Saturday, December 03, 2022  |


The best of all time A to Z: Pep


This is the 16th in a 26-part series in which endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment — the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) — demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others that were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar — who provided input — tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes ÔǪ today’s letter: “P.”

Lifespan: 1922-2006
Hometown: Rocky Hill, Conn.
Record: 229-11-1 (65 KOs)
Active: 1940-59; ’65-66
Weight class: Featherweight to junior welterweight
Titles: World featherweight (twice)
Sugar’s ranking: No. 3
The thought process: Warning to Manny Pacquiao fans: Take a deep breath and open your mind before you read this. No one is saying that the Filipino icon is not a great boxer; he is one of the best ever and his story isn’t even completely written. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a fighter long ago who was more accomplished, at least at the moment. Willie Pep, “The Will o’ the Wisp,” is a bona fide legend. One of the great stories in boxing’s rich lore is that he once won a round without throwing a punch, a testament to his God-like defensive ability. Sugar once compared fighting Pep to “battling a man in the Hall of Mirrors.” Or, as opponent Kid Campeche, put it: “Fighting Willie Pep is like trying to stamp out a grass fire.” He might’ve been the best pure boxer who ever lived. Then we look at the numbers. Pep won 229 fights over his 21-year professional career, according to That included six victories over hall of famers and dozens of others over elite opponents. He won his first 62 fights and was an unfathomable 134-1-1 before he met his arch nemesis and fellow hall of famer Sandy Saddler for the first time. And he held the featherweight title twice — first winning it when he was only 20 — during a time when there were essentially eight weight divisions. Pep’s career seemed to have ended in 1947, when he suffered near-fatal injuries in a plane crash. Not even such a devastating accident could catch him flush on the chin, though. He returned five months later and went 121-10-1 the remainder of his career, including a record of 9-1 after he launched a comeback at 42 in 1965. Pep had his moments of being mortal, particularly against Saddler. The lanky Boston fighter used his height and awkward, swarming style to beat Pep in three of four meetings. Still, Pep’s name is spoken with reverence by those who have studied the history of the sport and always will be. The same holds true for Pacquiao. The current No. 1 fighter pound for pound has built a tremendous legacy, which includes a record of 8-1-1 against arguable future hall of famers Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. Pacquaio also has won titles in seven weight divisions, a significant feat even if it is somewhat overrated because of the ridiculous proliferation of titles these days. And the fact that he thrills fans every time he steps into the ring is an argument in his favor, even over Pep. Indeed, Pac-man has secured a lofty position in boxing history, just not quite as lofty as Pep — yet. Let’s revisit this if Pacquiao fights and beats Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Five more (alphabetical order): Manny Pacquiao, Eusebio Pedroza, Pascual Perez, Billy Petrolle and Aaron Pryor.
Sugar quote: “The name Willie Pep will forever be remembered as a name put to melody and symphony, a balletic will to grace that made him the ‘Will o’ the Wisp.'”

A: Armstrong:

B: Burley:

C: Charles:

D: Duran:

E: Elorde:

F: Foreman:

G: Greb:

H: Hagler:

I: Ibeabuchi:

J: Johnson:

K: Ketchel:

L: Louis:

M: Moore:

N: Napoles:

O: Olivares: