Guglielmo Papaleo (September 19, 1922 - November
23, 2006) was an American professional boxer, better known as Willie
Pep who held the World Featherweight championship twice between the
years of 1947 and 1950. Pep boxed a total of 1,956 rounds in the 241
bouts during his 26 year career, a considerable number of rounds and
bouts even for a fighter of his era. His final record was 229-11-1
with 65 knockouts. Pep, known for his speed, finess and elusiveness,
is considered to be one of the best fighers of the 20th century and
was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Pep
was voted as the #1 featherweight of the 20th Century by the Associated
press and ranked the #1 featherweight of all-time by the International
Boxing Research Organization in 2005.
first fought as an amateur in 1937. At the time, amateur boxers from
Connecticut were allowed to fight for money. It was during the Great
Depresssion hit and Pep's father was earning $15 per week at the Works
Progress Administration. Willie was soon earning more in one night
of fighting each week. When his parents found out he was boxing, his
mother was worried for him, but his father said that if he was making
so much fighting on Fridays, maybe he should see about fighting on
Tuesdays as well. "My old man, he was a sports fan" Pep later quipped.
1938 Pep fought Sugar Ray Robinson in the attic of a feed store in
Norwich, CT. Outweighing Pep nearly 130 to 105, the bigger Robinson
won by decision. According to Pep's later telling, Robinson was an
amater champion in the state of New York, where amateurs were not
paid, so he took a pseudonym to get bouts for money in Connecticut.
Because of this, Pep did not know who he was fighting at the time.
Before the fight he was told his unknown opponent was not good, but
he recalls quickly learning otherwise once the bout began and Robinson
was "all over me."
Pep started boxing professionally
on July 10, 1940, beating James McGovern by a decision in four rounds
in Hartford, Connecticut. Like many boxers of the first half of the
20th century, Pep concentrated his early fighting career on boxing
in New England, and he split his first 25 contest between Connecticut
and Massachusetts. He was undefeated during that span and for fight
number 26, he finally headed 'west,' beating Eddie Flores by a knockout
in the first round at Thompsonville, Michigan. A couple of fights
later, he travelled further west and made his California debut, beating
Billy Spencer by a decision in four at Los Angeles.
By the time
Pep stepped up his quality of opposition, when he met world title
challenger Joey Archibald in 1942, Pep was already 41-0. He beat Archibald
by a decision in ten rounds and, in his next bout, challenged Abe
Denner for the New England area featherweight title. He won the fight
by a decision in 12, and his status among the world's top featherweights
kept on rising. He won ten more bouts to reach 52-0, including a rematch
win over Archibald, before he was given his first world championship
try in October. He became the World Featherweight Champion by outpointing
the defending world champ Chalky Wright over the 15 round distance.
He fought twice more to finish the year, winning both by knockout.
began 1943 by winning six bouts in a row to find himself with a record
of 62-0. But in his seventh bout of 1943, he suffered his first defeat,
at the hands of Sammy Angott, another world champion boxer. Angott
beat Pep over the ten round distance, by decision. Ten days later,
Pep was back in the ring, beating Bobby McIntyre by a decision. He
closed 1943 winning five fights in a row, including two over future
world champion Sal Bartolo and one over Jackie Wilson. The second
win over Bartolo was in a defense of the world title.
a very good year for Pep. He won all 16 of his bouts that year, including
wins over World Bantamweight Champions Willie Joyce and Manuel Ortiz.
He fought and beat Wright two more times, with Pep's featherweight
title on the line once. He also made his first fight abroad, beating
fringe contender Jackie Lemus in Canada.