Al Hostak

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Albert (Al) Paul Hostak (January 7, 1916 – August 13, 2006), nicknamed "the Savage Slav," was an American-born middleweight boxer who fought from 1932-1949. Hostak twice held the National Boxing Association Middleweight title between 1938 and 1940. He was known as a hard puncher and had a record of 64 wins (41 knockouts), 9 losses (3 knockouts), 11 draws, and 84 total bouts.

Early career and life[edit]

Hostak was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Czech immigrants who eventually moved to Seattle, Washington, settling in South Seattle's Georgetown District. A stutterer in his youth, Hostak was drawn to boxing after fighting many of his tormentors, and discovering he had a knack for fighting. He would begin his boxing career as a 16-year old in 1932, fighting many of his bouts in nearby White Center. Hostak would go unbeaten for his first 27 bouts, all four and six-rounders, before losing a decision to Jimmy Best. Hostak would continue to fight preliminaries matches through the end of 1936, during which he worked as a sparring partner for Freddie Steele of Tacoma, Washington, who had won the middleweight title in July 1936.

Rise to prominence[edit]

As 1937 began, middleweight champion Freddie Steele and his handlers had finally decided to take their fighter out of the confines of the Pacific Northwest, and show him on the East Coast. With Steele, Seattle's top boxing draw leaving town, Seattle boxing promoter Nate Druxman needed to develop another box office attraction, a role Hostak would fulfill in 1937.

Hostak began the year by knocking out Newark middleweight Tony Fisher[disambiguation needed], a former title challenger, in two rounds on January 12. A month later he knocked out Leonard Bennett, who had broken Steele's jaw in the first of two of their bouts, in both of which he had gone the distance. In March and April, Hostak scored second-round knockouts of Johnny Sikes and Young Terry. This set up a July 13, 1937, date with Eddie (Babe) Risko, who had lost the middleweight title a year before to Steele, as well as a rematch to Steele in February, both by decision. Hostak would gain national recognition when he knocked out Risko in the 7th round in Seattle. In August he again won by knockout over another foe of Steele's who had gone the distance, this time stopping Allen Matthews in nine rounds. Hostak would add three more knockouts to end 1937, stretching his streak to eleven straight knockouts. At the end of 1937, Hostak was ranked as the #3 Middleweight in the world by Ring Magazine.

As 1938 began, a high profile match with Steele in Seattle appeared inevitable for the summer of 1938. Steele however, suffered a setback in January, when he was stopped by Fred Apostoli at Madison Square Garden in a non-title bout. In the process, New York withdrew recognition from Steele as middleweight champion, giving it to Apostoli. Seattle promoter Nate Druxman continued on with plans to make the bout for the summer, as Hostak kept busy with three more knockouts in the early of half of 1938.

Championship reigns[edit]

Hostak's bout with Steele was made for July 26, 1938, at Seattle's Civic Stadium[disambiguation needed]. It would be the biggest bout in terms of attendance and significance in Seattle's boxing history, as over 35,000 fans would turnout to watch Seattle's Hostak and Tacoma's Steele battle for the middleweight title.

After a feeling out process at the beginning of the bout, Hostak began jabbing at Steele, until he began to parry Hostak's jab. Hostak then feinted with his jab to entice Steele, to drop his right hand, before landing a left hook that knocked Steele down. Though Steele bounced up quickly from the initial knockdown, he would be sent down four times in total, before he was counted out by referee Jack Dempsey at 1:43 of the 1st round.

Hostak would fight again in September 1938, stopping Young Stuhley in three rounds, before making his first title defense against Brooklyn's Solly Krieger on November 1, 1938 in Seattle. Hostak would break both of his hands early in the bout, as Krieger fought inside against Hostak, pounding him to the body, as Hostak found difficulty dealing with a boxer who he could not hurt. In the 14th round, Krieger sealed a majority decision victory, when he knocked down a tired Hostak for the 1st time in his career.

After his hands had healed, Hostak returned with a third-round knockout of Johnny Erjavec in Seattle, before facing Krieger in a rematch in Seattle on June 27, 1939. In the seven and a half months between their two bouts, Krieger had boxed as a light heavyweight, with reports in the press indicating that he was having a very difficult time making the 160-pound weight limit. Krieger proved to be a shadow of his former self in the rematch, as Hostak knocked him down four times, on way to a 4th round TKO. With the victory, Hostak became the first boxer to regain the middleweight title since Stanley Ketchel in 1908.

After an October 1939 non-title knockout over Charley Coates, Hostak signed for his first bout ever outside of the state of Washington, facing German-Jewish refugee Erich Seelig in Cleveland on December 11, 1939. Seelig though was no match for Hostak, who knocked him out in 1:21 of the 1st round. In January 1940, Hostak would take a non-title match in Chicago against middleweight contender Tony Zale at Chicago Stadium. Hostak would knock Zale down in the 1st round, however Hostak would break his hand in the 5th round, as Zale swept the last five rounds, to take a unanimous decision.

Hostak and Zale were then rematched by Nate Druxman for Hostak's middleweight title on July 19, 1940 at Civic Stadium in Seattle. Hostak again would break his hands in the bout, as Zale wore down Hostak with a devastating body attack. With both of his eyes swollen, Hostak was dropped for a nine count in the 12th round, and was down again in the 13th round, before the bout was stopped.

Post-championship boxing career[edit]

After another hand injury induced layoff, Hostak returned in February 1941 with a knockout win in Chicago, followed up by two more knockouts in April and May in Seattle, before returning to Chicago to face Zale in a third fight on May 28, 1941. Hostak opened fast, knocking Zale down, though he was up before a count could be administered. In the 2nd round, Zale pounded Hostak to the body, dropping him eight times, before he was finally counted out at 2:32 of the round. In November, Hostak would make his first and only appearance at Madison Square Garden, against former middleweight champion Ken Overlin. Overlin easily outboxed a befuddled Hostak, who threw very few punches on his way to losing a lopsided decision.

In Hostak's absence from Seattle, another middleweight attraction had been developed by Druxman, Harry (Kid) Matthews of Emmett, Idaho. The two would face of on September 29, 1942, in Seattle, with Hostak knocking Matthews down twice, but again being outboxed as he was against Ken Overlin, losing a majority decision. The two would fight to a draw in a November rematch in Seattle. This time both boxers performed much poorer than their first bout, particularly Matthews, who spent much of the bout in retreat. Hostak's career ended along with Druxman's after the bout, as both became involved in World War II.

Hostak would have two bouts in 1944 while stationed in Houston, Texas, scoring a pair of knockouts. He would make his post-war return in June 1946 and would win four more bouts by knockout over modest opposition. Hostak would take on his first significant opponent in January 1947, when he faced longtime middleweight contender Steve Belloise in Houston. He would knock Belloise down in the 1st round, but was eventually knocked out himself in the 4th round. After a 5th-round TKO over Anton Raadik in Chicago, Hostak would avenge his loss to Belloise by winning a decision in Seattle in August 1947. With the win, the 31-year old Hostak again earned a rating as a middleweight contender.

Hostak's resurgence would be short-lived though, as he was held to a draw in October 1947 by George Duke. He then lost a split decision in Portland, Oregon to Jack Snapp, which was followed by a draw to Paul Perkins. In December 1948, Hostak would decision Perkins in a rematch, before finishing his career on his 33rd bithrday by stopping Snapp in nine rounds in Seattle.

After his boxing career ended, Hostak held jobs as a bartender, King County Jail guard, and as a security guard at the Longacres Race Track. He even offered a class in 1949, shortly after his retirement, in which he would teach school-age kids how to defend themselves in fights. He was widowed in 1981, and lived south of Seattle in White Center, where he spent much of his time visiting local flea markets. Hostak would collect eight-track tapes of a wide variety of music, which he would then convert to cassette tape.

Hostak died on August 13, 2006, in Kirkland, Washington of complications from a stroke that he suffered on August 3.

Miscellaneous information[edit]

In 2003, Hostak made Ring Magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Freddie Steele
NBA Middleweight Champion
26 Jul 1938– 1 Nov 1938
Succeeded by
Solly Krieger
Preceded by
Solly Krieger
NBA Middleweight Champion
27 Jun 1939– 19 Jul 1940
Succeeded by
Tony Zale