Home Boxing History Puncher from the Past: Gratien Tonna

Puncher from the Past: Gratien Tonna

Born: Tunis, Tunisia 18 January 1949
Record: 57 fights, 46 wins (37 by KO/TKO), 11 losses
As an amateur he was French Junior champion, French military champion, world military champion and French national champion.

-Turned professional in December 1970 and won his first 13 fights by KO/TKO all scored within five rounds.
-January 1972 lost on points to future world title challenger Nessim Max Cohen
– June 1972 lost on points to Fabio Bettini in a challenge for the French middleweight title
-December 1972 outpointed former WBA/WBC welterweight title challenger Manuel Gonzalez
-1973 scored wins over Domenico Tieria, Luis Vinales and others
-February 1974 outpointed Fabio Bettini to win the French middleweight title and then scored wins over Matt Donovan and Fabio Bettini
-November 1974 lost on an eleventh round kayo against Rodrigo Valdes for the WBC title. After ten rounds two judges each had Valdes ahead by two points and the referee reportedly had Tonna in front by one point. Tonna had a wide gash on his cheek (which later required 40 stitches)and in the eleventh round after the referee stopped the fight to examine the injury Valdes landed a punch after the call to break and then landed two others. Tonna dropped to his knees. He claims he could have got up but his corner was signalling for him to stay down expecting Valdes to be disqualified but Tonna was counted out
May 1975 outpointed Kevin Finnegan in European title defence.-December 1975 lost on a fifth round kayo against Carlos Monzon for the WBA middleweight title. The fight was a brutal affair with Tonna marching forward throwing punches for five rounds and giving Monzon plenty of problems but a series of right hands sent Tonna down in the fifth and he was counted out.

-1976 Defeated Jules Bellaiche and Jean Mateo in French title defences
-September 1977 in a European middleweight title defence stopped future WBA and WBC champion Alan Minter on a cut in the eighth round
-February 1978 lost on points to Ronnie Harris in a world title eliminator in Las Vegas. It was reported to be the first time a French boxer had fought in Las Vegas
-November 1978 lost on a sixth round retirement against Alan Minter in a European title defence
-May 1979 stopped Gerard Nosley in six rounds in French title defence
-February 1980 lost on points against Kevin Finnegan in a fight for the vacant Europen middleweight title.
-He was then inactive for over four years before money forced him to return to the ring and he retired in 1985 after suffering consecutive knockouts in minor bouts.

Tonna the man:
One journalist summarised Tonna’s life as poverty, glory, decline, medals, prison, luxury hotels and finally a penniless life in a mobile home.
Although born in Tunis his father was Maltese and he was first cousin to WBC flyweight champion Charley Magri. His father had boxed but it was Tonna’s fierceness and ability as a street fighter that brought him to the notice of a gym owner in Tunis. His mother then signed him up to join the gym and he fought as an amateur there. When he travelled with his mother and brother to Marseilles in 1967 he was only marginally literate and he was only ever going to have a good life if he transferred his street fighting to the ring. His exciting style and knockout power made him an idol in Marseilles and brought him plenty of money. He also had plenty willing to help him spend his money and after he retired he suffered bad times.

Marseilles is a tough city and Tonna survived being shot at and also spent two years in prison-reduced from ten-for running down and killing a policemen with his car. On the other hand, he campaigned for charities helping disabled people. When a French journalist tracked Tonna down in 2019 he was living in a mobile home close to a bar run by his daughter. He had come to enjoy cooking putting his massive hands to more peaceful use. He was asked if he had thought of training boxers but strangely for such a ferocious and brutal fighter he said he could not do that. Tonna getting hurt did not trouble him but he could not stand to see young people get hurt. Two of his sons had started boxing training but he was glad they had abandoned the sport. He seemed in good health and said he had no regrets over the way his life had played out with the exception of the ending to the Valdes fight which still rankled even now.