Yvon Durelle, born on October 14, 1929, in Baie-Ste-Anne, was a renowned boxer who held the title of British Empire champion. He earned the nickname “Fighting Fisherman.”
Raised in a family of fourteen children, Durelle grew up in a small Acadian fishing village on the Atlantic coast. Like many of his peers, he left school early to work on a fishing boat.
In his free time, Durelle enjoyed boxing and began participating in prize fights on weekends while still working in the fishing industry. His brother, Ernie Durelle, also pursued a professional boxing career. Yvon Durelle embarked on his professional journey in 1947, fighting in various venues across the province. Gradually, he gained a reputation as a formidable opponent with a powerful punch, eventually becoming one of Canada’s top-ranked middleweight fighters.
In May 1953, Durelle claimed the Canadian middleweight championship title. After defending his title and winning eight consecutive bouts, he advanced to the light-heavyweight division. In his first fight against a bigger and stronger opponent, he defeated the Canadian champion and captured the light-heavyweight title. The following year, he fought outside of Canada for the first time, facing Floyd Patterson, a rising American Golden Gloves champion, in Brooklyn, New York. Although Durelle lost in eight rounds, his impressive performance against the future heavyweight champion garnered widespread respect in the global boxing community.
In March 1957, Durelle entered the top ten world rankings with a 10-round decision over Angelo DeFendis in New York City. In May, he secured the British Empire light-heavyweight championship and, the next month, faced off against the world’s top-ranked contender, Tony Anthony. Despite being heavily favored, Anthony only managed a draw against Durelle, who most experts believed should have won. This result propelled Durelle to the number 3 ranking in the world. He became a widely discussed sports figure in his home country after defeating German champion Willi Besmanoff. In 1958, Durelle overcame Clarence Hinnant, widely regarded as one of the era’s finest all-around boxers. This victory granted Durelle his first opportunity to compete for a world title.
Yvonne Durelle’s iconic light-heavyweight championship match against the legendary Archie Moore on December 10, 1958, at the Forum in Montreal, Quebec, remains one of the most unforgettable bouts in boxing history. Despite being a 4-to-1 underdog, Durelle’s performance in the fight earned him near-mythical status in Canada. This match, one of the first to be broadcast from coast to coast on American television, saw Durelle astonish the boxing world by knocking down the champion three times in the opening round. Under modern boxing rules (excluding those of the World Boxing Council), the match would have been halted after three knockdowns in a single round, and Yvon Durelle would have been crowned world champion. Additionally, Durelle missed a chance when, after the initial knockdown, he stood over Moore, observing for several seconds before returning to his corner. This delayed the referee’s count, allowing Moore to rise at the count of nine. Durelle continued his aggressive pursuit of Moore for another four rounds, flooring him again in the fifth round, but Moore persevered and ultimately retained his world championship with an eleventh-round knockout. The fight became the talk of the boxing world, and the Canadian Press voted it the sporting event of the year.
In August, still reeling from the loss and the passing of friends and relatives, Durelle suffered a third-round knockout in a world title rematch against Archie Moore. In November, he lost a 12-round fight to Canadian heavyweight champion George Chuvalo. Durelle only competed a few more times before transitioning to professional wrestling in 1961. He returned to boxing in 1963, securing two more victories before retiring for good. Durelle continued to make a living in wrestling, primarily in Eastern Canada but occasionally with Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, Alberta.
Despite his imposing stature and aggressive profession, Durelle is often described as a humble and gentle man. However, a tragic incident in the 1970s left a lasting impact on him and his family. During an altercation at a bar he owned and operated, Durelle fatally shot a man who had attacked him. Charged with murder, he was represented by a young lawyer named Frank McKenna and was eventually acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. The trial garnered significant and prolonged media attention, and McKenna later entered politics, eventually becoming the Premier of New Brunswick.
Upon retiring to his hometown, a small museum showcasing mementos from his twenty-year boxing career was established, adjoining his residence. There, he and his wife, married for over fifty years, welcomed fans who came to visit the celebrated New Brunswick boxer.
In an ESPN.com article discussing the most memorable bouts in boxing history, contemporary referee Mills Lane stated, “I don’t think you’ll ever see a fight like Durelle-Moore again…That fight transcended what great fights are.”
- British Empire Light-Heavyweight champion in 1957
- Canadian Light-Heavyweight champion from 1953-57
- Nominated for the 1958 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s Outstanding Athlete
- Lost in the 11th round to Archie Moore in the World Light-Heavyweight championship bout on Dec. 10, 1958
- Inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1971
- Inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1975
- Inducted into Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989
Yvon Durelle’s biography, “The Fighting Fisherman: The Life of Yvon Durelle” by author Raymond Fraser, was published in 1981.
In 2003, Ginette Pellerin of the National Film Board of Canada made a documentary film on his life called “Durelle.”
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