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Boxing History

Classic Biofile Willie Pep 1922-2006

Status: Boxing Hall of Famer. Former World Featherweight champion. His ring record was 229-11-1 (65 KO’s).

Birthplace: Middletown, CT

Boxing Inspirations: “Lou Ambers, Joe Louis, Tony Canzoneri, Rocky Marciano – we were born in the same month in the same year. Wonderful man. Good friend. We used to go on trips together. I miss him.”

Nicknames: “Willie The Wisp, William, Wonderful Willie.”

First Job: “Shoeshine boy on the street. I used to have to fight everyday for a corner. It was dog-eat-dog for the best corner.”

Early Boxing Memory: “I was 16 fighting as an amateur, making four or five dollars. Brought it home and gave it to my mother. One time I boxed twice and made $40. She said, ‘Where did you get this money?’ My dad said, ‘See if you can fight twice a week.’ He was making $15 a week. He used to wake me up to do road work.”

Favorite Movies: “Good westerns and detective stories. Alan Ladd movies. I watch movies all the time. I can’t remember the names. I had 306 fights. All those punches. Me and my wife are gonna watch a John Wayne movie tonight.”

Pre-Fight Meal: “Broiled steak. Every fighter ate steak. A little salad. Jello. Hot tea and lemon.”

Hobbies/Interests: “My wife Barbara – she’s 39 and I’m 72. She’s a nice girl, nice kid. A redhead. Been married eight years. I guess this is it.”

Interesting Facts: “I was in the Army for 1 1/2 years and two years in the Navy. Also, I survived a plane crash in New Jersey in 1946. Flying from Miami. I was champ when I cracked up. Crashed in Middleville, N.J. How lucky we were. We landed in a wooded area, not a house. Four were dead. 21 were on the plane. I remember I was laying on the ground. Everybody was moaning. I was moaning. I was in agony. Broke my back. Compound fracture in left leg. Nine months in a cast. Six months later I had a fight and I won.

Greatest Sports Moment: “I had two or three. When I won the championship I was 20-years-old. I beat the greatest featherweight champ there ever was – Chalky Wright. A great fighter. He knocked everyone out. Outpointed him in 15 rounds at Madison Square Garden. What a night for me. It didn’t dawm on me till later. My 54th straight win. I went up to 62. Lost to Sammy Angott, the lightweight champion. Then I went 73 straight without a loss. Then I lost to Sandy Saddler. I boxed 29 years. My first fight was when I was 15. I made a lot of money but I didn’t save it. Grossed a million. I fought a lot of great fighters. Fought all over the world. I was a lucky guy.”

First Pro Fight: “I had it in Hartford, a four-rounder. I don’t remember who I fought (James McGovern in 1940). That’s a long time ago. Scoop, I don’t remember what I did yesterday. It was an outdoor fight at…they called it Capital Park. All I remember is I ran like hell for four rounds. I think the main event was a local guy – Jimmy Leto, a great, great welterweight. Fought for the title. I trained with him. He showed me everything. A great, great guy.”

Hardest Puncher Encountered: “My third ex-wife [laughs]! Sandy Saddler was a good puncher. Chalky Wright. He was as hard a puncher as you could find. He knocked out welterweights. I outpointed him two times at 15 rounds. He never hit me solid. I was lucky to stay out of trouble. If he put two punches together, I’d have been in trouble.”

Most Painful Moment: “I was TKO’ed by Sandy Saddler. I don’t like to talk about that Scoop, three knockdowns, 4th-round TKO. But I won the return, a 15-round decision. Then we had two more which he won (by TKO). I was TKO’ed five times in 11 losses but Saddler is the only guy who sticks out cause he gave me a lot of trouble.”

Toughest Opponents: “A good boxer always gave me a tough time. Sal Bartolo and Alli Stolz were clever boxers. They boxed and I boxed. I had to outspeed them, outthink and outsmart them. I got very lucky, because I did. Sandy Saddler and Phil Terranova were tough guys. Hard punchers.”

Funniest Boxers: “Rocky Graziano. He had the best sense of humor. A wonderful guy. Very funny. Jake Lamotta. He comes across as mean but he’s all right.”

Did Anybody Try To Intimidate You: “Nobody ever bothered me. I had a good manager and trainer. I was always with them. Never got bothered by anybody. A couple of guys talked to me. Chalky Wright used to say, ‘Why don’t you stand still?’ In the clinch he’d say, ‘Stand still! So I can hit you!’ Phil Terranova talked. He licked Sandy Saddler. He said, ‘Come on kid, let’s give ’em a fight.’ And ‘Let’s go! Let’s trade punches!’ I said, ‘No way!’ I outboxed him for 15 rounds.”

Which Fight Were You At Your Very Best: “My third ex-wife, when I divorced her. We got divorced real easy. Scoop I had a lot of fights. A long time ago. I couldn’t tell you what fight I was at my best. Saddler. I did lick him once in four fights. Terranova – tough son of a gun. I beat him. He did something I couldn’t do – go 1-1 with Saddler. Every fight I was TKO’ed I was winning.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “A lot of people. My trainer Bill Gore. Without him I couldn’t have been champ. I was well-schooled. Lou Viscusi, my manager. He made me win all those fights. I wouldn’t have been a very good fighter without them helping me. I don’t think anyone ever won more fights than me. Must be some kind of record. Little, old me, in Wethersfield, CT. I’m very proud of that.”

How Would You Like To Be Remembered By Boxing: “Well, Scoop, I did my thing. I got to be champ of the world. That was a very, very big night for me. And I did something no one ever did. I was in Minneapolis to fight Jackie Graves (1946). He was a good puncher, knocking everyone out. I was talking with Don Riley, a sportswriter from Minneapolis. I told him I was gonna do something in the third round. I said, ‘I’m not gonna throw a punch and see what happens.’ In the third round, of course, he throws punches. I circled the guy, circled the referee, did everything but I never threw a punch. And all three judges gave me the round. Don Riley writes about it every year and he sends it to me. It’s a big, big thing for me. I’m very proud of it. Because no one else ever did it.”

(Note: This Biofile was originally completed in 1995.)

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