By Andrew Paul Mele
Pete Herman was a short and wiry man. Standing 5’ 2” and weighing 117 pounds, he was one of the all-time great bantamweight world champions. Nat Fleisher, the editor and founder of Ring Magazine, rated Herman the second greatest bantamweight of all time. Pete Herman was born Peter Gulotta to Italian parents in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 12, 1896. But Pete carries a further distinction of interest to Italian Americans. He was the first boxing title holder to be of Italian heritage.
He began his career as a professional fighter at the age of 16. On June 20, 1914 at Pelican Stadium in New Orleans, he held his own in a 10-round, no-decision bout against the current champion. He followed that bout up with a 20-round decision over San Francisco bantamweight Eddie Campi. In his first 18 bouts, he lost five times; curiously, all five losses were to the same boxer, Johnny Fisse. Herman finally managed a draw with their sixth meeting.
After losing to the great Lew Tendler on February 28, 1916 in Philadelphia, he outpointed Frankie Brown in June to set up for a title bout. It was in his fourth time in the ring against Kid Williams and this time Pete Herman became world bantamweight champion. In those days, fighters were in the ring virtually every month and Herman came back four months later to defend his title against Johnny Coulon in Racine, Wisconsin. In the third round, Coulon went down from a hard right hand to the jaw and the referee stepped in to halt the bout.
In November, 1917, the night after Pete married Anne LeBlanc, his childhood sweetheart, he defeated Frankie Burns in a 20-round decision at Louisiana Auditorium in New Orleans. Herman had to take a break from boxing while in the Navy, at least until he put in enough time to get a furlough. Once back in the ring, he continued with a string of victories until the evening of December 22, 1920 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Herman lost his title to Joe Lynch in a 15-round unanimous decision. Pete took off for London the very next day to face Jimmy Wilde.
Herman’s most memorable match was against Wilde, the legendary Welsh flyweight world champion. The bout was staged at Royal Albert Hall in London on January 13, 1921, with crowd of 10,000, including the Prince of Wales. Herman won on a TKO in the 17th round. Wilde went through the ropes three times in that round, prompting the referee to stop the fight. Besting titleholders was becoming commonplace for Pete Herman. On July 11 of that year, Pete knocked out British bantamweight champion Jim Higgins in the 11th round at the Highland Park Ring in London.
Just two weeks later, Herman climbed into the ring with Joe Lynch for a rematch of the World Bantamweight title. The bout took place in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Herman won a decision handily, making him one of the few fighters of the time to regain a title. Less than two months later, he successfully defended his title against French contender Charles LeDoux in New Orleans. But on September 23, Herman lost the bantamweight title for the second time, when he was outpointed by Johnny Buff in a 15-round match at Madison Square Garden. In April of 1921, well before the Buff fight, Herman began to lose the sight in one eye. He fought five more times that year, even knocking out the number one contender, Packy O’Gatty in the first round.
Herman retired in 1922 after winning a ten-round decision over Ray Moore. Eventually his sight faded and he became blind. He remained active and owned a popular New Orleans club in the French Quarter. Elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1959, Pete was also inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
Herman passed away in a New Orleans hospital on April 13, 1973. Pete Herman won 100 fights in his storied career, lost 29 times and was involved in 13 no-decisions. One of the all-time great champions, Peter Gulotta (Pete Herman), he became the first Italian to hold a boxing title.