With undefeated Hungarian MMA star Adam Borics making waves abroad, we have been put in the mood to look at one of the great Hungarian boxers, László Papp, who won gold medals in the 1948, 1952, and 1956 Olympics. That is an incredible run for any athlete, but more so for one who competes in a sport that takes such a physical toll. The feat made Papp the first person to win gold at three consecutive Olympics, a record that would not be tied for 20 years. Moreover, Papp only lost one round across his thirteen Olympic fights. This made him not just a star on Hungarian soil, but an international phenomenon.
Papp was a mere 5 foot 5 inches tall, 165 centimeters, which meant he rarely had the reach advantage. He made up for it by being a southpaw, or lefty, which is often considered an advantage in combat sports. Papp thrived as an amateur boxer, but his entry into professional boxing was more difficult, as he was in his prime during Hungary’s Socialist era, when professional boxing was banned. But the authorities also looked kindly on the glory he brought the nation, and offered him a kind of compromise, meaning that Papp could travel to neighboring Austria to train and fight. But this would turn out to be a short-lived indulgence. After defeating multiple contenders for the middleweight title, he was finally offered a world title fight against American Randy Sandy. Indeed this would have been a true cold war showdown had it come to pass. Unfortunately, the Hungarian authorities refused Papp an exit visa.
Having won several major fights, Papp would never have the chance to be a world champion. The regime’s decision effectively ended his career as a pro fighter. If there is a silver lining here, it is that Papp is one of the few fighters to retire undefeated, with a record of 27 wins, two draws, and no losses. Before his death in 2003 at age 77, Papp was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame, in 2001. At the ceremony, Papp was recognized as one of the best amateur and pro boxers of all time, and given an honorary championship.
László Papp’s name lives on in Budapest, where his is honored by a statue in District XII and at Papp László Arena, the largest local sporting events venue. Papp’s huge spirit has fought out a place in Hungarian history and in international record books.
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