By Ken Hissner: Hungary’s three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and European unbeaten Middleweight champion Laszlo Papp was a top contender but never able to fight for the world title. Let’s look into this and find out why.
Papp had a 301-12-6 record of which Boxrec shows a 125-3 amateur record while winning his first Gold Medal in 1948 in London, England defeating boxers from Finland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, and England.
In 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, Papp won his second Olympic Gold medal defeating American Spider Webb, who ended his amateur career at 39-1-1, and the Chicago top contender as a pro was 34-6, including wins over future world champions Dick Tiger, Joey Giardello and Terry Downes. A pair of losses to future champ Gene Fullmer and a final bout loss to Tiger were among his bouts.
After defeating Tiger in the 1952 Olympics, Papp defeated opponents from Canada, Bulgaria, Argentina, and South Africa. In 1956 in his third Olympics in Australia, Papp defeated a boxer from Argentina and won a rematch reversing a loss to Poland’s Zbignew Pietrzykowski, who would later lose to Cassius Clay in the 1960 Olympic final in Rome, Italy. In the final, Papp defeated future world light heavyweight champion Jose “Chegui” Torres.
Professional boxing was outlawed in Hungary, so the southpaw Papp fought out of Vienna, Austria. He even had to venture to France to get good sparring. He was dogged by hand injuries which periodically kept him out of the ring.
Papp turned professional in 1957 and won his first seven fights, including defeating French champ Andre Drill 51-5. In his eighth fight, he drew with Germinal Ballarin, 45-11-1, in Paris, France though breaking his hand in the third round in going the ten round distance.
Papp was 11-0-1 in 1960 when he drew with Italy’s Giancarlo Garbelli, 67-7-8, in Italy. In 1961 he twice stopped Germany’s Peter Mueller, 116-20-14 in Germany in back-to-back fights.
In 1962 he defeated America’s Ralph “Tiger” Jones, 52-31-5, scoring knockdowns in the 2nd, 3rd, and 10th rounds. Jones had a win over “Sugar” Ray Robinson during his career. He retired after this fight. In Papp’s next fight, he won the European middleweight title by stopping Denmark’s “Gentleman Chris Christensen, 49-14-3, in Vienna.
In 1963 Papp, in an EBU title defense, stopped Spain’s Luis Folledo, 79-2-2, in Barcelona, Spain, scoring two knockdowns in the eighth round. In 1964 in what would be his final bout, he defeated UK’s Mick Leahy, 46-15-7. After this fight, the Hungarian government refused to allow him to fight for the world title in 1965 because boxing for financial gain was “incompatible with socialist principles.” Papp retired after this bout.
Papp was on the verge of a world title fight against champion Joey Giardello out of Philadelphia. I was told by promoter Lou Lucchesse the FBI appeared at his Leesport, Pennsylvania door one day asking why he was trying to contact Papp. He told them he represented world champion Giardello and was informed Papp isn’t allowed to leave Europe after revoking his permit to travel abroad.
“I was one win away from a world title shot, but it would have meant going to America, and my government didn’t approve,” Papp said in an interview after the fall of communism in Hungary in 1989. “I think it was just jealousy. I was earning more money than most of them. There was a lot of antagonism.” He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001 with a 27-0-2 record with 15 stoppages.