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Ex-Light Heavyweight Champion Dies

December 8, 1997

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Willie Pastrano, who began boxing to lose weight and eventually won the world’s light heavyweight title has died.

Pastrano, 62, died late Saturday of cancer. He had been hospitalized at Tulane Medical Center for the past two weeks, said his son, Johnny Pastrano.

Pastrano won the light heavyweight title on June 1, 1963, with an upset split decision over Harold Johnson in Las Vegas. He successfully defended his title twice before losing to Jose Torres in Madison Square Garden on March 30, 1965. After that loss, he never fought again.

As a child, Pastrano was ridiculed because of his chunky, 190-pound physique. After beginning boxing in New Orleans with trainer Whitey Esenault, he was soon a sleek fighter known as ``Willie the Wisp.″

As a professional, Pastrano trained out of Angelo Dundee’s famed Fifth Street Gym in Miami, where Dundee was training a young heavyweight contender named Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali.

``It was Willie who taught Ali the dancing, and that flicking jab,″ Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, a member of the Dundee training team and later a television boxing analyst, said Sunday. ``Willie was a perfect example of violating every rule of training, yet winning every fight.″

``Willie was a big part of Ali’s development,″ Dundee said Sunday. ``Muhammad always admired Willie. Called him `Sweet Willie.′ Muhammad was a student of boxing and always worked with Willie. Muhammad loved the guy.″

Pastrano is survived by nine children and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.

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