by Cliff Rold

The Eight, Pt. 3

For any new boxing fan, the time is not long before a fellow fan points out a magic number which grows more mythologized with time: eight.  As in boxing’s original eight weight classes.  The number represents in the mind of many a time when the sport was compressed into fields which couldn’t help but be talented, couldn’t help but draw crowds, because there were so few places on the scale to go.  They were divisions marked by single champions ever challenged by a depth of contenders today’s seventeen weight classes rarely know.

Reflection and research reveals this was not always the case, but it was true often enough to bestow a mystique on boxing’s ‘original eight weight classes’ which carries through to the modern day.  As good as they can be, as great as some of their competitors have been and still are, weight classes prefixed by a “Jr.” designation will always be seen some as bastard spawn which took something away from the game no matter what they added.

Even with classes taking up space in between the old markers, the eight continue to provide memories and spilled blood today.  Over the course of this series, homage is paid to boxing’s original eight by identifying the best of their lot through the years.

Featherweight

Previously, numbers 11-25 were unveiled as:

25) Juan Manuel Marquez (1993-Present)

24) Owen Moran (1900-16)

23) Louis Kaplan (1918-33)

22) Harry Jeffra (1933-50)

21) Davey Moore (1953-63)

20) Naseem Hamed (1992-2002)

19) Young Griffo (1886-1904)

18) Freddie Miller (1927-40)

17) Terry McGovern (1897-1908)

16) Battling Battalino (1927-40)

15) Baby Arizmendi (1927-42)

14) Jim Driscoll (1901-19)

13) Tony Canzoneri (1925-39)

12) Johnny Dundee (1910-32)

11) Alexis Arguello (1968-95)

Today, the list moves to the top ten

10) George Dixon (1886-1906)

Record: 50-26-44, 27 KO, 7 no decisions, 3 no contests

World Champion 1892-97, 4 Defenses; 1989-1900, 8 Defenses

Featherweight Champions/Titlists Faced – 7: (Solly Smith, Billy Murphy, Young Griffo, Dave Sullivan, Terry McGovern, Young Corbett II, Abe Attell)

The first black World champion, Dixon turned professional in his native Canada right around shaving age and made his first claim to the Featherweight crown before his 20th birthday along with a claim to the Bantamweight crown discussed in the Top 25 Bantamweights list.  On June 27, 1892, with Young Griffo’s claim to the crown lapsed and after a series of bouts contested with versions of the Featherweight title at stake, Dixon stopped Fred Johnson in 14 rounds to emerge as the World champion.  Dixon did not defend the title often during his first lengthy title reign, engaging often in exhibitions and non-title affairs.  When the stakes were high, Dixon’s skill and speed served him well.  He stopped Solly Smith in seven to defend the title in 1893 and bested former champion “Torpedo” Billy Murphy in a non-title affair by disqualification.  In 1894 and 95, he battled to grueling 20 and 25-round non-title draws with the masterful Griffo; they battled even once more but at a reasonable ten frames.  Dixon felled Murphy in six rounds of their 1897 rematch before closing the year losing a 20-round decision, for the title, to Smith.  That would be only his first title reign.  In 1898, he beat Smith’s conqueror, Dave Sullivan, on a foul in ten to reclaim his throne and was more active in defending the throne, holding the honors in eight of his next eleven contests.  A decade of dominance would fittingly be ended in 1900 as Dixon was stopped in eight Terry McGovern.  His best days getting quickly behind him, Dixon continued on, fighting most of the best in the world in the early 00’s but managing only eleven wins in his last sixty-plus fights. 

Why He’s Here: At first glance, Dixon’s record might scare off the modern viewer grown accustomed to judging greatness by how small the number in the loss column is.  In Dixon’s case, context counts.  Prior to 1900, he’d lost only five contests while facing the best from Bantamweight to Lightweight in fights which went as deep as forty rounds.  Accounts of the time can be over the top, and substantive film just wasn’t a factor in Dixon’s prime, but there is enough in print and enough on his ledger to tell anyone how great Dixon was even before his historical place as a racial first comes into play.  Dixon was rightfully a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1990.

9) Vicente Saldivar (1961-73)

Record: 37-3, 26 KO

World Champion 1964-67, 7 Defenses, Retired; 1970

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 7: (Sugar Ramos, Raul Rojas, Howard Winstone, Jose Legra, Johnny Famechon, Kuniaki Shibata, Eder Jofre)

The Mexico City southpaw poured everything into his fights, boxing smartly but aggressively with a powerful left hand.  Turned pro just shy of his eighteenth birthday, Saldivar wasted little time in working his way through the ranks.  A 1962 disqualification was his only blemish in 26 outings which included a points win over future Lightweight champion Ismael Laguna to earn a shot at the World title.  Saldivar made good on the opportunity, stopping the excellent Sugar Ramos in 12 to begin an impressive run.  In seven of his next eight contests, Saldivar would successfully hold onto the crown, stopping future titlist Raul Rojas in the fifteenth, winning on points and by knockout over the tough Mitsunori Seki, and thrice defeating future champion Howard Winstone, the final time by knockout.  The last of the Winstone wins, in October 1967, brought a surprising turn as Saldivar elected to hang up his gloves at only 24 years old.  He would not stay gone.  Returning in July 1969, Saldivar outpointed Jose Legra to set up a chance to reclaim the crown he’d never lost.  Traveling to Italy, he bested Johnny Famechon in fifteen rounds for his last career highlight.  In his next bout, Salidivar’s one foot out the door approach caught up to him and he was forced to a stoppage in twelve by Kuniaki Shibata.  A win in 1971 appeared to be a farewell but Saldivar attempted another comeback in 1973, challenging the great Eder Jofre whose own prodigious mid-life comeback had culminated in a Featherweight crown.  Jofre downed Saldivar in four rounds and Saldivar stayed retired.

Why He’s Here: Saldivar didn’t have the number of fights, or lengthy tenure, most other great fighters do.  However, like a Sugar Ray Leonard or Jimmy Carruthers, there was enough in a compact space to know Saldivar was a great one.  His title reign was dominant and when he retired the first time there was nothing on the horizon to suggest a threat.  Saldivar was voted to the IBHOF in 1999.

8) Eusebio Pedroza (1973-92)

 Record: 41-6-1, 25 KO

Lineal World Champion 1982-85, 5 Defenses

WBA Titlist 1978-85, 19 Defenses

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Cecilio Lastra, Ruben Olivares, Juan LaPorte, Barry McGuigan)

Often fighting in the shadow of countryman Roberto Duran and contemporary Featherweight Salvador Sanchez, Panama’s Pedroza carved his own place in boxing lore with a record setting title reign at Featherweight.  That he played in the shadow should be no surprise for it would have been shocking to think of Pedroza as a future great during his early years.  Pedroza lost three of his first 18 fights, one of them a WBA Bantamweight title shot versus Alfonso Zamora, all of them by stoppage by the end of 1976.  He would not lose again until 1985.  A three-fight win streak led to a crack at the WBA Featherweight belt in 1978; Pedroza would exit with the title after stopping Cecilio Lastra in 13.  Knockout wins over former Jr. Featherweight champion and the great Ruben Olivares built increased respect for Pedroza even as he also built a reputation as a nasty customer.  Never one to avoid a low blow or elbow, Pedroza possessed rare stamina and was the sort of fighter who stuck around until foes just couldn’t stand up anymore.  There were men who could take it; an undefeated Rocky Lockridge held him to a split decision in 1980, but most could not.  Patrick Ford went the distance with Salvador Sanchez but fell to Pedroza in 13.  Following’s Sanchez’s tragic death in 1982, Pedroza came to be recognized as the true champion when Juan La Porte won the WBC belt after a point loss to Pedroza.  Pedroza would add a second, this time unanimous, verdict over Lockridge and a points win over former Bantamweight champion Jorge Lujan before age and fury caught up to him in the form of Barry McGuigan.  Pedroza would fight once in 1986 and make a brief comeback in the early 90s but never fought for a title again.  Pedroza was elected to the IBHOF in 1999.

Why He’s Here: Over his many years as a titlist, Pedroza amassed 19 consecutive defenses of the WBA belt to set a division record for any recognized version of the world title.  It could be counted against Pedroza that, during the few years when their reigns ran parallel, he never faced Sanchez.  It may have impacted the number.  However, it is no sure thing Sanchez would have won had they faced off.  19 title defenses is strong stuff, particularly with only two belts (versus the four recognized by many today) to go around for much of his reign.  That his quality of opposition was mostly solid in those defenses doesn’t hurt a bit.   

7) Kid Chocolate (1927-38)

Record: 131-9-6, 50 KO

NYSAC Champion 1932-33, 2 Defenses

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 2: (Battling Battalino, Tony Canzoneri)

Perhaps Cuba’s finest pugilist, Chocolate was a smooth boxer-puncher who also stands as on the great Jr. Lightweights with a lengthy title reign in the higher division.  Undefeated in his first 56 bouts, Chocolate picked up wins over notables like Fidel LaBarba, Al Singer, and Johnny Vacca before his first blemish came on a split decision in 1930 against the great “Kid” Berg in 1930.  He would lose twice more before the year was out, dropping on points to LaBarba and in his first title shot against Battalino.  Fighting between the Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight limits, he’d bounce back with his Jr. Lightweight title win over Benny Bass in July 1931 and came close to unseating Canzoneri for the Lightweight crown five fights (and just three months) later, ultimately losing a split decision.  Another split decision loss to Berg in 1932 was no setback as Chocolate added the New York version of the World Featherweight title with a twelfth round knockout of perennial contender of the time Lew Feldman in October 1932; it was his third of four wins over Feldman.  He would add a defense of both his Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight honors against LaBarba before the year was out and defend the Featherweight claim once more before vacating to concentrate on the higher divisions. 

Why He’s Here: Things began to slide in 1933.  He was stopped for the first time in two rounds of Lightweight action against Canzoneri and stopped in seven two fights later for his 130 lb. title by Frankie Klick.  He would continue, even occasionally at Featherweight, but no more titles or title shots awaited even as he won far more than he lost.  Astoundingly, through the first six years of his career prior to the knockout loss to Canzoneri, he had lost only five of almost 100 bouts.  All of those losses came to Hall of Famers, over the distance, with only two unanimous calls against him.  While his peak years did not last as long as some others on this list, the depth of talent he faced and number of contests he endured can explain the shortened calendar.  Verifiable greatness explains the rest.  Chocolate was added to the IBHOF in 1991. 

6) Johnny Kilbane (1907-23)

Record: 51-4-7, 25 KO, 78 no decisions, 2 no contests

World Champion 1912-23, 8 Defenses

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Abe Attell, Johnny Dundee, Eugene Criqui)

Remarkable title reigns were the norm at Featherweight in its early years as Cleveland’s Kilbane applied his mastery of the crown, and the ring, to rule a decade just as George Dixon and Abe Attell, the man Kilbane would ultimately beat for the title, had done before him.  Turned pro at age eighteen, Kilbane’s first official loss would not come until 1910 in the first battle with Attell. It would not be his last chance.  A draw and distance no contest with Bantamweight champions Monte Attell and Jimmy Walsh stood out on the road to a February 1912 rematch with Attell.  Kilbane left the ring the champion on points after twenty rounds.  Three U.S. Presidents and a World War would go into the history books before the end of Kilbane’s run.  By the end of 1912 alone, he’d draw again with Walsh, pick up a newspaper win over Johnny Dundee, and stop Monte Attell in eight.  The following year, in title defenses, he would hold Dundee to a draw in twenty rounds and finally notch an official win over Walsh in twelve.  He would not defend the title again until 1916, though he would enter the ring approximately forty times, picking up newspaper wins over the likes future Lightweight champion Rocky Kansas, Bantamweight great Kid Williams, and battling Lightweight immortal Benny Leonard on even terms.  He KO’s “KO” Chaney for the title in three, only to be stopped himself in the same number in a 1917 non-title rematch with Leonard in 1917.  During the war years, Kilbane acted as a boxing instructor for the U.S. military while carrying on his career but added only two more title defenses, in 1920 and 21, as his skills began to slide.  He was stopped in six by Criqui in what would be his farewell fight.

Why He’s Here:  Factoring in the many newspaper “no decision” bouts in his career, Kilbane left the ring appearing the better man almost 100 times in almost 150 starts and, with the title on the line, didn’t come close to losing for over a decade.  It would have been nice to see a few more defenses but Kilbane’s quality of competition remained high and the impact of the war can’t be discounted.  All told he battled many of the best of the division’s above and below him and was never far from the top of the pack.  Kilbane was added to the IBHOF roster in 1995.

5) Salvador Sanchez (1975-82)

 Record: 44-1-1, 32 KO

Lineal World/WBC Champion 1980-82, 9 Defenses

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Danny Lopez, Juan LaPorte, Wilfredo Gomez, Azumah Nelson)

Talented, young, and seemingly with a world of greatness in front of him, a tragic auto accident ended Sanchez’s life at age 23.  The Mexican ring genius won his first eighteen contests before losing a split decision to Antonio Becerra for the Mexican bantamweight title in 1977.  Three fights later, he drew in his American debut versus Juan Escobar.  There would be no more blemishes for Sanchez.  Thirteen wins in a row, including a fifth round stop of Felix Trinidad Sr. for trivia buffs, led up a title clash with the rugged Danny “Little Red” Lopez in February 1980.  Winning almost every round, Sanchez exploded onto the world scene behind his sharp jab, tight high handed defense and power before stopping Lopez in 13.  He followed with a unanimous verdict over a Ruben Castillo whose only loss in 48 fights was to the great Alexis Arguello at 130 lbs. and then topped Lopez again in 14.  Sanchez struggled a bit with the size of Patrick Ford in his next outing but still left with the decision, following with a unanimous decision over a rising Juan LaPorte; it was still 1980.  1981 started with Roberto Castanon who was 43-1 coming in and 43-2 after being stopped in ten.  Two fights later, Sanchez would add his defining defense against the greatest Jr. Featherweight of all time.  Wilfredo Gomez of Puerto Rico was 32-0-1, all of his wins by knockout, but it was he who found himself on the floor less than a minute into the action.  Gomez battled back gamely, stunning Sanchez as the fight wore on only to again have the tables turned for good in round eight.  It was the pinnacle for Sanchez though not his last highlight.  He turned in three more defenses, escaping a tougher than expected split decision with Pat Cowdell in the first of them and stopping a spirited challenge from a then unknown 13-0 Azumah Nelson in the final round at Madison Square Garden on July 21, 1982.  A few weeks later, on August 12, he was gone.

Why He’s Here: There is a chance Sanchez in being somewhat overrated here.  He had some close calls against names which only the hardest core followers would recognize and gets a historical benefit from death in that we didn’t see how he handled the moment when time eroded his skills.  And yet, there are 46 fights to judge and a series of defenses against regularly excellent opposition.  There is the campaign of 1980, and Gomez, and Nelson (young or not).  There wasn’t as much depth as some had but more than most fighters with the same number of fights have managed to pack in.  In the end, it’s difficult to overrate Sanchez because the bigger question is how much higher could he have risen with time, with a showdown against Pedroza, with a rise up the scale?  Sanchez was inducted to the IBHOF’s second class in 1991.

4) Sandy Saddler (1944-56)

 Record: 144-16-2, 103 KO

World Champion 1948-49; 50-57, 3 Defenses

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 2: (Phil Terranova, Willie Pep)

The lanky Boston native struck fear in the hearts of the world’s best Featherweights, Jr. Lightweights and Lightweights for the better part of two decades.  A snapping jab and crushing right hand often overwhelmed the senses, but he could also box with the best of them.  He also had one hell of a chin, suffering his only stoppage loss in his second professional fight.  His second loss came in his ninth outing and then Saddler really got started.  From 1944 until his first challenge of Willie Pep in 1948, Saddler would win 78 of 84 contests, drawing twice, including a second round stoppage of future Lightweight king Joe Brown and loss to Phil Terranova.  Snaring a shot at Pep inside the fabled halls of Madison Square Garden, Pep was knocked out in four rounds, his first such loss in 137 contests.  Saddler would take five non-title fights before meeting Pep again and losing a unanimous decision in a fight where he was coming on at the close.  It would be his only loss in four affairs with Pep.  He would win 23 in a row to get to their third fight, winning the vacant Jr. Lightweight title and defending by knockout against future Lightweight champion Lauro Salas along with wins from history’s roster of champions at Bantamweight and Lightweight like Paddy DeMarco (TKO9) and Harold Dade.  In April 1950, he stopped Pep again, this time on a shoulder injury which forced a corner stoppage after seven foul filled rounds.  Fourteen more fights would pass for Saddler before the final chapter with Pep and it wasn’t his best run.  He managed another stop of Salas but dropped points nods to undefeated Del Flanagan and in a rematch with DeMarco.  Pep was a different story.  In a fight which featured nasty grappling, low blows, thumbs, and two men stepping on each other’s feet, Pep quit in the corner before the ninth.  Saddler would promptly drop three in a row, including the DeMarco rubber match, and rarely bothered with Featherweight again outside of title defenses versus Teddy Davis and a 13th round January 1956 cut stoppage of Jr. Lightweight great Flash Elorde (Elorde had defeated him in non-title action the summer prior).  Shortly after a loss to Larry Boardman in April 1956, Saddler was involved in an auto accident, suffering a detached retina and seeing his career cut short at only thirty years old.  He would officially announce his retirement, and relinquish both the 126 and 130 lb. crowns, in January 1957.

Why He’s Here: There are two criticisms of Saddler: he could be dirty in the ring and occasionally lost to fighters who otherwise should not have held his jock.  In a career with as many fights as he had, the latter is forgivable and the former never seems to hurt the great ones.  Numbers do not always tell the tale, but they certainly illuminate it in Saddler’s case.  The man could punch and proved it against the best and least of his times with equal menace.  There are some who rate Saddler only behind his rival Pep all-time, a few who might rate him number one.  From here out, every man has a case for the top spot.  Saddler was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990. 

3) Henry Armstrong (1931-45)

Record: 151-21-9, 101 KO

World Champion 1937-38

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Baby Arizmendi, Mike Belloise, Benny Bass, Petey Sarron)

As he was being counted out in the third round of his professional debut, who could have known what Armstrong would become?  What he would become of course was the second man, after Barney Ross, to hold World titles in three weight divisions simultaneously.  The first of those crowns was at Featherweight and it is the division where his greatness was forged.  It didn’t start easy.  He’d lose twice more in his first four fights and ultimately eleven of his losses would come on the road to defeating Sarron to claim the undisputed Featherweight crown in October 1937.  There were also 72 wins at Featherweight and Lightweight against tough outs like Rodolfo Casanova, Leo Lomelli, and Juan Zurita.  He decisioned and stopped Mike Belloise, solved the riddle of Baby Arizmendi in their third fight after two close losses, battered former Flyweight great Midget Wolgast, and stopped Jr. Lightweight notables Benny Bass and Frankie Klick.  Along the way, he earned recognition in California and Mexico as the World champion at Featherweight and, after a disqualification loss to Tony Chavez in 1936, he would not lose or draw again, in any weight class, for more than two years and 47 fights.  On October 29, 1937 his Featherweight run culminated in a sixth round knockout of Sarron.  He would never defend the crown nor enter the Featherweight division again.  He’d left his mark already.        

Why He’s Here: While his many early career struggles took place mostly at Featherweight, so too did the period when Armstrong became arguably the most unbeatable fighter in the history of the sport.  Based in Los Angeles and born in St. Louis as Honey Melody Jackson, a sweet case can be made for Armstrong as the best fighter in the history of each of the classes he won World titles in (Featherweight, Lightweight, and Welterweight), a rare and jaw dropping accomplishment.  On his best day, it is hard to imagine him losing to anyone on this list before or after him but most of his worst days were here as well.  Factor in a lightning fast run as champion and it’s enough of a difference to merit this spot over something more.  Armstrong was of course an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.

2) Abe Attell (1900-17)

Record: 91-9-18, 53 KO, 51 no decisions, 2 no contests

World Champion 1903-1912, 18 Defenses

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 2: (George Dixon, Johnny Kilbane)

San Francisco’s “Little Hebrew” was a prodigious talent ready before the end of his first pro year for the likes of former champion George Dixon three times and a Harry Forbes who would shortly win the Bantamweight crown.  Forbes defeated him on points; Attell held Dixon to a pair of draws and beat him the third time out.  While noted for slickness, Attell could also bang when needed as evidenced with over half his official wins coming inside the route.  Forbes would not stay ahead of him for long.  From 1902-03, they would fight three more times with two draws and a fifth-round stop in Attell’s favor; the win would be his first defense of the Featherweight crown after claiming the vacant strap with a 20-round decision over Johnny Reagan in September 1903.  Over the course of the reign, a reign occasionally in high dispute, Attell racked up a string of strong wins over the best Bantamweights and Featherweights of the time.  Champions like Jimmy Walsh and Frankie Neil joined Forbes in the losers circle multiple times by decision and knockout while Lightweight greats Battling Nelson and Ad Wolgast could do no better than fight to even terms.  Hall of Famer Owen Moran was held to a pair of draws totaling 48 rounds in two attempts at the crown and even the great Johnny Kilbane had to suffer defeat before he could solve the old master and end his long reign in 1912.  Alternately, Attell was by most accounts bested by Driscoll in 1909 and never bothered with a return after conspicuously avoiding putting the title on the line.  Lightweight great Freddie Welsh bested him as well.  Like most of the great ones, Attell could spot the guy he just couldn’t beat and found some larger men to be too much for him.  Attell would never get a rematch for the crown and would retire in 1914 and 1916 only to make brief comebacks before a knockout loss in 1917, one of only five in his career, sent him to the exits for good.  Attell was, like the two men preceding him on this list, an inaugural member of the IBHOF.   

Why He’s Here: Attell’s record for consecutive title defenses of the lineal crown was often held at 18 but can be argued as high as 22.  A knockout loss to Tommy Sullivan in 1904 is a big part of the argument.  Attell claimed he’d been fouled and carried on as if the loss was no matter and would not be unanimously held as king until stopping Walsh in 1906.  He would avenge the Sullivan loss in 1908 to further cement himself.  No matter the hard number, or the manipulation of the Driscoll situation, Attell managed one of the great title reigns in the history of the sport and no one can say he didn’t face the best of his time.  He would later be tarred with the stain of involvement in Baseball’s White Sox scandal and was a known gambler, but his best ring work appeared on the up and up.  That’s what should matter here.

1) Willie Pep (1940-66)

Record: 230-11-1, 65 KO

World Champion 1942-48, 6 Defenses; 49-50, 3 Defenses

Featherweight Titlists/Champions Faced - 7: (Joey Archibald, Chalky Wright, Sal Bartolo, Jackie Wilson, Phil Terranova, Sandy Saddler, Hogan Bassey)

Born Gugliermo Papaleo, Connecticut’s Pep went from outstanding amateur to outstanding pro seamlessly with brilliant footwork, defense, and blazing speed.  Turning pro parallel to the heavier Sugar Ray Robinson he’d once, legend has it, faced in the unpaid set, Pep was just as dominant at Featherweight as Robinson would be at Welterweight.  He won 42 in a row by June 1942 when he made number 43 recent World champion Joey Archibald on a unanimous points turn.  Win number 54 would come in November of the same year for Chalky Wright’s lineal and New York State World championship, a unanimous verdict after fifteen rounds at Madison Square Garden.  It would take until March 1943 for a loss to be added to Pep’s ledger in a close non-title contest against Lightweight champ Sammy Angott.  Two fights later, he’d come close to defeat again versus future NBA titlist Sal Bartolo but left the split verdict winner, adding another future NBA titlist in Jackie Wilson and Bartolo again in a defense of Pep’s crown before 1943 was half over.  In 1944, he’d post a unanimous verdict over Bantamweight legend Manuel Ortiz and defeat Wright twice more, in a defense and a non-title affair.  1945 would see a title defense against former NBA titlist Phil Terranova while Wilson and Bartolo would again fall short the following year.  Bartolo entered their June 7, 1946 bout as the NBA titlist and Pep would leave the ring undisputed in his title claim.  A little over a month later came the fight with Jackie Graves where, in the third, Pep allegedly won the round without throwing a punch.  It isn’t true, and Pep was actually dropped twice in round six, but it’s more fun in the myth.  A November 1946 third round knockout of Wright ended their one-sided rivalry as Pep just wouldn’t lose, even adding a decisive points win over Lightweight Paddy DeMarco in 1948.  The Saddler series started shortly thereafter but even in the midst of those struggles he was still beating men like the tough Ray Famechon and former Bantamweight champion Harold Dade.  After the Saddler series, he would never again scale the heights of the sport.  He was also 160-4-1 when Saddler was behind him and he really didn’t have anything else to prove.  He continued on for many years anyways, never contesting for the title again, getting closest in a non-title knockout loss to Hogan Bassey in 1958.  His time had long passed, even if he wouldn’t finally realize it until 1966.  Pep…IBHOF…1990. 

Why He’s Here: It’s so easy to rate the “Will o’ the Wisp” in the top spot here, one almost looks for reasons not to.  It’s hard but it can probably be done.  There’s one big problem which arises even beyond the awe which comes in studying his accomplishments or admiring the available film.  It’s the instant impulse in the mind when the question is asked, “who’s the greatest Featherwe…”  The answer is Pep before the question has finished being asked.  While Armstrong was all but unbeatable for a few years, look closely and one finds Pep was all but unbeatable period until a plane crash in January 1947.  He rebounded from the crash and found himself beatable only by Saddler until 1952.  Even with those three losses, he handled some common opponents like DeMarco and Terranova easier than Saddler and it didn’t hurt that his best career performance came in the rematch win versus Saddler.  230 wins…two World titles…wins over World champions from three weight classes.     

He’s freaking Willie Pep.

The greatest Featherweight of all-time.

Previous Installments of “The Eight”:

Top 25 Flyweights

Pt. 1: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=21492

Pt. 2: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=21528

Top 25 Bantamweights

Pt. 1: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=21812

Pt. 2: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=21822

Semantics

The results here are compiled in two parts which tweaks the format used for the review of the nine Jr. Divisions conducted earlier this year.

First, a points-based comparison assigns points in part based on:

1. Number of fellow champions faced (total) then divided into a competition score to flatten the field due to the fluctuation in titles recognized.

2. Lineal World Titles

3. Sanctioning Body Titles

4. Title Defenses

5. 2 Points per KO; -2 per KOBY; 1 per UD against fellow titlists

6. Quality Wins (Points Assigned based on opponent accomplishments; i.e. lineal champions can count for 1, a single sanctioning body champion based on their sanctioning body total, discretionary points for established champions from other weight classes)

7. Quality Losses (Losses to champion opponents -1 point; selective non-title losses)

Draws (.5 points)

From this, a baseline is established and the top fifty fighters are identified.  Further analysis focuses on the context of wins and losses, the relative dominance displayed in a fighters prime, and the strength of one’s era versus the competition faced, to get to a final top twenty-five.

Note: The websites of the IBHOF, Cyber Boxing Zone, International Boxing Research Organization, and BoxRec.com were all heavily consulted in compiling this effort.

Coming Soon: The Top 25 Lightweights of All Time

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com