News February 2013

Miracle man Vinny Paz on his legendary career fighting Haugen, Duran and Jones Jr


Vinny Paz talks to Livefight

Part 1

By Michael J Jones

Multi-weight world champion Vinny Paz

It was with great pleasure that I recently had the chance to speak to one of boxing’s great characters in former multi-weight champion Vinny Paz. Formerly known as Vinny Pazienza, the Italian-American was a very popular figure in the fight game before retiring with a 50-10 (30) record nine years ago.

Currently working on a movie biopic of his incredible life, 50-year-old Vinny is still an engaging and charismatic guy. The “Pazmanian Devil” had many career highlights which included winning the IBF lightweight title, the WBA junior-middleweight belt and recovering from a career-threatening neck injury suffered in a car crash.

I’d heard a rumour that Vinny started boxing after watching ‘Rocky’, I thought that was as good as place as any to start. “Yes that’s true. I watched the movie and the very next day started training” says the former champion. “I actually started boxing at five-years-old as I liked Muhammad Ali. Between five and ten I went to school and played other sports but it was aged 14 when I really started taking an interest (in boxing).”

The young fighter would engage in around 120 amateur fights and would win a National championship in 1981. The young Pazienza would make his pro bow in May 83’ as a stocky lightweight, knocking out Alfredo Rivera in four rounds. The exciting crowd-pleaser would romp to 14-0 (12) in just 18 months before suffering a controversial defeat in Italy.

"That was a crazy, ugly moment” recalls Vinny with disgust. French opponent Abdelkader Marbi struck the unbeaten fighter with his head causing a deep cut above Pazienza’s eye. The fight was called off in the fifth, but that is where the controversy started. “My eye was cut on my whole eyebrow from one end to the other, it was a very bad cut.” After being told that the decision was going to be reversed to a technical draw, the Pazienza camp were furious to discover their unbeaten record was no more. “It went down as a loss and that was a bad point in my life but like everything else, I got through it.”

Not resting on his first taste of defeat, the once-beaten fighter returned to Rhode Island to continue racking up the victories. Solid wins over Joe Frazier Jr and former world champion Hector Arroyo followed to set up a grudge match with undefeated IBF champion Greg Haugen. The fifteen-rounder took place in Providence, Rhode Island to a sell out crowd. Before the fight though, the trash-talking between Vinny and Haugen became more than a little heated.

“I still hate (Greg Haugen) to this day the little punk” chuckles Paz when recalling one of his greatest ring rivals. The fight was fought at a furious pace but a big finish by the challenger brought the unanimous decision with all three judges scoring 144-141 to the new champion. It was a decision Haugen complained bitterly about; was Vinny sure of the decision at the time?

“Absolutely I knew I’d won that fight. If it had been a twelve-rounder then he would have won but I beat him in the championship rounds. From the twelfth round I stepped it up to secure the decision.”

Eight months later the two men would meet again in Atlantic City. This time Haugen boxed an intelligent fight to win a clear unanimous points verdict. “He kicked my ass in the rematch” admits Paz. “I had to lose 13lbs in a day but he also fought a very good fight.”

The young lightweight Pazienza

After his second reverse, the disposed champion moved up to junior-welterweight but suffered a series of defeats in world title matches versus Roger Mayweather, Hector Camacho and Loreto Garza. Sandwiched between those losses was the rubber match with Haugen. In the last fight of the series and Vinny won a clear decision over ten rounds over his bitter rival. The weight limit proved crucial before the fight. “I talked him into coming in at 141lbs” reveals the fifty-year-old. “He agreed so by fight-time I was 152lbs and beat him easy and felt very good at that weight.”

Even at a higher weight limit though, 5’7” Vinny was suffering from boiling down to the 140lb division. “I nearly died in the Roger Mayweather fight” he concedes. “I just couldn’t make that weight anymore and I was so dehydrated for that fight. I hooked up with my new trainer Kevin Rooney and he suggested straight away to jump up to middleweight, but I ended up at junior-middleweight.”

The Rhode Island warrior looked terrific in his two bouts at 154lbs, a clear decision over Ron Amundsen set up another world title shot versus unbeaten WBA champion Gilbert Dele in Providence. Now with five career losses and 0-4 in his last few world title tries, Pazienza was almost completely written off before the fight but boxed superbly to out-box Dele before hammering him to a last-round defeat. Pazienza was a two-weight world champion at 28-years-old.

“That was probably the best fight I fought in my whole career against Dele. I was at the top of my game and felt really good at the weight…then I broke my neck.”
Just a few months after winning his second world title, Vinny was involved in a serious car accident. The tough “Pazmanian Devil” suffered a career-threatening broken neck and was told he would never box ever again. The news would have broken many men but Vinny refused to be beaten. The injured fighter, still wearing a heavy neck-brace, started sneaking in weight training to regain his old fitness.

Wasn’t he worried he’d suffer further injury by training against the doctors advice?

“It’s crazy looking back, I think of that sometimes and all I can say is that I was very lucky (to avoid further injury). The doctors told me I wouldn’t fight again and I just didn’t care; I wanted to box again and I was going to do it by hook or by crook.”
Unbelievably, just ten months after being told he’d never be able to fight again, Pazienza made his comeback against Luis Santana, winning a ten-round decision. Further victories over top contenders Lloyd Honeyghan, Robbie Sims and Dan Sherry put the former champion on the map again as a middleweight contender.

“I came back with very good fights against Honeyghan (W KO 10) and also Marvin Hagler’s brother Robbie Sims (W KO 7). I beat (Sims) ass pretty good. Then I beat Dan Sherry for the IBO title and really tore him up. I punished him down the stretch (before stopping him in the last).”

Vinny in the neck-brace he trained in

The come-backing fighter was to meet a legend next though as he eased into the super-middleweight division. “Roberto Duran hit harder than anyone I ever fought. He could hit like a mule-kick… like he had concrete in his hands, no wonder they called him ‘Hands of Stone” chuckles the former puncher. Vinny would rise off the canvas in the first meeting with Duran to win a clear decision. The fight looked much closer than the scorecards suggested so the two men met again seven months later, this time Pazienza won beyond any doubt by a similar (though this time deserved) margin.

Four months after beating Duran again, the burly contender would face another legend of boxing in Roy Jones Jr. At 28-0, Roy was the best fighter in the world after clearing up at middleweight and beating James Toney in a one-sided victory for the IBF 168lb title. The odds seemed insurmountable…even for Vinny Pazienza.

The challenger spoke a very good fight in the build up but was he genuinely confident facing a prime Jones Jr?

“No I wasn’t confident for that fight” admits Vinny with honesty. “I just felt if I could get lucky and hurt him, I could knock him out. I knew it would be a very hard fight for me, he was big at the weight at 6’1” and so, so fast. Thing with me is I had a big heart and with guys like me you just never know what can happen in there.” Jones Jr almost toyed with his far-shorter rival before finishing him off clinically at the close of the sixth on the three-knock-down rule.

To be continued...

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