As a person and a boxer, everyone loved Percy Pugh.
At least that’s the view of Les Bonano, who first saw Pugh fight at the Municipal Auditorium in the 1960s and later hired Pugh, who died last week at age 81, to coach several of Bonano’s top fighters.
“Percy and I have traveled the world together,” Bonano said. “And everywhere we went, you met people who knew Percy.
“He loved making people laugh when he was in the ring, and he loved telling boxing stories. How can you not love such a man?”
Funeral services for Pugh will be held Thursday at New Israel Baptist Church, 6322 St. Claude Ave., in New Orleans. Visitation is at 9:00 am followed by funeral at 10:00 am
Pugh was a welterweight for most of his professional career, which began in 1957 when he was 16 and extended through 1974. At a time when boxers often fought, he amassed a record of 47-30, including losses in his last 10 fights .
But Pugh was also ranked as the No. 1 welterweight contender in the 1960s, though he never got a shot at title holder Curtis Coates.
Pugh defeated Hall of Fame lightweight champion and fellow New Orleanian Joe Brown in a 1967 fight and later won the US welterweight title.
Nearly half of Pugh’s fights – 35 – were staged at the Municipal Auditorium, where Pugh won 30-5. His last two wins were both at the Municipal Auditorium in 1971, a year in which Pugh fought eight times, seven of them in New Orleans.
Two of Pugh’s most memorable fights were against Chalmette’s Jerry Pellegrini, in 1967 and 1968. Pugh won both by unanimous decision, the latter for Pellegrini’s Southern Welterweight title.
“Percy knew he couldn’t knock me out and he didn’t like being hit, so he stayed away from me and won both times,” said Pellegrini. ‘But I can’t take anything from him.
“He was a great guy and a good friend.”
Pugh and Pellegrini got to know each other at a time when desegregated fighting was still fairly new in New Orleans. Both Pellegrini and Pugh said the two’s competition and sportsmanship helped ease racial tensions in the city.
“Percy had white supporters and I had black supporters,” said Pellegrini. “I think people supported me because I got a lot of knockouts and they supported Percy because of the way he could move.
“We both filled the room.”
Bonano added: “Percy loved clowning around in the ring — sticking out his tongue, dropping his arms, and even pulling down the other man’s trunk.
“He was a really entertaining man.”
As a trainer, both for pros and for several years with the Milne Boys Home, Pugh gained the attention of his fighters, including title contenders Paul Whitaker and Ronald Weaver.
“First, Percy had been a boxer,” Bonano said. “But since he wasn’t much of a power puncher, he had to be smart about his business.
“So he was able to pass on a lot of knowledge and so he got on really well with the fighters. When it came to boxing, Percy just loved what he was doing.”