Hard Hittin' Promotions
THE WILLIE PEP BOXING CLASSIC
Conn. Convention Center
April 9, 2011
Photos by BOB THIESFIELD
FISTS OF FURY -- Chip Perez of East Hartford works out with Iceman John Scully
NEW HAVEN FATHER-SON TEAM -- Luis Rosa Sr. and Louis Rosa Jr. after workout
TRAINER DERRICK WHITLEY helps TNT Tony Grano of Hebron get ready for workout
STAYING SHARP -- TNT Tony, Derrick Whitley, get ready for Saturday
STAYING IN TOUCH -- Super Middleweight Brian Macy of New London, an Army veteran of Iraq, stops by to say hi to pals
MISTER CLEAN -- Willie Pickard, 40, Middletown native who runs a cleaning business, with trainer Robert Lester. Lester, former concierge for a New Orleans hotel, moved to Connecticut after Hurricane Katrina. Pickard is in training for his first pro bout.
LIONS MAN -- Doug Cartelli, 40, works up a sweat getting ready for his second pro bout Saturday with help from trainer Derrick Whitley. Cartelli, of Middletown, is owner of the Lions Den.
Eye Doc Remembers Willie
By JOSEPH BENTIVEGNA
"Call me Willie." That's what Willie Pep said to me after I addressed him as Mr. Papaleo.
I always treat my celebrity patients as if they were just another patient off the street. It has been my experience as a physician that they do not wish to be fawned over; rather, they prefer just to get competent care and get out of my office as quickly as possible.
Willie was no different, but he brought up his boxing career, not me. Perhaps it was while ascertaining why he couldn't see out of his right eye -- a boxing injury. I don't recall exactly.
Anyway, he regaled me with his ring stories, informing me that his professional record (278-11) did not include his 57 consecutive amateur victories.
My father, a first generation Italian and a boxing fan, was thrilled when Willie gave me an autographed picture to send to him. I have my own hanging in my office. I eventually was forced to remove the cataract in his only good eye. He did fine and was appreciative, as was his gracious wife. Eventually, his recollection of who I was faded with each visit, but he was always friendly.
What was interesting about caring for him is that I have other patients who actually fought him. One recounted the bout. It was the first round and he was backing Willie up. He was thinking to himself that he was holding his own with the legend. The next thing he remembered was everyone looking down at him asking him if he was okay. Such was Willie's hand speed.
Many experts think Willie Pep was the best boxer ever, pound for pound. I suspect that analysis is correct.
Dr. Joseph Bentivegna, an eye surgeon, practices in Rocky Hill. He is the author of a political thriller, The Lords Of Greenwich, and two non-fiction books: The Neglected and Abused: A Physician's Year in Haiti; and When to Refuse Treatment. -
Missing Willie Pep:
Most Boxers Could Not Touch Him
We Remember His Great Moments And Big Heart
By FRANZ DOUSKEY
Over the years, Willie was really generous. He sent me all kinds of things. Signed photos. And boxing gloves. His were the first ones I owned, which led me to get others of my favorite fighters, especially Kid Gavilan (Kid Hawk), Jake LaMotta, Floyd Paterson, Carmen Basilio, etc. I've got them all in a big canvas bag in the attic. Even Smokin' Joe and Ali are in there.
But Willie. He was our own.
The last time I spent time with Willie Pep was in the now-doomed New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum. It was weigh-In media day for Sugar Ray Leonard and a fighter named Munez. They were going to fight the next day, but Munez took a dive in the first round. No sense getting hurt.
While the press whirled around Sugar Ray Leonard, I saw a familiar face in the back of the room. Willie Pep was sitting on a table by himself. I went over to him, introduced myself, even though we had met before.
Willie was a boxing legend. 242 fights, 230 wins, 65 knockouts.
He was featherweight champ for six years. He talked about Connecticut fighters, like Chico Vejar and Eddie Campo, then we got into talking about some of his greatest fights. Does anyone remember Sandy Sandler, one of the dirtiest fighters ever allowed in the ring. Willie Pep and Sandler fought four times, Sandler beat him three times. But Willie kept on fighting into his forties.
Some say Suagar Ray Robinson was the best fighter pound for pound, and that would be a hard argument to beat, but Willie Pep would have to come in a close second.
Here's something people have forgotten about. Willie said that when he fought Jackie Graves, he won a round without throwing a punch. Well, boxers are no different than anyone else. Everyone has a story that grows as the years go on.
But what I later learned was that Willie's story, as unbelieveable as it was, was the truth.
Willie Pep fought Jackie Graves, in Minneapolis, on July 25, 1945. Before the fight he told several sportswriters that he was going to win the third round without throwing a punch. Among the writers Pep talked to were Don Riley and Bert Sugar. Both have verified that Pep told them that he would win the third round without throwing one punch. Bert Sugar later said that it was a display of defensive tactics to rival Gentleman Jim Corbett and the great Sugar Ray Robinson. And true to his word, Willie Pep won the round on all three score cards.
For a while Willie Pep served as Connecticut's Boxing Commissioner, but failing health put an end to that and began his long decline in near seclusion.
I called the family and asked if I could see Willie. I was told that there was no point. Willie didn't know anyone.
So, at 84, the legend slips away, as quietly and with the same silent ease he slipped so many punches with head feints and shoulder feints, inside parries and outside parries. But you can only use foot feints and out-dance death for so long. Make that 243 bouts. Twelve loses. Tough, street-wise,
hard-headed, scarred and cauliflowered, beautiful Willie Pep at long last down for the count. Too late to throw in the towel.
We will miss him. We have missed him for a long time.
Franz Douskey, a poet and writer, has been published in more than 150 journals and magazines including the New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Yankee. He teaches creative writing at Yale and communications and English at Gateway Community College. A featured guest at New Haven's Festival of Arts & Ideas, Douskey's books include "Rowing Across The Dark" and "Indecent Exposure." He is a founding board member of the CT Young Writers Trust and has served as a judge every year of the competition. Douskey is also the author of the forthcoming biography,"The Unknown Sinatra."