Willie Pep Interview
His name is William Papaleo. You know him better as Willie Pep. Willie Pep is a retired featherweight champion of the world. He's credited with having one of the greatest records ever compiled by a boxer. Willie was in town awhile back for the "Night of Champions" dinner, held at the Syracuse Marriott Hotel. The purpose of the $100 per plate dinner was to raise funds for the construction of an International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota. Prior to the dinner, we sat down and talked with Willie Pep about his colorful past, and his promising future.
Q. A Sports Illustrated writer has raised the question, "Where's the sport in two men punching each other?" What's your answer to that?
A. That's not the sport. Boxing was very good to me. Being a fighter was an education and it's been very good to a lot of people. Without boxing I wouldn't have been able to buy my mother and father a home. There's a lot of nice things that happened to me because of boxing. I can't say anything that's not nice about boxing. I learned the business. I found out early in my boxing career that you had to be in shape to fight. I always trained faithfully. As you know, a fighter fights 8, 10 years. I fought 29 years, so I must've done something right. I think where a lot of kids go wrong is they don't train right. I was a very skinny kid. I started boxing at 98 lbs. I wasn't a tough guy or strong Through training faithfully, doing the right things, and eating properly 1 got very fortunate, and made a long career out of it. I boxed 241 professional fights, plus 65 amateur fights.
Q. In this same article, the writer charges, "Boxing is so corrupt." If it is corrupt, why can't it he cleaned up? What's standing in the way?
A. This is this guy talking What does he know'' Boxing is so closely supervised these days. Corrupt0 Maybe 40 or 50 years ago, I don't know, I wasn't around. Nowadays the rules are all there to help a boxer. Fighters are making millions of dollars. They don't have t" be corrupt. Look at Leonard and Hagler, they re getting 12million. What's corrupt about that.'.' I don't think the guy knows what he's writing about. 1 don't say that there's not some managers that maybe don't treat their fighters right, or short change them That could happen. But. that's a managerial thing; that's not the business.
Q. When you're a champion, are you aware that people look up to you, and do you feel a responsibility to provide a clean, Wholesome image?
A. Yes. I made many mistakes. I was champion of the world. 1 went looking for a friend of mine one day, who was down at the corner. I went around the corner and they were playing dice. He said. 'Wait one minute, Willie.' That minute the cops raided the place and picked me up for shooting dice. And, I wasn't shooting dice. That's how things happen to people. I've played dice. I've gambled. But, I wasn't gambling that instant. When you're champion, you're guilty until proven innocent. Everybody wants to pick on you.
Q. What age were you when you retired from boxing?
Q. Why do most people feel that when a fighter is 30, he's over the hill?
A. I was very fortunate that I was able to go that long. In those days, people were all through when they were 38-35, I was very quick. I was very fast. The good Lord really took care of me. I went through an airplane crash, and broke my back and leg. I came back after that. I served a year in the Army and two years in the Navy. I was very fortunate to overcome all that. And, I'm all right till I hear a bell. Don't ring any bells; I get very shaky.
Q. Do you agree with Billy Conn when he says, "There's no more gymnasiums. Nobody wants to be a fighter. They're actors for television."
A. Exactly. We had many gymnasiums in my own home town. Now, we only have one. I got to agree with Billy.
Q. Did you ever have to work up a hatred of your opponent before you went into the ring?
A. Never. I boxed for 29 years altogether, and I never haled anybody. I disliked a few guys I boxed, but I didn't hate 'em. After a fight's over, it's over.
Q. Financially speaking, how are you today?
A. I work for a living. I like what I'm doing. I'm with the Boxing Commission, State of Connecticut. I'm not a rich man. I don't have to go out and scrimp and save. I do very well.
Q. What is your job with the Boxing Commission?
A. I'm an inspector. We attend all the fights. On fight night ?;e weigh the fighters in. We're at ringside. Eventually. I'd like to become the Boxing Commissioner, and the Governor will have to appoint me. Sooner or later, he's got to appoint one, and that's what I want. I've been a fighter, a manager, a trainer, an inspector. I've done everything pertaining to boxing except be a commissioner. I think I'll fulfill that
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