ROCKY HILL, Conn. -- Willie Pep, a Hall of Fame boxer and one
of the best fighters of the 20th century, has died at the age of
His grandson, William P. Papaleo, confirmed Friday morning that
Pep died Thursday at the West Hill nursing home, where he had been
confined to an Alzheimer's unit since 2001.
The embodiment of finesse and speed in his prime, Pep was
230-11-1 with 65 KOs during his 26-year career.
Pep was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in
1990. In 1999, he was listed fifth among the best fighters of the
20th century as chosen by a five-member panel for The Associated
"He was a very special fighter in a great era of boxing," said Glenn Feldman, president of the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame. "You just don't see fighters today with a 26-year career."
Feldman said what was astounding about Pep was his prolific career.
"The funny thing is when you look at his record, he only had 65 KOs," he said. "The reason I say that's funny is most boxers don't even have 65 fights.''
Pep, who was born Guglielmo Papaleo on Sept. 9, 1922, in Middletown, Conn., dropped out of high
school at age 16 to fight. The 5-foot, 6-inch Pep earned the
nickname "Will o' the Wisp" for his elusiveness.
Pep turned pro in 1940 and won his first 63 fights, including a
victory over Chalky Wright in 1942 for the world featherweight
title. With the 15-round decision, Pep was the youngest boxer to
earn the title in four decades.
The following year brought 63 undefeated bouts for Pep before he
lost a non-title fight to Sammy Angott. Undeterred, Pep went on to
win additional 73 straight.
"The funny thing is when you look at his record, he only had 65 KOs. The reason I say that's funny is most boxers don't even have 65 fights."
-- Glenn Feldman, president of the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame, on Pep's 230-11-1 career record
During World War II, Pep served in the Army and the Navy and was
honorably discharged in 1944.
Four years later, he went up against Sandy Saddler for the first
of four memorable bouts. Pep was knocked out in the fourth round
but regained his title the following year. Sadler won three of the
Pep retired in 1959, although he was back in the ring six years
later. His nine-fight winning streak came to an end when he was
stopped by Calvin Woodward in 1966, and Pep hung up his gloves for
When he retired, Pep worked in boxing as a referee and inspector
as well as a sports columnist. He was elected to the National
Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.