Pep at peace with his past

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

Thirty-four years ago, Tony Pep watched his mother die of a heroin overdose.

He was 10 years old, and suddenly all alone on the streets of Vancouver.

Fast forward to 1998, and Pep -- by then the Canadian and Commonwealth super featherweight champion and IBO lightweight world champ -- looked across the ring at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and saw boxing's future.

Pep was 34. The kid in the opposite corner, who'd just celebrated his 21st birthday, was 16-0, with 13 KOs. His name was Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Pep went the 10-round distance, but the kid won it in a sprint.

"That was really 10 years ago?" Pep chuckled yesterday from Vancouver.

"A lot of time has passed. A lot has happened in my life ... some bad, some good.

"The one constant was my boxing. Win or lose, I always enjoyed the fight."

Which explains why on Friday night the soft-spoken 44-year-old will climb through the ropes for the first time in four years to fight Montreal's Leonardo Rojas in a six-round prelim on the British Invasion card at the Shaw Conference Centre.

"I never stopped being a fighter," said Pep, who retired in 2004 with a record of 42-10-1 (23 KOs).

"I never felt retired. I've been in the gym almost every day since my last fight. Right now I'm only a couple of pounds over my fighting weight.

"When people ask, 'Why would you want to get back in the ring?' my answer is always the same: 'Why not?'

"Hey, I don't have anything to prove, and this isn't about rekindling past glories or trying to recapture my youth. I'm doing it simply because I love to fight and I love to entertain. If I can still do those two things, there's no reason why I shouldn't."

Pep is quick to point out that Friday's fight isn't the beginning of a prolonged comeback.

"I've won titles and I was fortunate enough to fight some of the best in the world, so I don't think I have anything to prove," he said.

"Having names like Mayweather and Ricky Hatton on my record is nice, but to me the important thing is that I showed up for every one of my bouts, whether I was fighting a title defence, a Top 10 contender or a guy that nobody ever heard of.

"Being a pro means always being prepared and always giving your best for the people who buy the tickets, and I always tried to do that."

Perseverance was something Pep honed on the tough streets of East Vancouver long before he turned pro in 1982.

After his mother's death, he spent five years in foster homes as a ward of the court. At 15, he convinced the authorities to allow him to live on his own.

"It was a good arrangement for a young guy trying to grow up fast," he recalled. "The child welfare people paid for my rent and food and I went to school, studied, and worked part-time at odd jobs when I wasn't in the gym.

"One of the proudest days of my life was when I graduated from high school, because it made me realize that with hard work I could accomplish anything I applied myself to."

Now he's doing it again.

"The bottom line is that I love to fight.

"Most ex-fighters will tell you that once they leave the ring, nothing else comes close.

"Believe me, it's true."


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