Friday, July 26, 1946: Willie Pep and the Hormel Hammerer

Posted on November 25th, 2006 – 12:11 AM
By Ben Welter

Willie Pep, the longtime featherweight champion, traveled to Minneapolis in July 1946 to take on Austin’s Jackie Graves, the “Hormel Hammerer.” In his book “In This Corner,” Peter Heller suggests that Pep deliberately tried to avoid hitting Graves in the third round, to see if he could “impress the judges solely with his ring smarts.” Sporting fact or fiction? The third round is not even mentioned in this Minneapolis Tribune sidebar, in which Pep heaps nothing but praise on his local foe.


Graves Can Beat
Anybody – Willie


“He’s a tough kid … it was a tough fight. I hit him as hard and as often as I’ve ever hit anyone. Yes, he has the style to beat any featherweight in the business, including Phil Terranova.”

So spoke a great world champion, Willie Pep, as he nursed his bumps and bruises in his dressing room after knocking out Jackie Graves in the eighth round at the Auditorium Thursday night.

Willie Pep in Minneapolis
The original caption on the back of this photo reads: “World Featherweight Champion Willie Pep had trouble finding a place to work yesterday. It rained at Nicollet park and it was lady’s reducing day at Potts’ gym so he sat around while his trainer inquired about other gyms. He wound it up at the YMCA and got the workout he needed. Henceforth, weather permitting he will box daily at Nicollet park for his fight with Jackie Graves next Thursday.”

“No kidding,” said the modest champion, “he hits like an ax. That’s what I told Lou (Viscusi, his manager) after the second round. I said, ‘I can’t let that guy hit me. He’ll knock my brains out.’ ”

Viscusi and trainer Bill Gore nodded in agreement. Viscusi then added, “Graves is much better than we thought. I’m sure he’ll lick any featherweight in the business.”

As for the Hormel Hammerer, his face was red as a Hormel ham. He was discouraged but not disappointed. “Now I know how a champion fights,” he mumbled out of puffed lips. “There is nobody tougher than Pep. I hope he gives me another chance in the future.”

All this time Jackie kept rubbing his injured left hand which caved in under the impact of the blow which staggered Pep in the second round. Manager Len Kelly looked at it and mumbled something about putting in a cast today after a doctor examines the injury which is above the first knuckle and extending over the thumb toward the wrist.

“He’ll probably have to rest until September,” said Kelly. “Maybe even until Stecher decides to run again in late September or early October.

The gate, largest in the history of boxing in Minneapolis, grossed $39,254.40. It netted $29,444.53. Pep’s 35 per cent was good for $10,305.58 while Graves’ 25 per cent equaled $7,362.13 Not bad pay for two kids, neither of whom is more than 23 years old.

Graves started the fight with two strikes against him. First Pep, using a champions’ prerogative, took over Graves’ “lucky” dressing room, and that nettled Jackie. Then Pep jumped into the ring first and took Graves’ “lucky” corner. This so irked the Austin youngster he refused to get into the ring until Pep switched corners. But Pep, still standing on a champion’s right to choose his own corner, refused to budge and Jackie was forced to migrate into strange territory.

Both Harford, Conn., writers here to cover the fight agreed that Graves was outclassed from the start but fought back gallantly and hit Pep as often and harder than any of Pep’s other 104 opponents.

Pep vs. Graves
Willie Pep, left, moved in on Jackie Graves, the “Hormel Hammerer,” in a bout at the Minneapolis Auditorium on July 25, 1946.

Their big thrill was when Graves rose from his knees to put Pep on his knees in the thrilling never-to-be-forgotten sixth round in which Graves went up and down like a hotel elevator during an American Legion convention.

One of the oldest fans at the fight was Dan Gainey’s 80-year-old father of Owatonna.

Was it tough to get tickets? As the hundreds of fans who milled outside the Auditorium until 10 p.m. refusing to give up the quest. Or ask Bernie Bierman, who spent all day Thursday trying to buy three tickets.

Jay Hormel, Jackie’s boss at the Hormel plant, had balcony seats. Among the “visiting press” was Mayor H.H. Humphrey.

Loneliest room in town after the fight was room 408 Dyckman hotel. That was the room Kelly had reserved for a “victory celebration.”

Pep was to leave today for Buffalo, N.Y., where he has a new car waiting for him – “either a Chrysler or Oldsmobile, whichever I want.”

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