T Nation

Why are there No Evasive White Boxers?


Strange title, I'm sure. But earlier today I was thinking of all the boxers known for their excellent evasive or defensive skills, and it occurred to me that I couldn't think of a single boxer of Caucasian descent who was known for being slick defensively.

What do?


Willie Pep

edit: yeah that's all I got, sorry, lol


I am at a loss for current boxers that fit the Caucasian requirement. I am also not sure exactly what the qualifications are for "white"/Caucasian. I am not being a dick there. Three past examples that I can think of off hand may not meet the "white"/Caucasian standard depending on who is doing the judging.

Most recent example:

Joe Calzaghe


Granted his style is more about using a volume of punches to stifle any offense from the opponent, but since he seemed to prioritize that over doing damage (I have read him called Cal-Slappy) I am calling him a defensive fighter. Thing is, although Welsh,he has Sardinian heritage, and I know of plenty of "whites" who would consider Italians to be something different than they are.

Benny Leonard

"The Ghetto Wizard" was a fantastic fighter. A true boxer puncher. I know Jews who do not consider themselves to be "Caucasian", and obviously there are "whites" who consider Jews to be in a distinct ethnic group.

Willie Pep (Guglielmo Papaleo)

Ok, in my opinion Will O' the Wisp was the greatest defensive/evasive fighter of all time. Hands down. No one in todays game even comes close. The controversy surrounding how good his defensive skills surrounds wether or not he actually won a round against Jackie Graves without landing a single punch. Yeah, thats right. Fuck punching, still won the round. Also, look at his record, 229-11-1. He had a 26 year career and fought 241 times. He was not taking a whole lot of damage. His four fights with Sandy Saddler form a true boxing epic. Their third ended when Pep dislocated his shoulder. Their fourth meeting is often held to be the dirtiest boxing match of all time.

Sadler vs Pep


Robert A



Robert A, I'm not gooing to argue against Willie Pep being the greatest (He's as good a candidate as anyone). But hands down? I don't think you can ignore Sweet Pea...

Sorry for the hijack OP...


Pernell Whitaker was amazing. Of that there should be no doubt. He was capable of doing the same kinds of things that Pep did, e.g. spin guys around, get behind them, slip, clinch, ect. The reason I say Pep hands down is based on two factors, longevity and the rules/enforcement of them.

Pep fought for 26 years. Of course Whitaker had a huge amateur career as well as a storied pro career, so maybe that comes out in the wash a bit.

On the rules/lax views on fighter safety. I suspect you have already seen the Sadler vs Pep fights, but re-watch the clip I posted. Pulling the moves Sweet Pea could in the ring, against oppenents of the caliber of De Lahoya, Trinidad, and especially Chavez is damn near magic. Doing it at a time where the gloves had un attached thumbs and exposed laces and where clinching, wrestling, heeling, head butting, and elbowing were tolerated is high sorcery. Pep did it at a time when grabbing a hold of him, butting him, thumbing his eye, lacing his ear, and then holding and hitting were a valid/time honored way of dealing with a "too slick" opponent. That is why he gets the nod in my eyes.


Robert A

Oh...in case anyone is unfamiliar with Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker, this is who duffy is talking about. Pure magic in the ring. Also, I hate Larry Merchant. At some point about 3 minutes in you will hear him say some shit about "don't know if Whitaker is ready for prime time, but he is ready for Wimbledon." My blood pressure spiked.


Dave, I think you're looking at the wrong guys. The fighters that "make it" may not be all defensive-minded, but they are out there.

The Irishman who just fought Amir Khan was definitely what I woudl call a defensive minded fighter- he was extremely hard to hit and moved very well. Calzaghe was another, and Martinez is another who could be called fast and slick, although he may not be considered defensive (OK, not at all, but you know what I mean.) Dickie Eklund, Micky Ward's brother, was another example of a good slick fighter.

Keep in mind that very defensive minded fighters are hard to come by in the first place- no matter what race they are.

There's a couple factors that play into it, one of them being the socio-economic ones at play before a white guy even enters the boxing gym. Keep in mind that I'm a democrat when I say all this- but I do believe that a white kid boxing is going to have a higher likelihood of having grown up with a more stable family, he probably lives in the suburbs, he's probably going to college, etc. If he's boxing, he's not considering it his career- it's just something to do.

An old trainer from Jersey City told me that once long ago, that none of the Italian kids want to fight anymore, "They all want to go to college!" he said. He was very exasperated by it.

So the proportion of white guys boxing is much smaller, and the ones who are going to take it seriously is even tinier now. So it's not that you couldn't have slick white defensive fighters- Pep shows that they could be some of the best. But you just don't have the high number of white guys boxing in this country.

Now, when you do get white guys fighting, they come generally from Europe, and 99 percent of European trainers are, frankly, garbage. They teach their fighters to come in on straight lines, they throw 1-2s and never vary, they don't move their heads, etc. This is why I'm so America-centric in boxing- our trainers are much, much better, and they make our fighters much, much better.

I'm not sure why this is- maybe its the heavy African-American influence on the sport here- but i can tell just in the way that I've been trained by different guys - the black trainers will want you to work your footwork more and more often, they want you to dance, they want you to not get hit, and they really are teaching you a different game than the white trainers. Personally, I love the way they teach, and I've never wanted to move like a white fighter.... one of the biggest compliments I've ever received in the gym was a pro fighter looking at me and saying "He moves pretty good for a white guy."

Third, I think that a lot of white guys get into a self-fulfilling prophecy of wanting to be the next Aturo Gatti or Micky Ward. They want to bang, want to be like their heroes, and so they get caught in the trap of standing toe to toe. You'll never hear some New Jersey guinzo say, "Man, I want to be JUST like Winky Wright."

These guys don't realize that it sucks to fight like Arturo did, and it fucking hurts.


Paul Spadafora. Im biased, from the burgh'


They exist, they're just not high profile fighters. That and most of the high profile white fighters are from eastern Europe, their system isn't centered around being a slick fighter it's simply low risk/high reward and geared more towards amateur boxing since they'll most likely being attending a sports school.


Very well written Irish. I was considering fumbling my way through something similar, but it would not have been as clear.


Dancing isn't fighting. Kids wanting to be like Ali has hurt boxing.


Fucking amazing


Great post.

I did consider the socio-economic factor, so understandably your typical upper middle class white kid from the suburbs isn't going to have much interest in pursuing fighting unless it's a strong passion. Personally I feel harsh living may make tougher fighters, but real love for the sport is going to make a more talented one.


Lovely bit of prose there Robert. And while Pea will always be tops for me (primarily on the basis of the Chavez fight), I can see how someone would put Pep in a class of his own.


Rocky Marciano had an underrated defensive and evasive skills.


I don't think they're underrated, he just got hit so much it's hard to really say his defense was underrated. Somehow I don't think he was too worried about it though, the Rock knew he was going to take a lot of shots. All he cared about was getting in range and punishing every inch of his opponents body.


I fail to see how, in both that there are kids wanting to be like Ali and how it has hurt boxing.

Are you suggesting they should be wanting to stand in front of their opponent and trade blows?


Among heavyweights (when the color line existed), Jim Corbett was the first champ to demonstrate the "hit & not get hit" mentality, using a lot of feints & traps. Gene Tunney had excellent lateral movement, as he showed vs Dempsey. Also Billy Conn, the original Pittsburgh Kid, eluded Joe Louis pretty well for much of their fight until he got kayoed.


probably pulling stupid shit like this


Ah Anderson... haha! :slight_smile:

Didn't he pull similar spectacle when fighting Maia last year?