[Criteria: Fighter theoretically enters weight category of choice]
FEATHERWEIGHTS 126 lbs: p1 Willie Pep p2 Sandy Saddler p2 Juan Manuel Marquez p3 Salvador Sanchez p5 Freddie Miller p6 Jim Driscoll p6 Terry McGovern p7 Johnny Kilbane p8 Azumah Nelson p9 Abe Attell
[8.9] WILLIE PEP 241-229(65)-11-1: Kid Chocolate - Red Smith - Angelo Dundee - Carmen Basilio - Bert Randolph Sugar - The Guardian online - Boxing News online -
Trying to hit Pep is like trying to step on a flame. Kid Chocolate
The longer he goes, the more astonishing he becomes. Red Smith, writer
I always thought Willy Pep was the greatest pound-for-pound fighter. Angelo Dundee
He had over four-hundred fights ... He was top-notch all the way. Carmen Basilio
I thought he was a great fighter. Carmen Basilio
I have him as the third greatest fighter in the history of Boxing. Bert Randolph Sugar
Although often cited as the greatest featherweight of all time, many experts also considered Willie Pep, who has died from Alzheimer’s disease, aged 84, the best pure boxer ever. His dancing, floating style and speed made him incredibly hard to hit, earned him the nickname Will o’ the Wisp, and inspired boxing writers into flights of lyricism. Jimmy Cannon wrote: ‘Sometimes there seemed to be music playing for him alone and he danced to his private orchestra and the ring became a ballroom.’ The Guardian online article 2nd December 2006
On This Day: Defensive genius Willie Pep was born in 1922: The myth is that Willie Pep, the great featherweight, once won a round without throwing a punch.
It was false, unfortunately, but it tells you instantly how highly thought of his masterful defensive skills were for such a tale to have become lore over the years.
The fight in question was against Jackie Graves on July 25, 1946, and the story came about when Pep was said to have told ringside photographers what he had intended to do, in round three.
And while he did not deliver on his boastful prophecy – whether he had said he would or not is another matter – he enjoyed an extraordinary career, boxing 1,956 rounds in 241 fights.
Speed and skills were his mainstays, and a sense of humour saw him become enormously popular.
He was close to East Coast Mob figures and always quick with a quip, particularly when it came to the fairer sex.
‘Three of my wives were very good housekeepers,’ he said. ‘After we got divorced they kept the house.’
There was more … ‘I’ve got it made. I’ve got a wife and a TV, and they’re both working.’
Still, after turning pro in 1940 – following a paid amateur career (young fighters in Connecticut were often paid to fight) – he built his reputation close to his home, spending the first two years of his pro career fighting in Connecticut and Massachusetts and it was only in his 26th contest when he travelled further afield, to Michigan, where he stopped Eddie Flores in one round.
By the time he met former world title challenger Joey Archibald, in 1942, he was unbeaten in 41 fights and he defeated Archibald via 10-round decision before lifting the New England area featherweight title against Abe Denner.
He served in the armed forces in World War II and defeated current world champion Manuel Ortiz in a non-title bout.
Following another 10 wins, Pep became world champion with Chalky Wright unable to fend off ‘Will o’ The Wisp’s’ title charge over 15 sessions.
World champ Sammy Angott defeated Pep in a 10-rounder, Willie’s first loss in 61 fights (or 62 depending on your sources), but just 10 days later Pep was back in the ring, winning again. Oh, how times have changed. He won five more times in 1943, including two victories over future world champ Sal Bartolo and he won an astonishing 16 bouts in 1944, with the highlights coming against champions such as Willie Joyce and Ortiz before Chalky Wright was beaten once again.
In 36 fights over the next three years, only Jimmy McAllister drew with him as Pep’s stock soared.
However, in January 5, 1946, a plane Pep was travelling in crashed (he suffered a broken leg and back) and many thought the slick star was never the same again as he began to toil against lesser fighters (Archie Wilmer held him to a majority decision while Pedro Biesca floored him).
Yet many of the fights that later defined him were still to come, in particular with his nemesis Sandy Saddler.
Pep notched 15 wins on the spin in 1948 before he ran into Saddler, who took Willie’s title. The former champion said he took Saddler too lightly but gained revenge three months later.
‘The greatest fight of his life and the greatest night of my life,’ he said to author Peter Heller in 1970. ‘That was the greatest night of my life. I realised how great it was to be a champion again.’
They met again at the start of 1949 and Pep took his crown back having never looked better than in their 15-rounder. A year on and Saddler took the lead in their series, this time stopping Pep in eight rounds but Willie – his eyes swollen and closing – lasted only a round longer against his bogeyman in their fourth and final clash, in 1951. However, their final two encounters were so ill-tempered and foul-filled (butting, gouging, tripping and wrestling) that Pep and Saddler were both barred from boxing in New York State.
‘Whenever I lost my head I was playing right into his hands,’ Pep said. ‘This was my mistake. I never should have boxed that way. I couldn’t overcome the guy.’
Pep could still beat good fighters and he stayed active (12 wins, one loss in 1952; 11 wins in 1953) but he was unceremoniously upset in two rounds by Lulu Perez, a fringe contender, in 1954.
Willie boxed on, as so many do, well beyond his best. In fact, he fought on for another five years before calling it a day in 1960, aged 38, and then coming back in 1964 for a further two years.
During those somewhat darker days the only name that stands out on his record is that of Hogan ‘Kid’ Basey, who knocked Willie out in nine sessions when trailing on the scorecards.
It was a long, hard end for a fine fighter. ‘The decline of a boxer,’ lamented Pep. ‘First you lose your leg movement. Then you lose your reflexes. Then you lose your friends.’
In retirement, Pep and Saddler boxed exhibitions and the Connecticut star also became an inspector on the local commission and a referee.
But the final years of his life were lonely and quiet ones. Dependent on his adoring wife, Barbara, Willie suffered from pugilistica dementia and lived in a nursing home before he died on November 23, 2006. He was in a bad way for those final years but, ever the humourist, once joked: ‘Nah, I’m not dead. I ain’t even been out the house.’ Boxing News online article 19 September 2016
165) Sandy Saddler IV Lost Ret 9: The New York Times - Bert Randolph Sugar - Rocky Marciano’s Commentary TV -
Pep v Saddler IV: For roughness, disregard of ring rules and ethics and wild fighting these surpassed anything seen in the three previous meetings of these bitter ring rivals. The New York Times
Pep v Saddler IV: They did everything. They didn’t break the rules. They bent ’em so much so you didn’t recognise the rules. Willy Pep was magnificent by the by a great Featherweight champion ... Willy Pep has a similar if not greater unbeaten ... streak. Bert Randolph Sugar
They push, shove, elbow, kick. And one time Saddler has got Pep on the ropes about ready to deliver a punch. Pep falls to his knees, climbs through Saddler’s legs and hits him from behind. ibid.
Pep v Saddler IV 26th September 1951 ***** Pep: [r1] … This is a kid who knows everything; the only trouble is, he’s lived about three lifetimes already … Referee Ray Miller is squawking about it too … [r2] … This fight is starting to get out of hand … This is Pep at his best … [r3] … The blood is running into Willie’s eye … Saddler’s face is gonna be a mess … [r4] … That was low … lose your temper and you lose the fight … I got Pep ahead so far … [r5] … head-locking now … [r6] … Willie rubs those laces over Sandy’s face again … This is getting so dirty … [r7] … I’ve never seen anything like this fight in my life, not even in the streets … I think Pep is trying to trip him … [r8] … Willie’s arguing with his corner … He looks tired … I don’t know how much longer Pep can go … [r9] … He knows he’ll get Pep … [r10] … Pep isn’t coming out; he’s calling it a night … Rocky Marciano’s commentary