Manfredy “I didn’t even know who Mayweather was; I was busy fornicating”
Exclusive interview: Angel Manfredy on drug-addict past and thrilling career
By Michael J Jones
How can I summarise Angel Manfredy in just one short article? At one time in the former lightweight contender’s younger days he made Mike Tyson look like a shrinking violet. Heavy drug use, alcohol binges, endless women; the Angel Manfredy of the late 90’s was a tornado of self abuse; a hell-raiser on a fast track to ultimate destruction. It’s hard to believe that the highly-skilled Indiana man would often do his misdemeanours while still a professional athlete who competed for most of his career at the highest level.
In his eleven-year career that saw him claim famous victories over leading fighters of the day in Arturo Gatti, Ivan Robinson and Julio Diaz, Angel would fall short in four attempts at bonafide world titles before retiring in 2004 with a solid 43-8-1 (32) record.
In 2000 Manfredy became a born-again Christian and cast away his “El Diablo” alter ego and stopped entering the ring in his famous devil mask. He is still deeply religious and lives a clean life.
The prospect-version of the future star would turn pro in June of 1993 to be stopped by hard-punching trial horse Charles McClellan in just two rounds. It was reported the 18-year-old had been out drinking with friends just days before his ring debut. Manfredy would win only two of his first five contests but put the bad start behind him to start reeling out the wins over the ensuing years.
“I always had the confidence” says Angel regarding the winning streak which comprised 23 straight victories including 18 knockouts. “I was born with that confidence as I was born on the same day as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in 1974”.
During his march to the upper echelon, the boxer-puncher would stop former champions Calvin Grove (to lift the WBU belt) and Jorge Paez as well as out-scoring former Gatti victim Wilson Rodriguez as he built a cult following among fight fans. The streaking Indiana fighter was soon calling out “Thunder” Gatti who was in the throws of bombing out the likes of Rodriguez and Gabriel Ruelas in breath-taking fashion.
“I knew I could beat Gatti” recalls Manfredy. “He was a great fighter who was the best around. Boxing Arturo took me to another level. When the fight was made it didn’t seem like anybody wanted me to win but I went out there and did my thing.”
Manfredy was the underdog going in but boxed masterfully to drop the favourite in the third and hold off the predictable fight back in the middle rounds. The bout was stopped in the eighth with Gatti behind on the scorecards and badly cut over his right eye.
Manfredy said at the time Gatti should have kept his IBF super-featherweight title and defended it in their showdown. The bout went ahead at 135lbs with no title on the line but Manfredy reveals he too was struggling to make weight.
“I’d fought John ‘The Beast’ Brown shortly before the Gatti fight and he rocked me” remembers Angel, now 38-years-old. “That was when the little voice said ‘sh*t man you can’t fight at 130 no more’. I felt real good at 135 and had no intentions of dropping weight again.”
After a further two wins at the higher division in 98’, Angel was matched with new WBC super-featherweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr in Miami. Twenty-one year-old former Olympian Mayweather had just dominated Genaro Hernandez to lift the title and the two were viewed as the top two fighters in the division. A classic fight appeared to be on the cards but all was not as it seemed behind the scenes...
“That whole fight was rigged for (Mayweather) to win” sighs the former fighter. “They said ‘you’re fighting Floyd Mayweather’ and I was like ok. I didn’t even know who he was! I was told it was back at 130 and I said I didn’t want to fight at that weight but they flashed the cash until I agreed.”
Not believing Mayweather was anywhere near as good as the likes of Gatti, Manfredy had a colourful training camp where he admits to ‘fornicating with women’ regularly and even got married close to the fight. Weakened at the weight and somewhat distracted, Manfredy took a hard right in the second round before getting trapped on the ropes as the champion followed up. Manfredy took a few blows but seemed ok but the ref’ stepped to conclude a disappointing bout.
“I beat Gatti to become the best but with Mayweather there’s that family tree going on. They had uncles, his father, all the generations there and who was I? I was the nobody drug addict.”
Was he hurt at the time of the stoppage?
“The first shot surprised me” admits Angel on taking the first sharp counter right. “I didn’t expect that punch when it landed but I was ok. The rules say that you rescue the fighter if he’s not defending himself and I was. Floyd never beat (the real) Manfredy that night.”
Fourteen years later and inactive for eight of those, the retired boxer has even suggested coming out of retirement for a rematch. Angel claims he now knows how to defeat Floyd.
“He is the only guy out there that can resurrect Angel Manfredy. If you want to see Floyd get beat; I know how to beat him. Straight after the first fight I asked for the rematch and he totally ignored me. I even had the highest ever viewing figures for HBO for my fight with Ivan Robinson, so the fight made business sense too. The rematch at 135 would have been a completely different fight but I think he was scared.”
“If (the fans) want to see (the Mayweather fight) then I’ll come back and beat him. I’ve got nothing against Floyd he’s had a Hall of fame career and has proven he’s a good warrior.”
Back up at lightweight in the aftermath of the Mayweather disaster, the tattooed contender took on in-form Ivan Robinson over ten rounds. Robinson had just scored two thrilling victories of Gatti and looked set for another world title shot if he could get past Manfredy. An exciting slugfest seemed on the cards but the bout proved to be one-sided.
“Ivan said to me in the build up he was the one who truly beat Gatti as he’d beaten him twice. I said he’d just beaten left-overs and the only reason I didn’t have two wins was because Arturo didn’t want to fight me a second time” reveals Angel who boxed superbly to shut-out Robinson over ten rounds.
Following the Robinson victory, a second world title shot was set up with WBC lightweight king Stevie Johnston. Diminutive southpaw Johnston ran out a clear winner on a unanimous decision over the below-par challenger.
“Stevie Johnston was another guy who I didn’t know who he was” says Angel. “I was on cocaine two weeks before that fight. That was the first fight where I took a lot of drugs during training” Manfredy shockingly explains.
After the description of how hard it was making super-featherweight previously, I ask Manfredy why he then took on 32-0 Diego Corrales in his old weight division for the IBF belt two years after the Mayweather ordeal. He explains...
“I had my conversion and became a born again Christian. I changed all the things I did and thought maybe I could make that weight again as I was doing things differently. I then fought a guy called Sean Fletcher at 132lbs and knocked him out cold. I felt good so I thought I could fight back at 130.”
The challenger was destroyed in just three rounds. Unlike the Mayweather stoppage this was clean and clinical; Manfredy was down three times as he was over-powered in brutal fashion.
“The only man I ever really called out was Gatti” reflects the former contender. “All these other guys called me out to make their name against me. I was the name. I was on the front cover of Sports Illustrated, not them. I was the best around, not for very long, but I was the best.”
Manfredy regrouped once more to reel off six wins but appeared to be showing the effects of a tough career and his indulgent past. The popular fighter edged out previously unbeaten Julio Diaz on a split decision to set up a final world title tilt at IBF champion Paul Spadafora. The bout took place at Spadafora’s hometown of Pittsburgh in March of 2002 and the champion retained with a close unanimous points verdict.
“People never understand what happens behind closed doors with boxing” begins Manfredy cryptically. “What’s meant to happen is you try the gloves on at the weigh-in. I tried the Everlast gloves on and they were too small. I couldn’t fit my hands in properly so I couldn’t make a fist. I told them the problem and they said there were no other gloves. I still thought he couldn’t beat me but my hands are my tools and you can’t work without your tools working.”
“What you have to understand is; when a great fighter loses there’s always something going on you probably don’t know about.”
Manfredy couldn’t regroup from his latest defeat and retired after losses to Courtney Burton and Craig Weber. He walked away at just 29-years-old after 52 contests.
The 38-year-old is currently putting the finishing touches on his autobiography entitled “So be it” which should be out early next year. The former Gatti-slayer has been clean for ten years from drink and drugs and is still happily married with a young daughter.
“I still get folks coming up to me saying they are fans, even 80-year-old women tell me. I don’t get what it is about me which make people say things like that” states a confused Angel.
I ask Angel whether he realises he fought nine world champions in his career?
“Did I? Is that a record?” he laughs before parting with “I love the UK!”
One wonders just how good Angel Manfredy might have been if he had stayed clean and focused all through his glittering fight career, but for a “nobody drug addict” he didn’t do all that bad.