Today we are honoring László Papp, Hungary's greatest boxer.
Dubbed the "Mailman" from his day job as a mail carrier for Magyar Posta, Papp is considered the greatest amateur boxer of the 20th Century. He racked up an astounding 55 first-round knockouts as an amateur and is an Olympic boxing legend by virtue of his three gold medals. Standing only 5' 5", Papp was nonetheless tough competition for any of the great middleweights of the day due to his most powerful weapon, a blockbuster left hook. So devastating was Papp from the left side that he is often erroneously classified as left-handed.
Born March 25, 1926, László Papp caught the boxing bug from his father who died tragically when Papp was only 11 years old. At 19, Papp took up boxing in earnest, joining the Budapest Railway Sports Club under the tutelage of legendary coach Zsigmond Adler. He had instant success, knocking out his first three opponents while learning new tricks along the way.
His first major triumph came in 1948 when he stopped John Wright at the London Games to bring home the gold for Hungary.
After winning three gold medals in successive Olympics - 1948, 1952 & 1956 - Papp felt it was time to show the professional boxing world what he could do. His first pro fight was a victory over Aloïs Brand in Cologne, Germany in 1957. Papp's training regimen for this maiden bout (or lack thereof) is a testimony to the health-enhancing quality of everyday life in Budapest:
"I was very excited. I was not well prepared and I was away from home. I could not get the food I like: hot paprika, spices and onions that help to give me strength. Instead of feeling strong I felt sick. My heart was beating madly as I awaited my turn. When I finally climbed into the ring, all I wanted to do was to kill my opponent. I won."
Unfortunately, László Papp's career in the ring was short-lived. As a result of his defying the authorities by fighting outside of Hungary, the government coerced Papp into retirement in 1962, declaring professional boxing "incompatible with socialist principles." This was a propaganda bungle of the highest order, and one epidemic of the communist regime of the day; János Kádár's government was always somewhat clueless about the PR gains that could have been realized had they allowed Hungary's greatest actors, musicians and sportsmen to showcase, on a world stage, the level of home-grown talent that could be fostered by a socialist system.
Still and all, by all accounts Papp's life was a long and rich one, even if he never fought Robinson, LaMotta, Graziano, Fullmer, Olson or any of the other greats of the ring of the day. He retired undefeated, with a record of 27-0-2. After his days in the ring, Papp lived in Budapest and had a long career as coach of the Hungarian Olympic team for 20 years. And despite his lack of big-money bouts, he could still afford to cruise the streets of Buda in an Opel Rekord - quite a prestige ride for a Hungarian in 1962.
In 2003, Lászlo Papp died in Budapest at the age of 77. He remains an icon to a new generation of Hungarian fighters like Gyula Káté and Pál Bedák who have the chance to complete Papp's unfinished business inside the ropes and showcase Hungarian boxing talent more often than every 4 years.