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Monday, August 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Al Hostak, 1916-2006: Ex-boxing champ part of famous Seattle bout

Seattle Times staff reporter

Al Hostak, believed to be the oldest living former world-champion boxer, died Sunday at age 90 at Evergreen Hospice in Kirkland.

Mr. Hostak, nicknamed "The Savage Slav," was a Seattle middleweight who found he had a knack for fighting after school classmates teased him about his stuttering.

"He let his fists do the talking," said his son, Phil, of Maple Valley.

Phil said a pivotal moment in his father's life occurred one day when the future champion was about 14, walking home from school, and noticed a punching bag hanging in a barn. He pounded it so impressively that the brothers who owned it invited him to stay and offered instruction.

Mr. Hostak won one of the two most famous fights in Seattle history when he knocked out Freddie Steele of Tacoma at 1:43 of the first round before more than 31,000 in Civic Stadium on July 28, 1938, in a title bout.

Phil Hostak found significance Sunday in the fact his father died at 1:43 p.m., the same numbers of the knockout.

Mr. Hostak knocked down Steele four times in the first round before Steele was counted out by referee Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion.

The other fight in Seattle history mentioned in the same breath with the Hostak-Steele bout is Floyd Patterson's 1957 knockout of amateur champion Pete Rademacher of Grandview, Yakima County, at Sicks' Stadium.

Mr. Hostak was born on Jan. 7, 1916, in Minneapolis to Czech immigrants who moved to Seattle in 1918 and settled in the Georgetown section. He had his first official bout as 16-year-old in 1932 and went on to compile a record of 63 wins (42 by knockout), nine losses and 12 draws. He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.

After beating Steele for the title, Mr. Hostak lost it to Solly Krieger of Brooklyn in November, 1938, in a bout in which Hostak suffered broken hands in the early rounds.

Mr. Hostak won the title back by beating Krieger in a fourth-round technical knockout in June 27, 1939 in Seattle.

He lost the title in Seattle to Tony Zale in July, 1940 on a 14th-round TKO. Mr. Hostak reportedly again broke both hands in the fight.

Mr. Hostak never again held the title. He joined the Army in 1942, was trained as a paratrooper and served in the 101st Airborne. His overseas duty involved being part of the occupying force in Japan, according to his son.

After the war, Mr. Hostak continued boxing until 1949, when he retired on his 33rd birthday with a ninth-round TKO over Jack Snapp.

Mr. Hostak was listed as the No. 59 greatest puncher of all time in a 2003 list compiled by Ring Magazine.

After his boxing career ended, Mr. Hostak worked as a bartender, tavern owner, King County jail guard and security guard at Longacres racetrack. Until his health deteriorated, he lived in White Center and his hobby was collecting music at thrift stores and flea markets.

Hostak is survived by his sons, Phil and Terry, who lives in Renton, and five grandchildren. Hostak's wife, Rose Francis, whom he married in 1948, died in 1981.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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