Willie Pastrano – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
New Orleans native Willie Pastrano was introduced to boxing in the early 1950s by his good friend Ralph Dupas, who would go on to become the light middleweight champion of the world in 1963. After turning pro at the age of 16, Pastrano would earn his own world championship, capturing the light heavyweight championship of the world the same year. Pastrano would hold his title until 1965. Both boxers had their start at the St. Mary’s Gym on Chartres Street working with legendary New Orleans trainer Whitey Esneault.
Managed by the legendary Angelo Dundee, Pastrano won the title with a 15-round decision over Harold Johnson on June 1, 1963 in Las Vegas. He only had the title shot because two other fighters had backed out.
He successfully defended the title with a TKO of Gregorio Peralta of Argentina on April 10, 1964 at Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans. In his second title defense, he was well behind on points when he had impressive rally and knocked out English challenger Terry Downes in Manchester, England, on November 30, 1964.
However, Pastrano lost his crown when he was TKOed by Jose Torres on March 30, 1965. In that fight, he was knocked down for the only time in his career by a powerful body blow. After the knockdown, he had a legendary line to the ringside doctor when asked if he knew where he was. Pastrano responded, “You’re d— right I know where I am! I’m in Madison Square Garden getting the s— kicked out of me!”
In addition to sparring with the great Cassius Clay, who was a stablemate also trained by Dundee, Pastrano could boast of wins over most of the light heavyweight challengers of his generation. His also defeated former light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim (June 28, 1955 in New Orleans) and fought to a draw with the legendary Archie Moore on May 28, 1962 in Los Angeles.
Pastrano was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated leading into the Torres fight with the caption, “Light Heavyweight Willie Pastrano Ready to Defend His Title.”
He retired after the Torres loss and never fought again, closing his career with a record of 62-13-8. He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1965 and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1988.
Born November 27, 1935, he died on December 6, 1997 at the age of 62.