László Papp

Olympic boxer

Friday 24 October 2003 00:00

László Papp, boxer: born Budapest 25 March 1926; married (one son); died Budapest 16 October 2003.

Laszlo Papp was the first boxer to win gold medals at three successive Olympiads, in 1948, 1952 and 1956, a feat since equalled but not surpassed. Papp, a Hungarian, was also the only Communist-bloc fighter to be allowed to pursue a professional career during the Cold War, a dispensation unceremoniously withdrawn in 1965 as Papp was on the verge of fighting for the middleweight championship of the world.

A talented athlete in his youth, Papp started boxing while working for the Hungarian National Railway. In 1945, having being asked to substitute in a national trial, he proceeded to knock out his more experienced opponent, and was immediately drafted into the Hungarian team. Under the guidance of the trainer Zsigmond Adler, the southpaw Papp made rapid progress, before losing in the 1947 European Championships in Dublin to a Czech fighter previously trained by Adler.

The following year, Papp was Hungary's middleweight representative at the London Olympics, and won his first gold medal. In 1948, in Oslo, Papp added the European title to his trophies, and two years later, in Milan, the newly introduced light-middleweight crown. Campaigning in the latter division in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Papp defeated the South African Theunis van Schalkwyk in the final.

When Adler was sacked as trainer in 1953, a disillusioned Papp not only lost in the opening bout of the European championships held in Warsaw, but then refused to participate in the 1955 Berlin championships. The prospect of a third Olympic title in 1956 encouraged his return to the fold, and, following the brutal suppression of the People's Uprising by Soviet forces, Papp was able to restore a small measure of national pride with his victories over the future European champion Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, of Poland, in the semi-final, and the future professional world light-heavyweight champion Jose Torres in the final.

In 1957, after 300 amateur bouts and only 12 defeats, the 31-year-old Papp was allowed to turn professional. With professional boxing banned in Hungary, he was forced to fight abroad. He won his first bout, against Aloïs Brand, in Cologne on 19 May 1957, and over the next few years compiled a respectable record of 15 wins and two draws.

Following a points win over the American Ralph "Tiger"' Jones, Papp challenged Denmark's Christian Christensen for the European middleweight title on 16 May 1962, forcing a stoppage on cuts after seven rounds. Six defences of his crown, the last a 15-round points victory over Mick Leahy of Coventry in 1964, found Papp positioned to challenge the American, Joey Giardello, for the world title. Before a date could be set, however, he was summoned home and his travel permit cancelled. "A professional career," the Hungarian authorities announced, "would not be compatible with socialist principles." László Papp never boxed again.

He later coached the Hungarian national team from 1971 to 1992, and remained a hugely popular figure, of whom his greatest rival, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, once said, "You only get one like him every 100 years."

John Exshaw

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