A Look At The Career Of Sammy (The Clutch) Angott - The Only Man To Ever Beat A Prime Willie Pep
03.07.07 - By Carl Thompson: “Sammy Angott was a spider, he'd hold you, wrestle you, not let you fight your fight." (Hank Kaplan)
Article posted on 04.07.2007
“Had Angott been around to tie up Houdini, that great escape artist would have lost his reputation.” (Harry Winkler)
"The first unpopular lightweight champion." (Nat Fleischer) ..
“Willie hated this guy. If it hadn't been for him, he would have had 135 straight wins." (Hank Kaplan)
Sammy Angott was born on January 17th 1915 in Washington, Pennsylvania. The fifth of nine children, his father was a Pennsylvania coal miner. At the age of seventeen he started boxing as an amateur and eventually became a Golden Glove champion in Pittsburgh.
Spurred on by his success as an amateur, in March of 1935 he turned profession at the age of twenty.
His fighting style was an unpleasing one to behold. He had a tendency to shove, grab and literally wrestle with his opponent; due to this fighting style fight fans labeled him as “The Clutch”. He fought eight times in that first year winning all but one of his fights. In the following three years he picked up the pace, fighting a total of sixty-one fights in his first four years. As Angott explained later in life, “People were poor in the 30’s, A lot of people had to fight to make a living.”
He concluded his campaign in 1938 by defeating Freddie Miller, the former featherweight champion of the world, by a decision over ten rounds. After the Miller contest he was ranked the sixth best lightweight in the world.
In 1939 he started to significantly improve his level of competition. Amongst his opponents that year were the highly rated Aldo Spodi of Italy, Baby Arizmendi of Mexico and Davey Day of Chicago. He beat every man he faced that year, the only blemish on his record was a split decision loss to Davey Dave in December, whom he had already beaten two months previously.
By the years end, Lou Ambers was the world’s lightweight champion with Davey Day and Angott ranked just below him. In the early months of 1940, the National Boxing Association stripped Ambers of their title after he had refused to defend against Davey Day. Angott and Day, being the top challengers at the time, were selected to fight for the vacate title.
The fight for the championship occurred at Louisville, Kentucky on the 3rd May 1940, the Eve of the Kentucky Derby. Approximately nine thousand fans showed up for the fight. The bout was fought at a furious pace. Angott, using primarily his left hook, was clearly ahead after six rounds. In the second half of the contest, Day started to come on as Sammy began to tire. A weary but persistent Angott kept plugging away and managed to hold on down the stretch. (Unlike Bilemech, the 2-5 favorite for the Derby the following day, who was overtaken in the final furlong by Gallahadion, a 35-1 shot) The decision from referee Jack Dempsey, the only judge, was in Angott’s favor by the score of six rounds to five with four even. The Associated Press scored the fight nine rounds to six in favor of Angott.
Sammy was now the NBA world lightweight champion (the modern day WBA), however Lou Ambers was still the New York State Athletic Commission champion (the modern day WBC) and recognized by the majority as the true lightweight champion of the world.
Rather than rest on his laurels Angott fought fifteen more times in the next eighteen months. Even though his newly won title was never on the line he did fight some tough competition. In August that year he was matched with Fritzie Zivic. The bout was of particular interest because Eddie Mead, the manager of the welterweight king, Henry Armstrong, had promised that the winner would get a shot at the 147lb crown. Twenty thousand people showed up at Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, including Henry Armstrong himself, to witness Zivic punch out a unanimous decision over his smaller rival. Zivic was given his shot a month later and finished the fight with the 147lb belt in his possession.
After beating several more opponents including Bob Montgomery via a majority decision and Lenny Mancini (Boom Boom’s father) by a split decision he was matched against a young up and comer named Sugar Ray Robinson. At that point in his career Robinson was 20-0 with most of his fights being at or around the lightweight limit.
The fight took place on the 21st July 1941 at Shibe Park, Philadelphia and was scheduled for ten rounds. It was an over the weight affair so Angott’s title was not on the line. Fifteen thousand spectators watched as Sammy forced the going, in an attempt to use his vast experience of infighting. At times he had Robinson puzzled and on several occasions in the bout he hammered Robinson with left hooks to the body. Sugar Ray however, was by far the superior long-range fighter, as he proved by frequently stopping Sammy in his tracks with sharp lefts to his face. In the second round Robinson nailed Angott with a looping left to the head and Sammy slumped to the canvas. It appeared like the bout would end right there. Angott managed to rise to his feet by the count of nine and when Robinson went in for the kill, Sammy then did what he did best and held on for dear life. Despite Sugar Ray’s best attempts to land the fight ending punch, Angott managed to survive the round. When the ten rounds were over Robinson was given the unanimous decision.
Meanwhile, Lew Jenkins was now the holder of the NYSAC lightweight championship after annexing the crown from Lou Ambers earlier that year courtesy of his powerful right hand. To eliminate the lightweight confusion a unification fight was scheduled on the 19th December 1941 at Madison Square Garden, New York. Jenkins had led a very destructive lifestyle and although only 25 years old was a shell of the fighter who had knocked out Ambers earlier that year. Also prior to this fight he had suffered a motorcycle accident that had left him with three broken vertebrae in his neck. So severe was the injury that that he was unable to do any roadwork for the fight. The fight was a snoozer and is considered one of the most boring title fights of all time. Credit has to go to Angott though because without him there wouldn’t have been a fight. Sammy pressed forward cautiously throughout the bout, battering Jenkins with long lefts and rights to the head and body. Jenkins, on the defensive the entire fight, retreated making next to no attempt to actually defend his title. Whenever there was any danger of Lew unloading his big right hand Angott would clutch his opponent. The fight was so boring that many of the fans in attendance left the contest after the twelfth round. In terms of points, Sammy pummeled Jenkins. The only real excitement in the fight occurred when Jenkins, who was getting increasingly frustrated with Angott’s constant clutching, picked him up and tried to throw him over his shoulder. By the time the fight was over, Jenkins was a sorry sight and the Garden was overflowing with boos. Never the less, Angott had won every round and was now the undisputed lightweight champion of the world.
Next up for Angott was a non-title rematch against Bob Montgomery. Since his initial majority decision loss to Sammy a year previously, Montgomery had been on a tear, winning all fifteen of his fights, beating such fighters as Lew Jenkins, Slugger White and an impressive one round destruction of Davey Day. Many felt that Montgomery was now the superior fighter and he came into the fight as the betting favorite. Of note for this fight was the weight in. Angott weighed 139lbs and Montgomery weighed 133 1/2 lbs. Angott’s handlers were concerned that if Montgomery won the fight he would try to claim the lightweight crown so they forced Montgomery to drink large amounts of water until he weighed 135 1/4lbs, 1/4lb over the lightweight limit. As for the fight itself, the odds-makers were wrong. Sammy proved that he was still Montgomery’s master. Throughout the fight Angott was the sharper puncher and clearly outfought Montgomery. Sammy kept the fighting predominately at long range where he was the superior boxer, frequently hitting Mongomery with left hooks to the head and lefts and rights to the body. Whenever Montgomery was close enough to fight inside, Sammy tied him up, despite boos from the crowd. The only knockdown of the fight occurred in the ninth round when Montgomery stepped into a right hand that landed flush on his jaw. He was up at the count of one and managed to survive until the end of the round. When the fight was over, Angott was deservingly awarded the unanimous decision.
Two months later Angott was in the ring again. This time his lightweight championship was on the line. His challenger was the young, speedy, Jewish fighter Allie Stolz. The sixteen thousand fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden were witness to an entertaining, fast paced bout that many thought Stolz had deserved to win; which he may have done if it wasn’t for losing vital rounds due to low blows late in the contest. Sammy took control of the bout in the early rounds, pounding Stolz’s body whilst the challenger held on. This pattern continued until partway through the third, when Stolz connected with a right to Sammy’s jaw and floored the champion. After taking a count of nine, Angott continued to fight, finishing the round strongly. The middle rounds were relatively even, with Stolz getting the best of the outside game and Angott dominating the inside fighting. From the ninth round onwards Stolz began to take over the fight and it seemed like the championship was about to change hands. However Stolz blew his chance in the later rounds. A low blow in the twelfth gave Angott that round and he followed it up with a strong thirteenth. In the fourteenth, another low blow gave Angott that round. In the fifteenth the two fighters went toe to toe for the entire round. When the fight was over Sammy had held onto his title by a split decision, the difference being the two low blows in the later rounds.
Fifty-three days later in Philadelphia, Angott mauled his way to yet another victory over Bob Montgomery, this time by a split decision. In his three fights with Montgomery, Angott was 3-0; clearly he had his number. Less than a month later, Sammy was in the ring again. This time his opponent was his previous conqueror, Sugar Ray Robinson.
The fight was held at Madison Square Garden on the 31st July 1942. Robinson at that time was known as the uncrowned king of the welterweights and the lighter Sammy wasn’t supposed to provide much of a problem. Robinson started the bout slowly, allowing the crouching Angott to take the early rounds. In the fourth, Sugar Ray let loose with a right to the jaw that sent Sammy sprawling backwards, halfway across the ring. From that moment on Angott received one of the worst beatings of his career. Robinson peppered Angott with every punch in his arsenal, demonstrating his clear superiority over him. The seventh, eighth and nine rounds were particularly brutal and only Sammy’s stamina and courage prevented him from being knocked out. In the eighth round Robinson floored Angott with three left hooks to the jaw. As Angott started to fall he grabbed hold of Robinson and dragged him down with him. He managed to get to his feet by the count of eight and despite Robinson hitting him, with literally every punch he threw, he survived the round. Not surprisingly, when the fight was over the unanimous decision went to Robinson.
Despite the severe beating he received at the hands of Robinson, within two months Sammy was in the ring again. This time his opponent was a previous victim Aldo Spoldi. Angott easily won a ten round decision winning every round of the contest. However during the bout Sammy shattered a bone in his right hand and so in November that year he gave up his lightweight crown and announced his retirement.
For many fighters that would have been the end of the road, but Angott wasn’t just any fighter. After a successful operation on his hand and a few months of healing, he began his comeback. His first opponent was the featherweight king, Willie Pep.
The fight was scheduled for the 19th March 1943 at Madison Square Garden. At the time Pep’s record was without equal in the history of boxing; he had partaken in sixty-two bouts and had won every one of them. This, and the fact that there were doubts over the complete recovery of Angott’s right hand, resulted in Pep entering the ring a 2-7 favorite. The fight was a scrappy affair in which Angott displayed his full repertoire of wrestling skills. He mauled, held, and wrestled Pep throughout the fight, even tossing in the occasional headlock for good measure, giving the smaller man virtually no chance to do any actual fighting. He also landed several punches, which was more than Pep was able to do. In the first five rounds of the fight, Sammy made Pep come to him, stinging him with lefts to the head whenever Pep came within punching range. By the second half of the fight Pep’s youth started to show. In the sixth, seventh and eight rounds he managed to force his way inside and despite Angott’s incessant holding managed to land several blows. In the final two rounds of the fight, Sammy regained control and mauled the now weary Pep around the ring throwing just enough punches to take both rounds on the scorecards. By the end of the fight Pep had lost and with it went his unbeaten record. With the victory Angott was named The Ring Magazine’s fighter of the month.
Following the surprising win over Pep, Sammy was matched against Henry Armstrong. Their bout was a savage, all action affair in which he did little holding. Both fighters did away with their jabs and threw vicious punches at each other for the entire ten rounds, each trying to break the other guy’s will. After seven rounds Angott was ahead by one point. Midway through the eight round, Angott seemed to be on his way to winning the fight. It was at this point that Armstrong landed, what was probably the best punch of the fight, a right to the body. Angott appeared to be on his way down but managed to cling on to his opponent and survive the round. For the final two rounds of the fight Armstrong continued his relentless assault to Sammy’s body. When the bell finally struck at the end of the tenth round, Armstrong was awarded the unanimous decision in a very close bout.
Later that year Angott was given the opportunity to recapture the NBA portion of the championship that he had vacated the year before. The date was the 27th October 1943 and his opponent was Slugger White. The fight, which was held in Los Angeles, California, was the first outdoor show held after dark in almost two years due to a blackout restriction following Pearl Harbor. White was at a severe disadvantage for this fight. He was blind in one eye due to a detached retina, which had occurred back in 1938, and at this stage of his career his other eye had also badly deteriorated. He was virtually a blind fighter.
As the fight got underway it soon became painfully obvious that White had no chance and he was the unwilling recipient of a thorough boxing lesson. Unable to fight at long range White was consistently peppered by Angott throughout the fight. Whenever White came close enough to actually land on Angott, the master wrestler ensnared him. This fight was unusual due to the fact that there was a sixty-seven minute delay when the lights failed at the start of the fourth round. Unfortunately for White, the delay had no effect on Angott’s performance. When the fifteen rounds were over Sammy had regained a portion of his old championship.
Following the White fight, Angott was matched with the other lightweight titlist, Beau Jack, at Madison Square Garden on the 28th January 1944. Jack had won the NYSAC lightweight title two months prior when out-pointing the favored Bob Montgomery. Since the bout was an over the weight affair neither fighter’s title was up for grabs. Both Jack and Angott were considered sluggers and over nineteen thousand spectators had turned up expecting to see a slugfest. Unfortunately for them they left disappointed. The fight was a lack luster affair in which neither fighter seemed willing to lay it on the line. Both Jack and Angott had decided to become boxers for the fight. Of the two, Jack was the aggressor but due to Sammy’s incessant holding at close quarters he was unable to make a fight of it. At the end of the tenth round, the judges had scored the fight a draw. The question as to who was the better lightweight champion would have to wait for another day.
Just over a month later, Angott put his NBA title on the line against Mexican Juan Zurita in Los Angeles, California. The bout was presumed to be an easy, tune-up fight for Angott before his expected rematch with Beau Jack. (Of note Jack had lost his title in a mild upset to Montgomery five days earlier) This was reflected in the betting for the fight with the odds-makers making Sammy the clear 4-1 favorite. In a staggering upset, Angott was beaten to the punch all night and spent most of the night clinging to his opponent. When the fight was over Angott appeared to have been thoroughly beaten. So sure were Zurita’s supporters of the win that they flooded the ring to congratulate their fighter. When the judges decision was announced Zurita was given the unanimous decision by a large margin. The fight was considered as that year’s The Ring Magazine’s upset of the year. It was Sammy’s last ever fight at the lightweight limit.
After losing his title, Angott engaged in a three fight series with Ike Williams. The first fight occurred at Shibe Park in Philadelphia on the 7th June 1944. In a closely fought bout, which featured Angott tying up Ike’s right hand throughout, leaving Williams with no option but to lightly tap Angott with his left, the fight was given to Williams via a split decision. The Associated Press scored the fight in favor of Angott by the score of seven rounds to two with one even.
The second fight occurred three months later, again at Shibe Park. It was an action packed, hard-hitting affair. Sammy took control of the early rounds, dominating inside and frequently hitting Williams with sweeping lefts to the face. In the third round, the sole of Ike’s shoe came loose and was cut away by his corner leaving their fighter practically barefooted. Despite this, Williams took over in the second half of the fight and was again awarded the split decision win.
Their third fight occurred a year later, this time the venue was Forbes Field, Pittsburgh. By that time Ike held the NBA version of the lightweight crown after destroying Zurita in two rounds earlier that year. Unfortunately for Angott, his old title was not up for grabs because from the opening bell, Angott took control of the bout and never relinquished it. He hammered Williams with lefts and rights and almost had Ike down in the second as a result of a big, left hook. In the third he landed a blow to Ike’s stomach that had him grimacing in pain. From that point onwards, whenever Angott landed to the body Ike’s face would distort in agony. In the sixth round, when it became obvious that Williams could not continue, the referee awarded Angott a TKO victory. It was probably the most aggressive performance of Sammy’s career.
Six months after his destruction of Williams, Angott was in the ring again, this time fighting his two-time conqueror, Sugar Ray Robinson. By this time Robinson was close to the height of his powers and Sammy was obviously no match for the bigger, more skilled fighter. He was dropped in the first and eighth rounds enroute to a ten round beating.
Next up was his rematch with Beau Jack. Unlike the fight two years earlier, both fighters came to win. The fight was a no holds barred affair in which both men threw caution to the wind. Angott was floored in the second round whilst Jack was on the canvas twice in the fourth. Beau’s youth began to show in the fifth and for the next two rounds he battered Angott all around the ring. At the end of the sixth round, Sammy returned to his corner a beaten man. When the bell sounded for the seventh round, Angott refused to get off his stool. The referee had no choice but to award Jack the fight via technical knockout. It was the only time that Angott was ever stopped in one hundred and thirty five career bouts.
Following the Beau Jack defeat Angott continued to fight on for the next four years. He did have one more notable win, an unanimous decision over future NBA welterweight champion Johnny Bratton, but despite more wins than losses, it was obvious that his best days were behind him. Following a car crash early in 1950, and two losses to the ill-fated Sonny Boy West, (By the year’s end West was dead as a result of injuries suffered in a bout with Percy Basset) Sammy retired, this time for good. His final career stats were 135 bouts, 99 wins, 28 losses and 8 draws with 23 KOs.
Although Sammy (The Clutch) Angott had been considered one of the most unpopular champions of his era, he had nothing to be ashamed of; he had fought them all.
Sammy Angott was inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in 1998.
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