Hall of Fame featherweight Pep dies at 84

Originally Published: November 23, 2006
Associated Press

ROCKY HILL, Conn. -- Willie Pep, a Hall of Fame boxer and one of the best fighters of the 20th century, has died at the age of 84.

Willie Pep
Pep

His grandson, William P. Papaleo, confirmed Friday morning that Pep died Thursday at the West Hill nursing home, where he had been confined to an Alzheimer's unit since 2001.

The embodiment of finesse and speed in his prime, Pep was 230-11-1 with 65 KOs during his 26-year career.

Pep was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1999, he was listed fifth among the best fighters of the 20th century as chosen by a five-member panel for The Associated Press.

"He was a very special fighter in a great era of boxing," said Glenn Feldman, president of the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame. "You just don't see fighters today with a 26-year career."

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Feldman said what was astounding about Pep was his prolific career.

"The funny thing is when you look at his record, he only had 65 KOs," he said. "The reason I say that's funny is most boxers don't even have 65 fights.''

Pep, who was born Guglielmo Papaleo on Sept. 9, 1922, in Middletown, Conn., dropped out of high school at age 16 to fight. The 5-foot, 6-inch Pep earned the nickname "Will o' the Wisp" for his elusiveness.

Pep turned pro in 1940 and won his first 63 fights, including a victory over Chalky Wright in 1942 for the world featherweight title. With the 15-round decision, Pep was the youngest boxer to earn the title in four decades.

The following year brought 63 undefeated bouts for Pep before he lost a non-title fight to Sammy Angott. Undeterred, Pep went on to win additional 73 straight.

"The funny thing is when you look at his record, he only had 65 KOs. The reason I say that's funny is most boxers don't even have 65 fights."
-- Glenn Feldman, president of the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame, on Pep's 230-11-1 career record

During World War II, Pep served in the Army and the Navy and was honorably discharged in 1944.

Four years later, he went up against Sandy Saddler for the first of four memorable bouts. Pep was knocked out in the fourth round but regained his title the following year. Sadler won three of the four fights.

Pep retired in 1959, although he was back in the ring six years later. His nine-fight winning streak came to an end when he was stopped by Calvin Woodward in 1966, and Pep hung up his gloves for good.

When he retired, Pep worked in boxing as a referee and inspector as well as a sports columnist. He was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press