Al Hostak, a former middleweight champion whose pugilistic skills earned him the nickname "The Savage Slav" and landed him a spot on Ring magazine's 2003 list of boxing's 100 all-time greatest punchers, has died. He was 90.
Hostak died Sunday at Evergreen Hospice in Kirkland, Wash., of complications from a stroke suffered two weeks ago, his son Phil said.
A high school dropout who made his boxing debut in 1932 when he was 16, Hostak won the National Boxing Assn. middleweight title in 1938 with a first-round knockout of Freddie Steele in front of more than 35,000 people in Seattle's Civic Stadium.
Steele, who had won the title two years earlier, was knocked down four times before being counted out one minute, 43 seconds into the bout. Referee Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Hostak, then 22, was "the fastest puncher I have ever seen."
Hostak lost the title later that year, regained it in 1939 (in a bout refereed by "Cinderella Man" James J. Braddock) and lost it again in 1940. A 1997 inductee into the World Boxing Hall of Fame, he fought for the last time in 1949, retiring with a record of 63 wins (42 by knockout), nine losses and 12 draws.
But his reputation as a brawler endured through the years.
"I think ring historians will agree that Al Hostak punched as hard as any middleweight that ever lived," boxing historian John Oaks told Seattle television station KOMO-TV earlier this year.
Born in Minneapolis to Czech immigrants, Hostak moved to Seattle as a toddler. He took up boxing when high school classmates teased him about his stuttering -- letting "his fists do the talking," his daughter-in-law, Leslie Hostak, told the Post-Intelligencer in an interview published earlier this year.
Two years after losing his title to Tony Zale in 1940, Hostak joined the Army and was trained as a paratrooper. He served in the 101st Airborne Division, and was among the first paratroopers to land in Nagasaki, Japan, after an atomic bomb was dropped there in August 1945, his son said.
He fought his last bout, a ninth-round technical knockout over Jack Snapp, on Jan. 7, 1949, his 33rd birthday.
Later, he worked as a King County sheriff's deputy and a security guard at Longacres racetrack.
He is survived by two sons, Phil and Terry; and five grandchildren. His wife, Rose Francis, died in 1981.
Funeral services are pending.