29.08.08 – by James Slater – Former light-heavyweight/cruiserweight Marvin Camel is a unique boxer who holds a place in history – for three reasons. Number one, and most well known, is the fact that Camel was the very first cruiserweight world champion, becoming the first holder of the WBC belt back in March of 1980, just a few months after the organisation led by Jose Sulaiman had invented the new weight class.. Number two, after losing his WBC belt to Carlos De Leon, Camel became the very first holder of the IBF 190-pound championship; the Bobby Lee organisation having followed the WBC’s lead in 1983. And thirdly, and most importantly to Marvin himself, he is the one and only world champion boxer ever to come out of the state of Montana in the U.S.
Marvin, today long retired, remains incredibly proud of not only his history-making, but especially of his heritage – as he made plain while speaking to me over the phone in mid-August. A thoughtful speaking and intelligent-sounding man, Marvin enjoyed telling me about his time as a top class fighter. During his prime years, the man who was born on a reservation in December of 1951 and who turned pro in June of ’73, wore an Indian headdress into the ring. One of thirteen kids, Marvin and one of his brothers inherited the boxing bug from their father, he having been a semi-pro fighter himself.
Being back in the news somewhat just recently – sadly due to the death of former foe and long-time friend Mate Parlov- Marvin granted me the following interview, in which he recollected his great days, his fights with Parlov and told me of his plans for the future.
How old was Marvin when he first put the gloves on, I began by asking him.
“I was eleven years old,” Camel replied. “We used to spar at home a lot, with their being thirteen of us [brothers and sisters] we did a lot of sparring on the ranch. My dad bought me the gloves, we lived way out [in the sticks] in Ronan, Montana and one day my dad took me to a boxing card and I had my first fight. I weighed 105 pounds (chuckles) and I lost a three round decision. But I stuck with it and I continued to box.”
Marvin’s brother’s boxing career, also promising at one time, never really took off. Camel tells me why.
“My older brother, he went into the services and he boxed there also. But he unfortunately lost a leg in active service, so of course that was the end of his boxing. I myself continued to box throughout grade school and high school. I played other sports, too, like Basketball and football, but I was offered the chance to go to the state of Alaska to turn pro. An elder from my tribe spoke to a gentleman and I would up falling into the hands of a gentleman named Elmer Boyce. I was 17-years-old and I had my first fight in Butte, Montana, which is a-hundred-and-twenty miles from where I was born.”
Marvin, a clearly talented southpaw, boxed his way to 14 straight wins at light-heavyweight, a good number of his bouts taking place in Las Vegas; before he ran into the also up-and-coming Matthew Saad Muhammad in July of 1976. A ten round split decision later, Camel was 14-1(9).
“Muhammad was still known as Matt Franklin in those days,” Marvin informs me. “That was a very close fight. I won’t say I won it, but I only lost by one point – no more. I took the fight in his backyard (the fight actually took place in Stockton, California), and the great Yaqui Lopez headlined.”
It wasn’t long before the proud Camel got his revenge, which meant a lot to him.
“It was very satisfying beating him in the second fight (four months later). I was young, and I wanted to prove I could beat him. As odd as it may sound, though, I never sat down and thought about being a world champion in those days. It was just a case of, if I lost a fight, I’d go to the gym and train harder. My main assets in the ring were three things: to be in shape, to bob and weave to perfection and to throw the jab with perfection. Those are the things I tried to do in every fight.”
Naturally, however, it meant the world to Marvin when he did lift the WBC cruiserweight title in March of 1980. It took him two attempts – the first coming in December of 1979.
“It was good fortune for me that in 1979 the WBC decided to create the cruiserweight division. I didn’t think I was going to get a shot at the light-heavyweight title, and boxing as a cruiserweight meant I could also add a few pounds. The WBC set up a tournament with their top eight [ranked] guys. Myself and Mate Parlov wound up fighting for the new title. It’s quite ironic, actually. The fight took place in a place called Split, in Parlov’s home country of Yugoslavia, and they called it a split, the fight was a draw.”
Then came the rematch three months later.
“The second fight took place in Las Vegas, and I was and still am an undefeated fighter in Las Vegas – I fought there 21 times and never lost. Going into the fights with Parlov, I had one thing in mind. I’ve worn spectacles since I was 11-years old. My sight was never that bad, but I always wanted to get in close and fight my fight regardless of what the opponent’s stance was (Parlov was, like Camel, a lefty). As long as I could see my opponent and they weren’t fuzzy I knew they were close to me (laughs). No, I’m just kidding with you! Parlov was no different to any other fighter I faced. I’m not taking anything away from him, he was just no different, that’s the way I looked at it.”
Marvin told me how his winning the title meant a lot, not only to him, but to other people.
“Me becoming the WBC champion of the world actually meant more to the Flat Top reservation than it did to me. It meant so much to the people of Montana. That win opened up a lot of doors, for me and for the Native American people.”
At this point I brought up the recent news of Parlov’s passing. I had read how the two men were close and how Marvin had been greatly saddened at his friend’s death. Marvin, as his voice indicated, is still upset at what happened. He began by telling me how he felt Parlov’s loss to him in 1980 took everything out of the Croatian.
“When Mate lost to me in the rematch, and didn’t become the very first world cruiserweight champion, as I’m sure he felt he would have, that kind of blew him apart. He went into seclusion after that fight because he was so disappointed, as I would have been. It was unfortunate, and I’m looking at his picture right now, because he had a lot left to offer. He retired young, he could have gone on and done more. It was a great shock when I heard about his passing and it’s still a great shock now. I will always consider myself Mate’s good friend.”
It is clear to me the affection Marvin has for Mate Parlov. Moving on before he gets too upset, I ask him about his fight with Carlos De Leon – when he lost his title, in his first defence, via a desperately close majority decision.
“That [fight] was so close. I felt his greater publicity and money making potential – and I’m not taking anything away from Carlos – may have swayed the judges . You know, sometimes that does happen. I have great respect for Don king, I fought on his card and I won the title on his card. But he did have De Leon waiting in the wings to promote as a greater money maker than Marvin Camel. De Leon is a good fighter, who I have lots of respect for. But I feel I’ve done more for boxing than he could ever do. Very few people have walked the line that I have and achieved what I have achieved – growing up on a reservation and all.”
Marvin doesn’t come across as in any way bitter about the loss to De Leon, he truly seems to believe what he says. Still, I fast forward and choose not to ask him about his rematch with De Leon – a fight where he was TKO’d in 8 rounds. Instead, I ask Marvin about his claiming of his second world title in December of 1983 – the IBF 190-pound belt.
“I beat Roddy MacDonald (by 5th round TKO). You know, I may not have won a lot of world titles, like some of these guys who’ve won four or five at different weights. But I became the very first world champion of two organisations. To this day, I am still very proud of doing this. In the history books they call me the unique Marvin Camel. Every time I talk about my career, I say the best thing is that I am known as unique! I’m so proud of that.”
Unfortunately, as in his first reign, Marvin lost his belt in his first defence – a 14th round TKO to Lee Roy Murphy in October of 1984. Despite carrying on for a further six years, it was this loss that pretty much signalled the end of Camel’s top level career. What is he up to these days, though? And is Marvin still a fight fan?
“(after a long pause) Honest to God, I’ve gotta tell you, I kind of have a bad taste in my mouth today. I’ll skip talk about my fight with Lee Roy Murphy. The bottom line is, I never created a whole lot of money in boxing . I have never achieved the monetary aspect of it. Right now, if there’s a good fight on [T.V] me and some friends will pitch in [the money] to watch it on pay-per-view. But today, I’m trying to make a living.” ( at this point, though he didn’t say it exactly, I got the sense Marvin is perhaps struggling a little financially. Today he works a nine-to-five job, as he explains).
“I work for Circuit-City, an electrical company. I’ve worked for them for 17-years now. I’m what you call a workaholic. I need to work. I really do hope to get into boxing training fulltime soon. Me and another gentleman, we are trying to get a boxing club started and we want to get a second world champion from the sate of Montana. Right now I’m living in Florida, but I’m looking to move back to Montana in two or three years. I want to do that and get fully into promoting and training. I want to get the second world champion from Montana. There’s only ever been one so far, and you’re talking to him! “
It is to be hoped Marvin can make a real go of becoming a trainer/promoter. An incredibly nice man to speak with, Marvin finishes off by giving thanks to the people who helped him in his boxing career.
” I have to give gratitude to the WBC, Elmer Boyce and Don Majeski, the people who helped to put me and Montana on the map. I also thank Jose Sulaiman, for the chance he gave me. But deep down, I was the one who ran all the miles and did the work, they gave me the chance and I took full advantage of it. Right now, I’m now looking at giving the young kids the opportunities I had.”