FRANCE’S Jean-Claude Bouttier, who died aged 74 on August 3, had on the face of it a good career that just fell short of the top. He won his national title, the European crown, and twice challenged for the world middleweight title.

His misfortune was that both those shots came against Carlos Monzon, for many the greatest middleweight of all time.

And while Bouttier was well beaten in both fights, his rugged skills and charisma made him a huge star not only in his homeland but across Europe. Both Monzon-Bouttier battles were huge events, drawing large crowds to outdoor venues in the Paris area.

In June 1972 at the Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir in Colombes, Bouttier was dropped in round six and failed to come out for round 13.

The rematch happened 15 months later at the Stade Roland Garros (where the annual French tennis open takes place). For this one, Bouttier trained at a property loaned to him by French movie star Alain Delon, who had become a fan of his.

Jean-Claude hit the canvas three times but proved his fitness and guts by lasting the 15-round course for a unanimous points defeat. Monzon, who had won the title in 1970, would retire as undefeated champion in 1977.

From Saint-Pierre-la-Cour in the Mayenne region, Bouttier was an apprentice butcher before he got into boxing. He made his pro debut in October 1965, usually fighting in the nearest big town Laval before gradually gravitating towards the bigger stage of Paris.

He lost a few but learned from the experience and by 1971 was ready to make his move. In January he beat Pascal di Benedetto (rsf 6) to become French champion then in June added the European belt with a points win over Italy’s Carlo Duran.

In December 1971 he knocked out Britain’s Bunny Sterling in 14 rounds to retain the EBU belt, and he was named France’s Sportsman of the Year by influential daily sports paper L’Equipe.

His popularity was no doubt helped by the French public’s desire for a world champion: the last had been Alphonse Halimi, who reigned as bantamweight king from 1957-59 (and the next wouldn’t be until Rene Jacquot in 1989).

In between the Monzon battles Bouttier beat former two-weight world champion Emile Griffith, who was disqualified in the seventh for a low blow. But the great Argentinian proved too good in the rematch and it was clear Jean-Claude had peaked. In May 1974 a rising Kevin Finnegan took the European title off him with a close unanimous decision in Paris, and when Nessim Cohen stopped Bouttier in the 11th of a French title fight seven months later, Bouttier called it a day at 30.

In retirement he appeared in a few movies and TV series, and from the mid-1980s he spent almost three decades as part of the commentary team for Canal Plus, who had the French rights to most big boxing events. A cigarette smoker with a distinctive gravelly voice, he remained popular with the French public until the end.