"In my second Olympics," Papp says, "it was not so easy because I fought several Europeans who were acquainted with my style, but in Melbourne it was not difficult at all. In the final I met Jos� Torres of America [whose middleweight title fight with Paul Pender was called off last month]. He was young, inexperienced and I did what I wanted.
"When I left Melbourne I thought to myself: 'I have won three medals, something nobody has done before. What can I do now? Go for another Olympic medal?' Then the idea occurred to me. I decided I would like to test my skill among the professionals. Considering professionalism is unknown in my country, it was easy. When I got back, everybody asked about my plans and I told them I would like to be a pro. I just mentioned it and they said O.K." Nobody quite knows how this came about, except that Papp had served his country well. All told, he had lost only seven of some 300 amateur bouts.
Papp's first pro fight took place in Cologne. "I was very excited," he says. "I was not well prepared and I was away from home. I could not get the food I like: hot paprika, spices and onions that help to give me strength. Instead of feeling strong I felt sick. My heart was beating madly as I awaited my turn. When I finally climbed into the ring, all I wanted to do was to kill my opponent. I won."
Considering the odds against him, it is extraordinary that Papp has done so well. Discouragingly, Papp can never fight in Hungary, where pro sports are forbidden. His matches have taken him to Germany, France, Italy and Austria. Last May in Vienna he defeated a Dane, Chris Christensen, for the European title before a sellout crowd of 17,000 while another 3,000 watched on closed-circuit TV in a neighboring hall.
He appreciates his problems only too keenly. "Professional boxing is a different world," he says. "It is important to live in it, experience it continually alongside other professionals. Being away has its effect on my nerves. I have only amateur sparring partners who want to give me one but don't want to get one back. I have to take care of them and watch my blows. Whenever I go out I notice the difference immediately. They give me proper sparring partners who give and take blows equally.
"Yet, if I went and trained in a foreign country, I would always be homesick. I would never get the proper food. In France, for instance, they eat like cows. They put what looks like flowers on the table and tell me it is hors d'oeuvres. It is a great malady of Hungarians. They are always homesick."
Reconciled to training without professional help, Laszlo fulfills a lonely regimen with the counsel of Coach Adler. He does much of his training on the Buda side of the Danube—a cool, tranquil sanctuary on a summer's day for refugees from Budapest's stifling streets. When in serious training, he works as a lumberjack, chopping branches, then sawing them into firewood. "Don't think that on Sunday I lie in bed, either," he says. "I go for a walk." Sometimes he travels to the mountains of the High Tatra in Czechoslovakia, which rise over 8,000 feet. He works out at various heights to improve his wind.
Papp took his guest out on the spacious balcony of his home. Below was a green vista dotted with orange, red and brown roofs like autumn leaves on a lawn: Pasaret, the meadow of the pasha, the lovely site, four centuries ago, of the home of one of the Turks who conquered and ruled Buda.
"There have been very few times in my life," Papp reflected on the balcony, "that I have been on the receiving end of a good punch—touch wood. I was lucky to be born with good reflexes, a good feeling of time, a good feeling of speed and good nerves. I cannot even define my best punch, because at a given point in a fight I only know that something is telling me that such and such a punch is the right one. If you force your opponent to do what you want him to do, you win the match.
"To be a good boxer you certainly have to be an accurate judge of distance between you and your enemy's fists, and never close your eyes. You must have a placid family and social life with no money problems and no hate. Remember also, with women you can lose your strength, your reputation and your future, and so a sportsman must marry early. Have one or two children and know only one girl your whole life."