America to remain on top of the bantamweight food chain.

Awaiting Halimi was 23 year old Jose Becerra, an exceptionally strong and willing brawler with a reputation for endless reserves of stamina. 15,000 partisan fans came to support Becerra, from round one to the finish, and they witnessed a brawl punctuated by well timed flurries from both combatants. The Ring called it "Fistic Armageddon. Action packed every second of the way." The first two rounds were scored in favor of Halimi, who worked well behind a solid jab and combinations off the ropes. In round three, Becerra ratcheted up the pace, not allowing Halimi space to maneuver and use his experience. Halimi would have his moments, but the style of fight had swung in favor of Becerra.

Between rounds, Halimi's corner yelled at him to stay off the ropes and fight Becerra at range. The highpoint occurred in round eight, when Halimi rocked Becerra with a counter right hand. Obviously hurt, Becerra took a step backwards, but his aggressive nature prevailed. Instead of retreating, Becerra landed a tremendous left hook that deposited the advancing Halimi on the canvas. Getting up from the punch was an achievement in itself. A follow-up attack by Becerra was punctuated with a straight right hand, dropping Halimi face first onto the canvas. The Boxing yearbook called the result, "as stunning as it was unexpected." Halimi was as good a sportsman in defeat as in victory, jokingly telling writers, "I thought I could knock him out—but poof!". Seasoned observers began to look ahead, and thought Halimi had fought with a wrong strategy. Many tabbed Halimi to prevail in a rematch, and had some justification as the fight was even on two of the scorecards at the time of the stoppage.

The quality of the first Becerra vs. Halimi fight demanded a rematch, and seven months later they met again. The fight was moved outdoors to the Los Angeles Coliseum. Ticket demand doubled the attendance of the first bout, swelling up just short of 32,000. Unlike their first fight, Halimi was reluctant to engage in a toe to toe affair, and he came out for the first round intent on boxing from a distance. A fast and clever former champion, Halimi did well for the first two rounds. Using his feet, Halimi moved away from the ropes and countered. The move caught Becerra off balance and he scored a flash knockdown in the second. Again, the third-round would prove the turning point of the fight.

Becerra began to cut off the ring and trap Halimi along the ropes, racking his opponent with two fisted punching to the body. Halimi did a better job this time along the ropes, and he tied Becerra up more consistently. As the rounds wore on, the fight moved inside and turned the bout into an exciting affair. A third shift of momentum saw Halimi retake control of the middle of the ring, outboxing and even standing to trade with Becerra. Stamina was the ingredient that won it for Becerra, with Halimi slowing dramatically in the ninth round. The hectic pace showed in Halimi's legs, which faltered and were no longer able to avoid the oncoming rushes of Becerra. Halimi became a stationary target. Becerra dropped Halimi with a perfect left hook for the ten count 48 seconds into the ninth round. It was a poignant ending to a great fight, and voted second best round of the year by The Ring for 1960.

The Ring magazine wrote of the bout, "A contest that was replete with thrilling fighting, and a dramatic ending." The fight was the second highest box office gate for 1960, only exceeded by the Patterson vs. Johansson heavyweight championship fight. Halimi returned to France, dejected but far from finished as a top level attraction and performer. Three months after his second loss, Halimi fought for the first time in his native Algeria, scoring a kayo over Spaniard Juan Cardenas. Then came the shocking announcement of Jose Becerra's retirement. The world title now vacant, the European boxing union nominated Halimi to fight Northern Ireland's Freddie Gilroy in London for their version of the world title. The National Boxing Association accepted the winner of an Eder Jofre vs. Eloy Sanchez bout as their champion.

A return to champion status was upon Halimi, as he countered Freddie Gilroy, a southpaw opponent, with speed and well timed bursts of aggression. The bout went the distance, and the class of both combatants showed through, which The Ring magazine recognized by appointing the bout the third best of the year in it's year in review. In the end, not even hometown judging could have allowed for anything less than a fifteen round points win. Halimi was champion again, even if the world was split on who the real world champion was. Negotiations were made for Halimi to face Eder Jofre, but terms could not be agreed upon. Instead, Halimi traveled to Belgium, Tunisia, and Algeria scoring wins over mid level opposition that did nothing to enhance his status as much as a Jofre fight would.

Like his Mexican foes, a second Irishman would doom Halimi's title run. In 1961, a year after winning the title a second time, Irishman Johnny Caldwell scored a fifteen round win over Halimi in London. The win was sealed after Halimi suffered a cut eye in the eighth, and Caldwell scored a last round knockdown, emphasizing a stamina edge. In the sixth, Halimi nearly pulled off a win when he rocked Caldwell, but he could not follow up on the advantage. The quality of the bout was excellent, setting up a rematch five months later. The result would be the same. Caldwell won the second by decision as well, and it was a case of one man's style being too difficult to solve for another. With an edge in speed of foot and hand, Caldwell did well to avoid Halimi when he tried to engage, and even countered when Halimi was effective.

The age of thirty had crept up on Halimi, and he was past his prime physically. Halimi still had enough to compete with some of the elite though. He won a European title by outpointing long reigning Italian champion Piero Rollo in front of 12,000 of his Jewish fans in Tel Aviv. It was the first professional boxing card held in Israel, so promoter Jack Solomons was disappointed not to have a sell out crowd. 1962 was also the year Algeria gained it's independence after a protracted war of civil disobedience, and as a French citizen, Halimi would never fight there again.

Four months later, a return match with Rollo, in Italy, allowed the Italian to regain the title. The loss proved Halimi was nearing the end of his days as a useful boxer, but he continued to fight. Over the next two years, Halimi fought six times (going 3-2-1) against boxers with .500 records. The last bout was a farcical loss in Bogota Colombia, entered into for money alone. There was no glitzy final bout, nor gimme type opponent that would restore luster and serve as a bookend win to an otherwise stellar career.

After boxing, Halimi threw himself wholeheartedly into marriage, and returned to his native Algeria. He went back to tailoring, and invested money in divergent businesses. The President of France, the famed General de Gaulle, honored Halimi with France's highest award, the Legion d'Honneur medal. His personality did not change, and Halimi proved too giving to friends and hangers on, which slowly drained him of his savings. His wife became frustrated with the inability to control his finances, and she left with their two children. Halimi entered a spiral of depression. Unable to cope with his surroundings without his wife and kids, he moved back to France.

Once back in France, Halimi took a position as a trainer at the Paris institute for sport, and opened a small café with help of old friends. It allowed for a comfortable life for a period, after which he lived in a pensioner home for the elderly, in Saint-Ouen on the outskirts of Paris, where his daughters visited him regularly. In 1989, Halimi received a further honor, being inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. To the WBC's credit, it established a food and medical pension fund for Halimi in 1999, something Halimi deserved from some source. His work ethic and accomplishments more than made him deserving of the assistance he never received while growing up. Those who know Halimi would surely agree, that if he could, he would have fought for those as well. Sadly, after suffering with Alzheimer's disease in his final years, Halimi died on November 12th, 2006, at the age of 74, from complications of pneumonia.

11-14-2006, 02:51 PM
Cyber Boxing Champion Alphonse Halimi Born: June 18, 1932 Constantine, Algeria Career Record: 41-8-1 (21 KO)


Sep 26 Georges Lafage Paris KO 1

Oct 24 Felix Vanderdonckt Tunis, Tunisia KO 1

Nov 5 Claude Vandeville Paris KO 1

Nov 17 Jose Luis Martinez Paris KO 1

Nov 26 Rino Stiaccini Milan, Italy KO 2

Dec 10 Stanislas Sobolak Paris KO 1

Dec 19 Jose Crespo Tunis, Tunisia KO 6

Dec 26 Letterio Petilli Milan, Italy W 10


Jan 26 Antonio Diaz Paris KO 6

Feb 26 Pierre Gress Gyde Paris KO 2

Mar 16 Billy Peacock Paris W 10

Jun 2 Kim Navarro Tunis, Tunisia KO 2

Oct 8 Robert Meunier Paris W 10

Oct 22 Tanny Campo Paris W 10

Dec 13 Andre Yousny Paris WDQ 9

Dec 26 Andre Jasse Paris KO 6


Jan 21 Alfred Schweer Paris W 10

Feb 14 Alex Bollaert Paris W 10

Apr 1 Mario D'Agata Paris W 15

(Wins World Bantamweight Title)

Jun 4 Jimmy Carson London KO by 9

Sep 16 Chic Brogan Paris KO 2

Nov 6 Raton "Raul" Macias Los Angeles W 15

(Retains World Bantamweight Title)

Dec 8 Tanny Campo Marseille, FR W 10


Oct 13 Dante Bini Paris KO 5

Nov 17 Peter Keenan Paris W 10


Feb 9 Pierre Cossemyns Paris KO 3

Mar 12 Jose Luis Martinez Rome W 10

May 11 Al Asuncion Paris KO 5

Jul 8 Joe Becerra Los Angeles KO by 8

(Loses World Bantamweight Title)

Dec 15 Robert Meunier Paris W 10


Feb 4 Joe Becerra Los Angeles KO by 9

(For World Bantamweight Title)

Apr 11 Louis Poncy Paris W 10

Jul 2 Juan Cardenas Algiers, Algeria KO 3

Sep 10 Jimmy Carson Algiers, Algeria KO 9

Oct 25 Freddie Gilroy London W 15

(Wins EBU Bantamweight Title)


Feb 4 Jean Renard Brusells, Belgium W 10

Mar 4 Jean Renard Tunis, Tunisia KO 4

Apr 29 Michel Lamora Oran, Algeria KO 5

May 30 Johnny Caldwell London L 15

(Loses EBU Bantamweight Title)

Oct 31 Johnny Caldwell London L 15

(For EBU Bantamweight Title)

Dec 2 Joe Buck Tunis, Tunisia KO 7


May 12 Jean Dos Santos Tunis, Tunisia W 10

Jun 26 Piero Rollo Tel-Aviv, Israel W 15

(Wins European Bantamweight Title)

Oct 28 Piero Rollo Cagliari, Italy L 15

(Loses European Bantamweight Title)

Dec 6 Jose Luis Martinez Paris W 10


Jan 5 Rafael Fernandez Tours, France W 10

Feb 1 Michel Lamora Geneva, Switzerland D 10


Jan 31 Klaus Jager Paris KO 1

Feb 24 Ramon Casal Paris L 10

Nov 27 Victor Cano Bogota, Colombia L 10

11-14-2006, 03:00 PM

Ron Lipton
11-14-2006, 08:49 PM
I will never forget the picture of this fighter I had in my Ring Record Book circa 1964. The shot of him and his great set of abdominal muscles was nothing short of inspirational to me to keep my abs developed my whole life.

It is amazing the effect these fighters of yore have on a young boy who loves boxing.

R.I.P. Champ, your picture inspired me to work out very hard.

Ron Lipton

11-19-2006, 02:38 PM
I am saddened to hear of this wonderful champion's passing. He was someone I was greatly intrigued by over the last few years, and I appreciate the very thorough obituary. Bon Soir Champion, reposer en paix.

11-19-2006, 06:40 PM