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Boxing – Middleweight Title – Tony Zale VS Rocky Graziano & Featherweight Title – Willie Pep VS Sandy Saddler


I really get great joy in bringing these video clips from HBO’s boxing special “Boxing’s Best Grudge Fights”….for in addition to the rare footage…Barry Tompkins and Larry Merchant of HBO….really gives the boxing fans so great insight and video highlights of the scintillating grudge fight from the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Thomas Rocco Barbella better known as Rocky Graziano was an American professional boxer….who held the world middleweight title. Graziano is considered one of the greatest knockout artists in boxing history….often displaying the capacity to take his opponent out with a single punch. He has been ranked 23rd on The Ring magazine list of the greatest punchers of all time. Graziano fought many of the best middleweights of the era including Sugar Ray Robinson. His turbulent and violent life story was the basis of the 1956 Oscar-winning drama film Somebody Up There Likes Me….based on his 1955 autobiography of the same title.

He is most famous for his three title bouts with Tony Zale for the middleweight title. In their first match (September 27, 1946)….after flooring Graziano in the first round….then Zale took a savage beating from Graziano being on the verge of losing the fight by TKO….however, he rallied and knocked out Graziano in the sixth round to retain his title. The rematch, a year later in Chicago (July 16, 1947) was a mirror image of their first fight. The referee almost stopped the second fight in the third round because of a severe cut over Graziano’s left eye….which would have awarded the victory to Zale….but Graziano’s cutman, Morris (“Whitey”) Bimstein, was able to stop the bleeding to let the fight continue. Graziano was battered around the ring….suffering a closed eye while appearing ready to lose by a knockout…then he rallied and knocked Zale out in the sixth round….becoming middleweight champion of the world. Their last fight was held in New Jersey the following year (June 10, 1948)….when Zale regained his crown in winning the match by a knockout in the third round. The knockout blows consisted of a perfect combination of a right to Graziano’s body….then a left hook to Graziano’s jaw…..as Graziano was knocked unconscious. His last attempt at the middleweight title came in April 1952, when Sugar Ray Robinson knocked him out in three rounds….retiring after losing his very next fight in a 10-round decision to Chuck Davey

Tony Zale was an American boxer whose nickname was “Man of Steel”….who had the reputation of being able to take fearsome punishment and still rally to win….thus reinforcing that nickname….who held the world middleweight title multiple times….and was known as a crafty boxer and strong body puncher….who punished his opponents and steadily wore them down before knocking them out.

Zale was a 2-time world middleweight champion and made the Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. Zale is best remembered for his three bouts over a 21-month period with Rocky Graziano for the middleweight crown. These three bouts were among the most brutal and exciting middleweight championship matches of all time. Their last fight was held in New Jersey the following year (June 10, 1948)… as this fight was Zale’s last hurrah. His age and the many ring wars he fought seemed to catch up with him in his next fight against European Champion Marcel Cerdan later that year….who stopped him in the eleventh round to win the middleweight championship of the world (September 21, 1948). Graziano commented that years later he would wake up in a cold sweat having had the recurring nightmare of being back in the ring with Zale….who he said really was a man of steel.

Willie Pep was an American professional boxer….who held the world featherweight championship twice between the years of 1947 and 1950. Pep boxed a total of 1,956 rounds in the 241 bouts during his 26-year career….a considerable number of rounds and bouts even for a fighter of his era. His final record was 229-11-1 with 65 knockouts….was known for his speed, finess and elusiveness….who is considered to be one of the best fighters of the 20th century….being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Pep was voted as the #1 featherweight of the 20th Century by the Associated Press….and ranked the #1 featherweight of all-time by the International Boxing Research Organization in 2005.

Joseph “Sandy” Saddler was an American professional boxer….who was a two-time featherweight world champion….having also held the super featherweight title. Over his twelve-year career (1944–56)….Saddler scored 103 knockouts and was stopped only once himself in his second professional fight by Jock Leslie. In 2003, Saddler was ranked number five on The Ring magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Punchers of All Time”..

Saddler is best known for his four-bout series with Willie Pep….as these two first faced off on October 29, 1948….when Pep was the reigning featherweight champion of the world…while coming into the fight boasting a record of 134-1-1 (43 KO). Saddler captured the title by knocking Pep down four times en route to a four-round knockout victory. This was only the second time that Pep was beaten….after Sammy Angott beat him in 1943….for the first time that Pep was ever stopped in 137 bouts.  Pep then recaptured the crown on February 11, 1949 by outpointing Saddler over 15 rounds. Saddler regained the crown on September 8, 1950 by a TKO in the eight round….a fight in which Pep quit after dislocating his shoulder. The pair fought their last fight on September 26, 1951….in one of the dirtiest championship fights ever fought….as Saddler won when the fight was stopped in the tenth round.

Any way you cut the pie….these HBO Boxing’s Best Grudge Fights between Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano…..plus Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler…..were epic in every regard….and well worth the watch. 

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