Sandy Saddler Vs Willie Pep I
October 29, 1948
New York, New York
Madison Square Garden
Imagine Pernell Whitaker, Floyd Mayweather or James Toney, three of the greatest defensive fighters of the last 35 years, getting put to sleep in their prime by a monstrous puncher. In their respective primes, these men were technicians with such superior defenses that they never came close to being in serious trouble, never mind being counted out while looking up at the lights. This is exactly what happened the first time Sandy Saddler fought Willie Pep.
Going into his October 29, 1948 126-pound title defense against the tall and lanky Sandy Saddler, Willie Pep was considered by many boxing experts the single greatest defensive fighter who ever lived. With a record of 134-1-1, Pep was considered the third best fighter in the world behind the legends Sugar Ray Robinson and Ezzard Charles. He was also a huge 3-1 favorite over the challenger Saddler. No one amongst the almost 15,000 fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden could have predicted the shocking outcome.
At the age of 22, Saddler was considered too young and inexperienced to stand a chance against the Wil O’ The Wisp. In one of the most incredible displays of punching power, Saddler shocked the Madison Square Garden audience by knocking Pep down twice in the third round with his patented right cross. At 5’9, Saddler enjoyed a four inch height advantage that made it extremely difficult for Pep to box from the outside and control the distance. Saddler’s ramrod of a left jab controlled the action and set up the two knockdowns in the third round. In the fourth, Pep, already out on his feet, walked into a bone jarring left hook and was barely conscious while referee Ruby Goldstein counted him out.
The New York crowd that night saw the birth of one of the greatest punchers in boxing history knock out the single greatest defensive fighter in boxing history. Saddler, like Hearns did with Sugar Ray Leonard over 30 years later, had the type of style that would always give Pep nightmares. Although Pep regained the title with a magnificent performance a little over three months later, Pep had to go through hell and back to win that fight. It would be the only time Pep would beat the Boston born Saddler, as Saddler would stop Pep in both their third and fourth fight.