By Hans Olson
Saturday on HBO Championship Boxing, New England’s “Bad” Chad Dawson attempts to dethrone 168 lb. champ Andre Ward in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, CA.
Although born in Hartsville, SC, Dawson’s family in 1988 settled in New Haven, CT.
As the lineal kingpin of the light heavyweight division, the 30-year-old Dawson now looks to solidify his position within boxing’s pound for pound pantheon. A victory over Ward, in a division he hasn’t fought in since 2006, would certainly help to achieve that.
Looking forward to this weekend’s bout, let’s take a look at the ten pugilists who, in this writer’s opinion, are best New Englanders to have ever laced ’em up.
Could “Bad” Chad soon be in their company?
10. Joey Gamache Lewiston, ME
As the only boxer from vacationland to capture a world title, “Maine’s Best” Joey Gamache thrilled NE fight fans throughout the late 80’s and 90’s, becoming one of the most beloved fighters the region has ever produced.
In 1991 at the age of 25, Gamache defeated South Africa’s Jerry Ngobeni to win the WBA’s super featherweight championship in what was his greatest victory.
9. Micky Ward Lowell, MA
Certainly one of the most popular boxers to ever fight out of New England (as evidenced by The Fighter, 2010’s major motion picture based on his life) “Irish” Micky Ward will be most remembered for his epic trilogy with the late Arturo Gatti. Their first bout in 2002, a battle that Ward won via a 10-round decision, was named Fight of the Year by both Ring Magazine and The Boxing Writer’s Association of America. Other career highlights include victories over Reggie Green (TKO10), Shea Neary (TKO 8), and Emanuel Augustus (W10).
8. Vinny Pazienza Cranston, RI
“The Pazmanian Devil,” Vinny Paz had a career like few others. He won the IBF’s lightweight championship on June 7, 1987 when he defeated Greg Haugen in a 15 rounder.
In 1991, he became a two division champ when he knocked out Gilbert Dele to become the WBA’s jr. middleweight champion.
Unfortunately, shortly after the fight Vinny was involved in a near-fatal car accident, severely breaking his neck. He had to give up his belt, and medical experts told him he’d never fight again. Against all odds (and the advice of doctors) he did.
Less than a year after the crash, Vinny Paz returned, beating Luis Santana in a 10-round decision. His recovery and comeback goes down as one boxing’s best ever.
7. Paul Pender Brookline, MA
Although he considered himself first a firefighter, Paul Pender will always be remembered for the victories he scored over Sugar Ray Robinson that came while he worked his “second job.”
The pride of Brookline, Pender retired with a career record of 40-6-2.
6. Tony DeMarco Boston, MA
“The Boston Bomber,” Tony DeMarco is best remembered for his classic mid-50’s dust-ups with Carmen Basilio. In the first contest, Basilio shocked the champ with a TKO victory in the 12th round; in the rematch DeMarco again was beaten, again in the 12, again by TKO.
Regardless, DeMarco still goes down as one of the best (and toughest!) Bostonians to ever step inside the squared circle, having scored victories over the likes of Kid Gavilan, Johnny Saxton, and Teddy Davis among many others.
5. Marvin Hagler Brockton, MA
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, like Chad Dawson, wasn’t born in New England. He first lived in Newark, New Jersey before moving to Brockton, MA when he was about 13 years old.
It was in Brockton however, that a boxing legend was born when Hagler joined the famed Petronelli brothers’ gym.
Remembered as part of the “four kings” alongside Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, and Tommy Hearns, Hagler held the middleweight crown from 1980 to 1987. He was The Ring’s Fighter of the Year in 1983 and 1987, named the 3rd Greatest Middleweight of the 20th Century by the Associated Press, and inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
4. John L. Sullivan Roxbury, MA
“The Boston Strong Boy,” Roxbury’s Sullivan is generally recognized as “gloved” boxing’s first heavyweight champ. According to Boxrec “from an early age, Sullivan showed great proficiency with his fists. As a teenager, he would fight in Boston bar rooms, issuing a challenge that he ‘could lick any man in the house.’”
He finished his gloved boxing career with a record of 38-1-1 in without a doubt, the hardest era to ever have done it.
He lost his final bout, knocked out in the 21st round by James J. Corbett on September 7, 1892.
3. Sandy Saddler Boston, MA
One of the most vicious one-punch kayo artists of all time, the two-time featherweight champion will go down in history for being the best punching “little” man ever; 103 of his 144 wins coming before the final bell.
He fought the great Willie Pep four times, going 2-2 against “Will o’ the Wisp.”
If not for an early retirement at age 30 due to an eye injury, he very well could have been atop this list.
2. Rocky Marciano Brockton, MA
The Brockton Blockbuster!
Rocky Marciano once said “in the ring, I never really knew fear.”
He never knew defeat either.
Marciano holds the rare distinction of being the only heavyweight champion to have ever retired undefeated. He won that championship hardware on September 23, 1952, defeating Jersey Joe Walcott with a triumphant 13th round knockout. Rocky would go on to batter the likes of Roland LaStarza, Ezzard Charles, Don Cocknell, and Archie Moore before retiring from boxing at the age of 31.
1. Willie Pep Middletown, CT
Born Guglielmo Papaleo in Middletown, CT in September of 1922, Willie Pep goes down as the greatest New England fighter of all-time.
Boxing 1,956 rounds over the course of a staggering 241 fights (229 of those wins), Pep displayed unmatched skill, craft, and ability well beyond any other. His footwork, his speed, his ring acumen…it was all there.
Kid Capeche once said that “fighting Willie Pep is like trying to stamp out a grass fire.”
Yep, he was fast too.
Most writers and observers have Willie Pep rated as the 3rd greatest fighter to have ever lived, usually right behind Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong.
In a list restricted to New England’s best, Willie Pep is number 1.