Blogged by @thefineauthor
Growing up in New Orleans Lower 9th Ward, Pugh developed a love for boxing at a young age. His career began in 1957 when he was just 16-years-old. Pugh went on to be ranked the No. 1 welterweight contender in the 1960s. In 1967, he impressively defeated Hall of Fame lightweight champion Joe Brown, also a New Orleans native. Pugh would go on to win the United States welterweight title. Known as the Black Cobra in his heyday, the beloved boxer was widely recognized for his immeasurable speed inside the ring.
Les Bonano, boxing promoter and longtime friend of Pugh, hired him to train several of his fighters. He says the two traveled the world together, and everyone always gravitated towards Pugh.
“Everywhere we went, you ran into people who knew Percy,” he shared. Bonano also praised Pugh for being “able to pass along a lot of knowledge” to his fellow fighters coming up after him.
In addition to being an exciting boxer to watch, Pugh also helped to merge white and Black boxing fans when he went against Jerry Pellegrini, known as the “The Boxing Barber,” after dropping out of grammar school to become a barber who then transitioned to boxing.
The two met in New Orleans at a period when desegregated fights were still a fresh concept within the city. However, their sportsmanship eased racial tensions, which allowed everyone to enjoy the matches together, regardless of their skin color.
“Percy had White supporters, and I had Black supporters,” Pellegrini stated about his friend and opponent. “I think people rooted for me because I got a lot of knockouts, and they rooted for Percy because of the way he could move.”
Pugh defeated Pellegrini in 1967 and 1968, which granted him Pellegrini’s Southern Welterweight title.
In a July 2000 piece written by John Reid for The Times-Picayune, a former resident of the Lower 9th Ward, Mary Lucille Hammothe, detailed how everyone in the neighborhood looked up to Pugh.
“The boys wanted to train and become like him,” shared Hammothe.
Pugh described himself in the write-up as a “bad man” in the ring. In the ’60s, he met Muhammad Ali in Italy, who gave him valuable advice for his hand motions.
“Percy, snap your wrist when you throw the jab,” he recalled Ali as saying.
Percy Pugh passed away on January 20th at age 81. Funeral services were held at the New Israel Baptist Church in New Orleans on Thursday, January 27th, where retired boxers, family, and friends gathered to pay their final respects. Many attendees brought photos, news articles, and other memorabilia to the service in honor of the legendary athlete. Pastor Reverend Keith Haywood Sr. delivered the eulogy.
Pugh’s illustrious career is permanently cemented in New Orleans history, the city where many of his fights took place.