Monday, July 5, 2021

The Willie Pep & Sandy Saddler of Our Time

By Mike I.

Many people may claim to be the biggest boxing fans, and still have never heard of these two great feather weights Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler. Known as the folkloric moniker “Will o’ the Wisp,” Pep was involved in a situation that became boxing folklore type of situation when he won a round of boxing without throwing a single punch. It has been disputed throughout the years, and probably always will be, seeing how Roy Jones Jr. in the fourth round of his fight with Vinny Paz became the first fighter in (CompuBox) history to go an entire round without being hit by his opponent. Pazienza was credited with throwing five punches and landing zero. No matter the case, if there was ever a boxer besides Jones who could have possibly went a whole round without getting hit even once, it was Pep.

Pep faced off with Sandy Saddler, the perfect boxer to offset such a slickster Like Pep, with an impressive record that included 104 knockouts in 145 fights. The “Tommy Hearns of the featherweights,” standing at around 5’10 and always weighing in for his fights at 126 pounds, the lanky and wiry Saddler was the worst nightmare to any of the great featherweights of his day. These two men fought a total of four bouts, match ups that were a sight to behold. Pep put his amazing speed and ring generalship on display, while Saddler stalked and hunted his opponent down with a vicious jab and that right hand “from hell.” They were not above taking it to a dirty level in the ring either. Their fourth and final fight was called “one of the dirtiest fights in history,” with both men not simply hitting low, but stepping on feet and tripping and wrestling each other to the ground.

If you want to see two great little men show skill, guts, and put on just one hell of a show for you in the ring, find some footage on those fights. I say that because if you want to see the closest thing to that style match up, at least in my opinion, you want to see Gervonta Davis, the newly crowned WBA junior welterweight champ, take on the recent comeback star Vasyl Lomachenko.

Arguably, outside of Manny Pacquiao, Davis seems to be the biggest puncher in all of boxing right now. He just jumped two weights classes and KO’d a much naturally bigger man, Mario Barrios, for the title. Davis has a punch to be reckoned with, and much like Sandy Saddler, he is a force to be reckoned with. For a smaller fighter, he has punching power and boxing ability, even though he lacks the Hearns/Saddler frame. He still packs a great shot in the more compacted container of 5’6, and in the weight classes under welterweight. 

His potential opponent Lomachenko is possibly the closest thing to Willie Pep in this generation. Lomachenko just knocked out Masayoshi Nakatani in their fight, much like Davis did to his opponent.  Nakatani is a wiry boxer, like Saddler, and Lomachenko KO’d him.

Now the question must asked, can Lomachenko beat a man with the power of Saddler? Davis clearly has the power even though he does not have the frame. Lomachenko has the speed and type of ring generalship Pep had. I say that because Pep would do bizarre things in the ring and still get away with them because of his grace and speed. These “bizarre things” included grabbing an opponent by the wrist (they had gloves with the thumb free back then), and pulling the opponent towards him while hitting him with the same hand right before dogging underneath and getting out of the way of a counter punch.

In Pep’s folkloric cult classic fight that he won a round of boxing without throwing a punch, Pep allegedly wound up behind his opponent, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Here I am pal.”

If there is one guy people could see having the same type of style, one in which a fighter makes his opponent feel like he is surrounding him all by himself, it is Lomachenko. He was given the moniker “the Matrix” for his ability to be in front of his opponent, and then seem like he is just teleporting into another position around them.

Also, like Pep was in the fights with Saddler, Lomachenko will be the matador of a show down with Davis. He has no power compared to Davis, like Pep had no power compared to Saddler.

Although, I do not see a matchup out there that would come closer to Pep vs. Saddler, Davis’ great jab and boxing ability coupled with his unbelievable power against Lomachenko’s speed and awkward, and unique style of swarming an opponent from all angles would come close to these legendary fights.

Davis is the perfect bull for the matador Lomachenko, as although he could KO him with one shot and yet he will have to show his other great talents and boxing skills to land against such an elusive and tricky opponent. Lomachenko it seems from his recent victory that he learned from the Lopez fight about how to deal with a bigger puncher. With Davis he would be learning how to deal with a huge puncher, who also has amazing reflexes and style. This fight is interesting to see if Lomachenko, like Pep, is great enough to learn during his fights and pull-out wins, rather than just learning from a defeat.

If this matchup has the potential that I think it does, we as fans would want to see Davis and Lomachenko have four matchups just like Pep and Saddler did. Davis and Lomachenko are the same quality of athletes as Pep and Saddler not only in style, but in their willingness to want to be the best. So, even though styles make fights, great competitors who bring more than talent to the table make even better fights at times. Pep and Saddler sure did for their era, and I can only hope Lomachenko and Davis do the same for modern times. The boxing world should crave this fight the way a person who hasn’t eaten in days wants a four-course meal.

Some fans may ask what about a Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez rematch? Well, that is going to happen sooner than later as Lomachenko said, “I want people to remember my name I fight for this, I fight for legacy.”

Davis and Lomachenko are the kind of guys who are throwbacks to when fighters were not just hungry for fast fame and fortune, but proud about what they did over the course their careers. 

Willie Pep

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