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Biofile: Willie Pep Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Boxing Hall of Famer. Former World Featherweight champion. 1922-2008. 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. Tweet our score related posts summary nice scrobbler with a few kinks to work out. I’m very proud of it. Because no one else ever did it. “.

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