Chatting with the Champ: ‘Fearless’ Freddie Pendleton
In a 20-year career, Freddie Pendleton would face the very best in the game.
In his first 15 fights, he went 7-7-1. However, despite a very pedestrian start to the game, he would continue to work hard, keep improving and would one day compete against the very best in the world.
Pendleton’s outstanding resume includes Jerome Coffee, Anthony Fletcher, Hilmer Kenty, Tyrone Trice, Joe Manley, Frankie Randall, Jimmy Paul, Roger Mayweather, Livingstone Bramble, Pernell Whitaker, Jorge Paez, Darryl Tyson, Tony Lopez, Felix Trinidad, Vince Philips, Freddie Rojas, Rafael Ruelas, James Page, Ben Tackie and Ricky Hatton.
He battled countless world champions and contenders, was a long reigning USBA lightweight champion and captured the vacant IBF world lightweight title in 1993.
By the time his 78-fight career ended (47-26-5, 35 knockouts), he had proven to be a great fighter, who was willing to face anyone and everyone. And he would retire, having won a world title and having challenged for a world strap on eight different occasions.
An old-school fighter, a fighter’s fighter.
Pendleton came up the hard way. Nothing was handed to him. He earned the respect of his peers simply by fighting and competing against the very best in the world.
From his home in Hollywood, Florida, it was my pleasure to chat with the champ, Freddie Pendleton.
Bill Tibbs: Hi, Freddie; thanks for taking a minute to chat.
Freddie Pendleton: No problem at all.
BT: How did you get into boxing? Tell me about your amateur career.
FP: Really, you wanna know how I got into boxing? I had a stepfather that I really didn’t like and he was always bugging me to go to the gym, always saying I wasn’t tough enough to box, couldn’t handle it and all that. I really just went down to prove I wasn’t afraid of anybody. I only had six amateur fights. I just went to the gym and, when I went there and I got the hang of it, then it just seemed to come pretty easy after that.
BT: I wanted to ask who the best you ever faced was but you faced lots of the great fighters of your era.
FP: Yes, I did and that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to face the best fighters out there.
BT: Was there any great fighter in your weight class, during your era, that you didn’t face who you would have liked to? Or perhaps a fight that was going to get made that didn’t come to fruition?
FP: Yes, (laughs) lots of them. Nobody wanted to fight me. I wanted to fight (Julio Cesar) Chavez but he wouldn’t have no part of me. Don King was trying to get me to go spar with him and I was like, ‘No way. Why should I go and give him a look at me, so he thinks he can beat me. Put the real fight together and I’ll fight him,’ but Chavez didn’t want any part of me.
BT: Who was the hardest puncher you ever faced?
FP: You know, I didn’t really find anyone that really stands out as a guy that could punch anymore than anyone else. Well, except one, Jimmy Paul. Man, when that guy hit you, it was like he was hitting you with a bat or something. (laughs). That guy could punch. He was the best punch I ever faced.
BT: Who was the most skilled or difficult, overall, boxer that you ever faced?
FP: I would say Tyrone Trice. He could have beaten a lot more fighters than he did but he tried to just go out and blast you out of there. He didn’t worry about timing or slipping punches. But he had great skills, if he could have learned to use his skills more than just trying to get guys outta there with one shot.
BT: Your record has a lot of losses but also a lot of wins over great fighters. Do you feel there is too much emphasis put on won-loss records now and less on simply whom they have faced?
FP: Of course and the commissions are ridiculous. They look at a guy’s losses and they wanna cancel fights on them all the time because they have losses but it doesn’t mean anything. You have to look at who they fought. If you fight the best guys, you aren’t going to win every time, so if you have a lot of losses, it might mean you are just fighting good fighters. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a great fighter yourself. And a lot of my fights that are recorded as losses, I won them but didn’t get the decision.
BT: When you first started out, did you expect to face the best in the world one day or did that sort of evolve as you improved as a fighter?
FP: I never really wanted to be a fighter. I thought, I’ll do it for a while, make a few dollars and help my mom out. I had no dad around and it was a way to make some money. I never planned it as a career but I always believed I could beat good fighters and believed I could win a world title. I just wasn’t getting the opportunities.
BT: You started you career on the East Coast; you are a Philly guy. How did you end up in Florida?
FP: (Laughs) I hated Philly. I didn’t like it as a kid. I didn’t like it as an adult. I just didn’t like living there. I hated the weather. I went down to Florida originally just for boxing but ended up staying here.
BT: Do you follow boxing these days?
FP: Not really, not a lot. I find that it is frustrating. I ask myself, “What is happening to my game? What happened?” These guys that they are calling world champions, they wouldn’t be able to fight as amateurs in my day. And the amateurs are a complete joke now. Some of these guys that they are calling great fighters and I said, ‘What?’ Some of the fighters that are champions today wouldn’t have been in the Top 15 in other eras.
BT: You had a lot of great fights against some phenomenal fighters. Looking back, what stands out as your best performance, win or lose?
FP: Well, I think I had a lot of them. I think I fought well against some very good fighters. I don’t wanna say the Trice fight because I caught him with a lucky punch. I set a trap and he went for it and I got him out of there. You know, I took that fight on five-day notice. I was playing basketball and they called me and said, “Can you fight Trice in five days?” and I said, “I haven’t even been in the gym, haven’t been training.” They said that I’d get 5,000 dollars and I said, “Set it up. We going.” (laughs)
BT: You turned pro in 1981 and had several losses early in your career. How did you feel at this time? Did you believe then that you would ultimately fight the guys you did and challenge for a world titles?
FP: I always felt I could beat the best. I wanted to fight the best and I always believed that I could win a world title, if I could get the chance. My mother always said that whatever I did, put 100% into it and you will succeed. So everything I did, I did my best; I put 100% into it and I believed that if, I did this, I could achieve my goals.
BT: Who were your boxing idols or influences when you were younger?
FP: I looked up to (Muhammad) Ali, (Thomas) Hearns, (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. I really loved the way (Leonard) fought. I loved the fire that he had in the ring.
BT: Are you involved in boxing these days?
FP: I have a few fighters I am training. I am working with them and passing along all the knowledge that I have, all the things that I learned that I can pass along to them. I hope to be turning a couple of them pro in the next few months. We are just working out the details.
BT: You were inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011. That was a nice tribute to your career.
FP: Yeah, it was. I wasn’t expecting it but it was nice. It was cool.
BT: You fought at lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight. What did you feel was your best weight?
FP: All of them. I felt good at all the weights. I felt strong at all of them. People have asked me that and I really don’t care what weight I fought at. They were all good for me.
BT: What else have you been doing since you left boxing?
FP: Well, the same thing I did while I was boxing and that is security work. I have been a bodyguard and done regular security work. I did it while I was boxing. People would say to me, “Why are you working while you are making good money boxing?” But I wanted to save up all the money I made boxing and live off the money I made doing my security job.
BT: Freddie, it was great chatting with you and hearing your stories from your days in the ring. Thank you.
FP: No problem. Thanks, anytime.