Willie Pastrano

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Willie Pastrano
Class of 2001
Modern Category
Hall of Fame bio:click
World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Willie Pastrano
Birth Name: Wilfred Raleigh Pastrano
Born: 1935-11-27
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Died: 1997-12-06 (Age:62)
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 5′ 10″   /   178cm
Reach: 72″   /   183cm
Boxing Record: click

Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4, Photo 5

Trainers: Whitey Esneault & Angelo Dundee
Manager: Whitey Esneault

Career Overview

Wilfred Raleigh Pastrano was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 27, 1935. His father, Frank, was a Works Progress Administration laborer who later worked on a merchant ship as a cook. His mother, Martherina, took care of Willie, a half brother and an adopted sister at a three-room French Quarter flat.

Pastrano was a fat kid who was bullied about his weight. When Pastrano was 12 years old, he stood 5 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds. Ralph Dupas, a friend who was a boxer, took him to Whitey Esneault's gym to lose weight and learn how to defend himself. Unfortunately, some of the boxers at the gym also gave Pastrano a hard time. It got so bad that Esneault gave Pastrano and Dupas a key to the gym so they could train after everyone else was gone for the day.

Pastrano lost weight and became a very good boxer. After winning 13 of 16 amateur bouts, he turned professional in September 1951 at the age of 15. Pastrano weighed just 127½ pounds for his pro debut.

Many of Patrano's early bouts were grudge matches against young men from his neighborhood who had teased him about his weight. In a 1963 interview, Pastrano said he would tell them: "Remember me? Remember the fat boy you used to throw his sandwich in the street every day at lunchtime at Colton School? Yeah, that's me and I'm gonna straighten out all the jive you laid on me."

Whitey Esenault, Pastrano's trainer and manager, sent Pastrano to train with Angelo Dundee in Miami Beach, Florida, during summer breaks from high school. "In the summer of 1952, while he was here on high school vacation, Willie fought six times," Dundee recalled. "He'd go to places like Pensacola and West Palm Beach. He liked it so much here that when he got out of school, he wound up here."

Pastrano grew to be nearly six feet tall and was fighting as a heavyweight by his 20th birthday in 1955. He finished the year as The Ring's No. 5-ranked heavyweight contender.

"Willie was special because he didn’t have the power that my other boxers had. He was a pure boxer. He relied on footwork, timing and guts," Dundee said. "Pastrano out-boxed heavyweights who outweighed him by 20 pounds, and he had no punch!"

From March 1953 and July 1957, Pastrano went 22 fights without a loss, defeating such boxers as Jimmy Martinez, Bobby Dykes, Willie Troy, Joey Maxim, Paddy Young, Rex Layne, Johnny Arthur, Pat McMurtry, and Charley Norkus. His unbeaten streak was ended by Roy Harris in Houston, Texas. Pastrano entered the fight against Harris as The Ring's No. 3-ranked heavyweight contender.

Pastrano went to Europe in 1958 and defeated Brian London, Joe Bygraves and Franco Cavicchi. In his last fight of the year, he was stopped on a cut in a rematch with Brian London.

After losing back-to-back decisions to Joe Erskine and Alonzo Johnson in 1959, Pastrano was dropped from The Ring's heavyweight rankings.

In late 1959, Pastrano announced that he'd "had it" as a heavyweight and intended to campaign as a light heavyweight. "Let's face it," Pastrano said. "I'm pretty small for a heavyweight." Pastrano later told author Peter Heller, "I boxed heavyweights for four years till I realized Sonny Liston wasn't my cup of tea. When I saw him come on the scene, I said I’m going back down where I belong."

After Pastrano outpointed Jerry Luedee in a light heavyweight fight on January 20, 1960, United Press International reported: "Pastrano, who has deserted the heavyweight ranks to campaign for a crack at Archie Moore's title, battered the 27-year-old Luedee throughout to win handily." Following the fight, Angelo Dundee said, "We are very satisfied with Willie's first important fight at 175 pounds. We are now convinced that he can fight the best at the light heavyweight limit." Pastrano ended 1960 as The Ring's No. 4-ranked light heavyweight contender.

On May 28, 1962, Pastrano fought Archie Moore in a 10-round non-title bout in Los Angeles, California. Moore had been stripped of the light heavyweight title by most sanctioning bodies for failure to defend, but he was still recognized as champion by the state of California. After 10 rounds, the fight was declared a draw.

Pastrano fought Harold Johnson for the World Light Heavyweight Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 1, 1963. "When I made that fight against Johnson, I called Willie and told him," Angelo Dundee said. "There was a long pause on the other side and finally Willie said, 'You don't like me no more, do you?' "

In what the Associated Press called "the biggest upset of the year in the fight game," Pastrano defeated Johnson by a 15-round split decision to become the new World Light Heavyweight Champion.

Pastrano successfully defended the title twice before losing it to Jose Torres by a ninth-round TKO in New York City on March 30, 1965. Pastrano retired following the fight.

In April 1967, the Associated Press reported that Pastrano might return to the ring. "I want to see what I've got left," Pastrano said. "My reflexes are still there. My speed is still there. We'll just have to wait and see how great the strain on my legs is. I'm giving myself three weeks. I definitely intend to fight again if my condition warrants."

There were press reports that Pastrano's first comeback fight would be in the Bahamas on May 27, 1967, but they proved to be false. Pastrano was in the Bahamas on that date, but he was there to referee a middleweight fight between Gomeo Brennan and J.C. Ponder, which Brennan won by a knockout at 1:09 of the seventh round.

Pastrano decided to stay retired, but he again talked about returning to the ring several years later. He claimed he was training for a comeback when he was interviewed for Peter Heller's 1973 book In This Corner...!: Forty-Two World Champions Tell Their Stories, but Pastrano never did fight again.

Pastrano was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1965, the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1973, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1988, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009, its inaugural year.

Life After Boxing

Pastrano fell on hard times after he retired from boxing. He had a public relations job with the South Florida Dairy institute, but he lost that job in January 1967. "When they indicted the milk corporation, I had worn out my welcome," he said. "The agency lost the account and I lost my job. It had paid me well for two years."

He had also been athletic supervisor for the City of North Miami Beach, but an auto accident put him out of commission for a few months and the job slipped away.

Pastrano said he retired with $40,000 in the bank. "I never made much money as a fighter except that two years I held the title," he said in 1967. At one point during his boxing career, Pastrano sold life insurance to make ends meet. "The $40,000 is about gone. No booze. No broads. No gambling. Just living. I also made sour investments — in real estate."

Pastrano became the official host of the Presidential Steak House in Miami Beach, but he left that job to pursue an acting career.

Singer and actor Steve Alaimo, Pastrano's friend, got him some movie roles. They did two films together: Wild Rebels in 1967 and The Hooked Generation in 1968. Pastrano had bit parts in a few more movies, but the demand ceased.

Pastrano's biggest problem after he retired from boxing was heroin. He used the drug daily for three years. "I had gin and vodka for breakfast. And heroin. I did 'B-and-E's' for money. Breaking and entering," he said. Pastrano quit heroin cold turkey in 1969. "Some people say my toughest fight was when I lost to Jose Torres and lost my title," Pastrano said in 1977. "But they don't know. No, my toughest fight was against Ole Lady Heroin."

During the 1970s, Pastrano worked various jobs. He was a bouncer at a strip club in Miami, a chip runner in Las Vegas and a greeter at a casino in Reno. Pastrano returned to New Orleans in the mid-1970s and started training boxers.

Pastrano died of liver cancer at age 62 in New Orleans on December 6, 1997. Pastrano, who was married and divorced three times, was survived by nine children and three grandchildren.

Meeting Muhammad Ali

Pastrano and Angelo Dundee traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, to fight John Holman in February 1957. They were sitting in their hotel room one day when Dundee took a phone call from a 15-year-old Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, who was in the hotel lobby. Clay said, "My name's Cassius Marcellus Clay. I'm the Golden Gloves champion of Louisville, Kentucky. I'm gonna win the Golden Gloves, and I'm gonna win the Olympics in 1960, and I want to talk to you." Dundee said to Pastrano, "Some nut downstairs wants to talk to us. But he sounds like he might be a nice kid. Want to talk to him?" Pastrano replied, "Why not? Nothing good on television."

Dundee invited him up. For the next three hours, Clay picked and probed and prodded his brain, asking him how his fighters trained, what they ate, how far they ran, how much they hit the bags. "He was a student of boxing," Dundee said. "He was so inquisitive. A very interesting young man."

Two years later, Pastrano and Dundee were back in Louisville for a fight against Alonzo Johnson. And there was young Clay again, this time asking Dundee for a chance to spar with Pastrano. Dundee turned him down — he did not believe in matching amateurs against pros — but Clay persisted. "Come on, come on. Let me work with him," he pleaded.

Dundee finally yielded and let Clay spar with Patrano. "In and out, side-side, in and out," Dundee said. "Stick-stick-stick. Move-move-move. He was so quick, so agile, Willie couldn't do nothing with him."

Dundee called it off after one round, saying, "Willie, baby, you ain't gonna spar no more. You're too fine, baby."

Pastrano wasn't buying. "Bullshit!" he said. "The kid kicked the hell out of me."

External Links

Preceded by:
World Lightweight Champion
Harold Johnson
WBA Light Heavyweight Champion
1963 Jun 1 – 1965 Mar 30
Succeeded by:
Jose Torres
Preceded by:
Harold Johnson
WBC Light Heavyweight Champion
1963 Jun 1 – 1965 Mar 30
Succeeded by:
Jose Torres