In the history of sports, perhaps there is no greater story than that of Professor Generoso Pavese, one of the legendary fencers of all time, a man who could do things with a sword that no other man in the world could do.
Pavese started his career in the late 19th century in Italy where fencing matches were still being fought to the death under European rules. He was born in Vallata, a town near Napoli. Pavese joined the Italian Army and was a member of the 19th Cavalry. Upon completion of the Scuola Magistrale in Rome, he became the fencing master for that regiment. Pavese was a student of Masaniello Parise who he called “…the greatest exponent of fencing now living.” While racking up the victories, Pavese became well-known throughout Europe as one of the top fencers in the world.
However, Pavese’s life really took off when he came to the United States in 1893. Things were a little easier on the Professor in North America as he no longer had to fight to the death. U.S. fencing rules prohibited that style of fighting but instead based their winners on a point system.
Pavese had no problems settling into the new American style of fencing. In 1895, Pavese was awarded with the Police Gazette World Championship belt, a title that he would never let go of, actively defending it for over 30 years.
Pavese took on all comers during his championship reign. One notable title defense came against his own son, Newton, only Pavese didn’t know he was fencing against his son until after the match. The professor was holding a tournament in Baltimore where he defeated 20 guys. Newton entered the tournament wearing a mask and calling himself the Masked Marvel. When the match concluded, the professor was surprised at how talented the man he faced was, at which point, the masked man revealed himself as Newton, much to the shock of the elder Pavese.
It was rumored that Pavese won over 350 bouts in his fencing career without losing once.
In the early 1900s, Pavese caught the eye of President Theodore Roosevelt, who wanted to honor Pavese at the White House. At the ceremony, President Roosevelt presented Pavese with a check. The President watched in disbelief as Pavese’s wife ripped up the check and told the President that they weren’t there for his money, they were there for a job. Pavese got a job and became the fencing instructor for the U.S. Naval Academy where he spent six years teaching in Annapolis. He also taught President Roosevelt how to fence.
Pavese passed away on January 15, 1947, in Baltimore, Maryland the at age of 82.
He was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.