Willie Pep vs Sandy Saddler 3 – On this day, 9/8/1950, reigning featherweight champion Willie Pep fought Sandy Saddler for the third time at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The match between the two future Hall of Famers, who had a combined record of 266-9-3, set a new gate record for the featherweight division of over a quarter million dollars in gate receipts, shattering the previous record by more than double as all eyes were on the rubber match with Saddler having knocked out Pep in their first fight and the clever Pep, nicknamed Will o’ the Wisp, avenging the loss to regain the crown via unanimous decision in the rematch.
The third fight gave rise to a massive controversy that was the talk of the town. It boiled down to a debate over Willie Pep quitting vs Willie Pep being beaten by the better man. Was it the body beating he took that led to his corner retirement or was it a dislocated shoulder?
At the time of the stoppage, following the seventh round, Willie was ahead on all of the cards which ranged from 4-2-1 to 5-2. Willie went down in the third round from a left hook to the jaw but got up and was masterfully boxing by most counts until Saddler unleashed a vicious body attack in the seventh.
This is where the debates really got going, with Saddler’s team and fans saying that Pep was clinching frequently because he was obviously hurt from the body assault as well as being nearly out of gas, having burned up his energy following the knockdown in the third round. Pep’s team and backers claimed that his left shoulder became dislocated at the close of the seventh round when Sandy twisted Pep’s body coming out of a clinch.
By reading round by round recaps and watching fight highlights one can get an interesting sense and feel for the fight. This writer believes that Saddler’s hands were simply too fast and heavy on this night. Combine that with his length — Saddler was three-and-a-half inches taller and had a longer reach — and he just had the perfect package to beat Willie Pep more often than not. You had to have the length and legs to cut off the ring in an aggressive manner on the clever boxer and you had to have the speed and power to do damage. Check on all those counts.
Was Pep telling the truth? He did stay out of the ring for a few months following the loss to rehab his shoulder. X-Rays were negative but let’s not forget that he never claimed it to be broken, he claimed dislocation and while nothing was fractured, there was swelling.
The dislocated shoulder checks out, but Saddler’s accurate hands and blistering body attack check out also. Inevitably, there would be a fourth fight. Talk about it began even before the spectators were out of the seats at Yankee Stadium that evening.
Happy 66th anniversary of a fight between two legends that broke the mold for featherweight interest.
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