“Crazy, crazy stuff.” – Vinny Paz
For many and for me in particular, the eighties was a glorious period for boxing. In many ways, it seems only just like yesterday. It was a time where fans could tune-in and watch top-flight boxing matches on network television on a given grey weekend afternoon. Back then, up and coming talent, Olympic Medalists, top-ten contenders and world championship matches could all be had on any of the major television networks. PPV was a rare animal, reserved for only the most elite of mega-bouts.
In the mid to late eighties, a particular lightweight sensation was making waves within the sport, particularly on the east coast. His name back in the day was Vinny Paz, formerly known as “Vinny Pazienza.” To fans he became fittingly known as “The Pazmanian Devil,” an all action, whirlwind fighter of Italian-American heritage based out of Cranston, Rhode Island. At age fifteen, he decided that he wanted to become a fighter and world champion, finding his inspiration after watching the movie “Rocky.”
I first came across “The Pazmanian Devil” in early 1986 on network television on one of those grey weekend afternoons. I quickly became enchanted with his style and combative willingness as he ascended the lightweight ranks, ultimately culminating in his first world championship, the IBF Lightweight Title against Greg Haugen in 1987. The Haugen match was the first in a fun and heated trilogy of entertaining action reminiscent of rivalries from a past era, and all of it on free TV.
Possessing solid boxing skills, notable hand and foot speed, iron chin, respectable power, and extraordinary conditioning, Vinny Paz had the rare underpinnings required of those looking for a long run at the top. What he had in abundance, well beyond many of his championship contemporaries was over the top heart and soul and a desire to go balls to the wall every time out for his fans. To top all of that off, he had that quality we all look for but rarely find, natural charisma and the marked ability to evoke passion from all of those that he dealt with, spilling over in obvious fashion to all of those that watched him.
For me, it was a great honor and an absolute dream come true to represent RSR and spend time with “The Pazmanian Devil” to talk about his long and storied career, his many comebacks in and out of the ring as well as his views on life in general.
Love him or hate him, he was not to be missed and rarely if ever was he in a boring fight.
MP: You started your career on May 26th, 1983, against Alfredo Rivera in Atlantic City, New Jersey. What do you remember of that fight and what were your feelings?
I recall that it was a big moment in my life. He was a tough plumber from Puerto Rico and I beat his ass and stopped him in the fourth round. It was quite a day. I netted $24 for that fight. I love that!
MP: Over the next eighteen months, you amassed thirteen more wins before traveling to Italy to face Abdelkader Marbi. The result was a 5th-round TKO loss. I have to admit to not having seen this fight. What happened that night and what are your recollections of losing your undefeated record?
It’s funny…I was just talking about that today with somebody. The fight was over in Italy. The northern and southern commissioners they have problems with each other over there. I guess where I fought was fighting with the other faction. I think I fought in the south and they didn’t get the results up to the north, so it was originally a no contest but it ultimately went in as a loss because of that. It was a bad cut. I never thought I was gonna fight again. I didn’t know, I was just a kid.
Oh my God! It was from one eyebrow to the other eyebrow. He was nothing. They told me don’t worry about him Vinny. He can fight a little bit but it’s no big deal. They said to just watch his head…he’s a billy goat. He got me pretty good. It was so bad I literally never thought I was gonna fight again. It’s amazing what happened in my career after that. There have been so many ups and downs. That’s why my story is a great story and my DVD’s that I sell now are very inspirational because of all that. You know, I’ve been counted out a dozen times at least. But it all worked out. I ended my career with 50 wins. That was pretty cool for me. I liked going out that way. You know, when I got up in the forties, I said, you know what, I’m gonna go for fifty wins and I was going to make it happen or die trying.
MP: Your first big lightweight win over a rated opponent was Jeff Bumphus
Yeah, it was my first ten round fight. He was a tough left hander. It was a good fight where I kind of punched holes in him. We became good friends after that. He’s a good kid. Every now and then I’ll get a call from him. He’s from Indiana. The last time I talked to him was a little over a year, year and a half ago.
MP: Your next big showing was a spectacular one-punch knockout of Melvin Paul on network television…
Oh yeah. You got my DVD, right? It’s enjoyable. It‘s loaded with some terrific highlights and sound bites. They’re hysterical. Some of them are really good. In a couple of months, I’m actually working on it now, I’m working on the DVD, I’m upping it a little bit and I’m adding my retirement party on it, which I got some shout-outs from some major celebrities. I’m gonna sell it on my website and market it on television throughout the country, little by little, starting out in New England. Pretty cool.
MP:You had quite a performance against Nelson Bolanos. That was quite a knockout. What are your recollections of that fight?
It was a good one for me. It was a big, big win that locked in a title shot for me. It was on national television. It got me the shot at Greg Haugen for the IBF Lightweight Title. Yeah, the Haugen Trilogy.
MP: You won the IBF Lightweight Title, on June 7th, 1987 against Greg Haugen. You had some difficulty before the fight that day, yet you managed to gut it out and go the full fifteen rounds. What happened?
Yeah, just because I shouldn’t have been making lightweight. You know boxers do crazy things. They made me believe that’s the weight I should be at, so I did it. I couldn’t make the weight. Between fights I’d walk around at around one-hundred and sixty-five, one-hundred and seventy pounds. Finally, after the weigh-in on the morning of the fight, I gorged myself with all kinds of food and drinks and got sick as a dog. I was on a cart before the fight in the Providence Civic Center with a heater in front of me in June, a quartz heater, trying to stay warm. Crazy, crazy stuff. I had the runs and was pukin’ all at the same time. Later that day I fought fifteen rounds and I won the fight from the 12th to the 15th and I would have lost if it wasn’t a fifteen round fight. I gave it my all and gutted it out to win the title.
MP: Eight Months later in 1988, you defended against Haugen in the rematch, losing your IBF Lightweight Title in a heated encounter. What happened? What are your recollections of that loss?
I thought I’d beat him easy, because the first time I was sick when I beat him. I figured the second time around that if I wasn’t sick, I’d clean his clock. So I slacked off a little bit and I lost about 11 to 13 pounds the day of the weigh-in. I was a mess! That’s one of the fights where I call them “Please God Fights.” I have about four of them. When I walk into the ring, “Oh please God, please God, please God, let this guy have a bad night!” Yeah it was a good, tough fifteen round fight. It was all right.
MP: After a couple of rebound wins you challenged Roger Mayweather for his WBC Light Welterweight Title on the under card of Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Donny Lalonde. You had a frustrating night with Mayweather. What are your recollections of that bout?
That was one of the worst fights of my life too. Oh yeah. That was his last good fight. I fought a lot of guys that gave their last great fight against me. Mayweather was definitely one of them. Hector Camacho, definitely one of them. Greg Haugen, definitely one of them. Mayweather was a tough guy and fought his last great fight against me. A lot of guys had their last great efforts against me. Roy Jones, Loreto Garza, a lot of them. Jones beat me in his last great fight at super middleweight, then goes on to win the heavyweight championship of the world and then tries to go back down to light heavyweight and goes on to get knocked out.
RSR Readers: Stay tuned for Part II of “Heart and Soul. The Amazing Career of The Pazmanian Devil” where we will discuss his second major world championship at light middleweight, life-threatening personal disaster and the extraordinary comeback at life in and out of the squared-circle.