“I felt it was awesome. Just to be even able to come back and do what I wanted to do in life. Because it’s all I ever wanted to do is fight, since I was five years old.” –Vinny Paz
We’ve all heard the various stories of altered destiny in the world of sport. How a fluke injury or unfortunate accident has altered the destiny of some up and coming hopeful or ended the career of a known athlete. Equally devastating but not necessarily so readily recognized is the toll such an unfortunate detour can take on one’s spirit.
In boxing, too often a fighter is only as good as his last fight. With few exceptions, a fighter’s body of work is too often forgotten in the blink of an eye after a major setback or heartbreaking loss. Such losses have taken the fighting spirit of many talented and great fighters, forever stripping them of the one intangible needed for success.
In the unique case of Vinny Paz, we have before us a man that has known his calling since childhood. He threw every fiber of his being into his quest to become a champion, enduring near impossible expectations and often unwarranted, even ignorant criticism. Ignoring the disappointment of setbacks and choosing to thrust ahead after being literally blindsided by fate, The Pazman is indeed a shining example of championship heart and soul, both in the ring and in everyday life.
I had the opportunity of a lifetime being able to sit down with The Pazmanian Devil for RSR to discuss his championship career and views on life. So often, when a fan meets a fighter he has followed for years, the realization hits that your subject is somewhat different than your original expectation. In the case of Vinny Paz, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was everything he seemed to be in clips of past interviews and in sound bits. I found Vinny to be a very generous, forthright and fun individual. The kind of guy you’d enjoy spending an afternoon with, over a couple of beers.
MP: In February of 1990 you signed for a WBO Light Welterweight Title bout with Hector “Macho” Camacho at a catch weight of 138lbs despite having faced your last several opponents at or just above 140lbs. What made you decide to go back down for such a gifted, undefeated southpaw opponent? What are your recollections of that bout, Camacho as a fighter and the oft-humorous build-up towards it?
Well, Camacho when I fought him, like a lot of guys I fought, they gave their last great effort against me. Just because they were so high, so prepared and in shape for me. They could never match it again and they went downhill after me. I feel that way about Camacho. He fought great against me and it was close, but he was real hard for me to hit. He was in great condition, and you know, he had everything on his side. The big ring, the weight to his liking, I couldn’t make the weight. He fought a good fight and that was it. He won a close decision and Joe Perez was on his side. The ref being from Puerto Rico also couldn’t hurt. I was pissed off because I wanted to beat him so bad. But…it wasn’t meant to be that day. We tried to get him to fight again at a heavier weight but he never would. He was very smart, Hector. Very smart business-wise and in the ring. Outside the ring he’s a crazy character. He’s crazy like a fox, Camacho. Know what I mean?
MP: He’s had some serious legal issues as of late.
Yeah, it’s just coming out now. He’s doing time now. It’s too bad.
MP: In December of 1990, you faced the talented Loreto Garza for the WBA Light Welterweight Title. You couldn’t seem to get going to your usual standard in that one. The ref also seemed overly aggressive towards you that night, ultimately disqualifying you in the 11th round after tying Garza up against the ropes. From your perspective, what happened that night?
My one regret in life, my one regret, is that I didn’t toss Garza out of the ring. I figured, I was losing no matter what, I wasn’t gonna win. As I picked him up, I literally thought to myself, “don’t do it Pazman, because they’ll never let you fight again.” My intention was to throw him out of the ring. And I’m pissed that I didn’t do it. Now, looking back, I couldn’t make the weight for that fight. I later moved up literally three weight classes.
MP: A year later you moved up to 154lbs and won your second major world championship when you out boxed and out punched Gilbert Dele for the WBA Light Middleweight Title in front of a chorus of rabid Pazmaniacs at the Civic Center Arena in Providence, Rhode Island. You looked quicker and stronger than ever at the new weight. It looked to be a career performance. What do you remember of that night and what went through your mind after winning another championship despite past setbacks?
I felt like I was on top of the world and I felt it was the best I ever boxed. I was in phenomenal shape, I didn’t get hurt, didn’t have to lose too much weight. I just felt stronger than I ever had, just because of the new weight. I just thought that I was gonna make a real mark in my boxing life, in the boxing game because I was only the second guy in the history of boxing to do that, go from lightweight to junior middleweight. Amazingly enough, I was at Duran’s fight as an amateur, when he beat Davey Moore to be the first man ever to go from lightweight to junior middleweight. I happened to only be the second guy to do that at that time. You know, by doing that to Dele. Who would ever think that I would grow up and one day fight Duran? I would have never thought that would have happen in a million years for me. It did and the Dele fight was my best performance ever.
MP: Watching that fight live, I gave you a very good chance to beat “Terrible” Terry Norris, the reigning WBC Light Middleweight Champion and your counterpart during that period in time.
Yeah, that’s what I thought too. At one time he really had it going on. It’s just his chin gave out on him because I think a lot of guys just can’t take it when they lose a lot of weight. He was another guy that used to do that. I feel so fortunate when I start talking about that and I think I never got knocked out. There were times when I lost literally forty pounds to make weight. Ten pounds in a day, the day before a fight in order to make weight. It’s just crazy and I’m so thankful that I never got knocked out because of that.
MP: Shortly after that, near tragedy struck when you were involved in a serious automobile accident. What happened?
I was getting ready to make my first title defense against Pat Lawlor, a dude that I knocked out in sparring, and I liked Pat. A good kid ranked in the top ten at the time, and I just remembered thinking to myself, that was the only time I ever thought about money. I can remember thinking “Oh My God! They’re gonna give me $250,000 to fight Pat Lawlor? This is ridiculous! Oh my God, this is like robbing money!” Then I got into the accident leaving the gym after a workout not to far from where I live now. That was it…the rest is history.
MP: In the aftermath of it all, having faced the prospect of never boxing or even walking again, they gave you a slim chance at a full recovery. You wore a “halo” in order to keep your neck and spine aligned. You wore it through grueling workouts, never giving up the dream of being a fighter and who you felt you were destined to be in life.
The video captures it very well, don’t you think?
MP: Yes it does. To this day, I cannot believe you did that.
Well guess what? Neither can I. Back then was a different story.
MP: You staged a miraculous comeback a year later, putting on a clinic against Luis Santana, a cagey and difficult journeyman that would go on to a controversial trilogy with “Terrible” Terry Norris, and the WBC Light Middleweight Title. How did it feel to prove the doctors and the doubters wrong? Did you feel as though you had been blessed with another chance from above?
I felt it was awesome. Just to be even able to come back and do what I wanted to do in life. Because it’s all I ever wanted to do is fight, since I was five years old. I felt just great. It felt like that’s where I was supposed to be. People ask me, was I scared or was I nervous. I tell them no. I wasn’t because literally if I died in the ring or got hurt, you know, that’s the way I would have chosen to go out. And I meant that with all my heart.
MP: You next big rivalry came with the Roberto Duran matches. You initially fought Duran in June of 1994 for the IBC Super Middleweight Title, taking a controversial decision after getting off of the canvas. What are your recollections?
Duran is so God damn tough. We had a terrific build-up. I boxed him early and I don’t even know what happened. The next thing I know I open my eye and all I saw was canvas next to my eye. I was throwing a bomb, one of those Melvin Paul punches, I’m chuckin’ a Melvin and the next thing I know I seeing canvas next to my eye. I asked myself “what the hell you doing down here?” I started punching myself in the head. It’s funny, I remember that moment, I happened to catch eyes with Montell Williams the talk show host the very second Duran caught me. I came back and boxed him and won the fight after that. That’s how I gained Duran’s respect.
The second fight was much different, much more calm. He aged dramatically from the first fight to the second fight. I white washed him in the rematch. He aged in the second fight. I could feel him age in it. In the first fight, he really didn’t like me. And I got his respect after and you know, we ended up being very friendly. You know I love the guy. I was a fan, I started boxing because of Muhammad Ali and I loved Roberto Duran, I loved his tenacity.
MP: In 1995, you were thrust into a very high profile match with the reigning IBF Super Middleweight Champion and the consensus pound per pound king of that period, Roy Jones, JR., Recollections?
Good puncher and as fast as lightning. He was at the top of his game. The guy was like a machine, hard to hit. Just, fast, fast, fast. I felt like shit going into it. It was for sure one of my Please God fights. I end up going into the ring at 12:30 when I thought I was going in around ten. Besides that, I had to be two-hundred percent to beat that guy. You know, I couldn’t have beat him unless I had a big punch. He was just incredible at the time. Still, I thought I could give it a shot, and maybe hurt him and get him out. It didn’t happen, especially the way the fight was. I was sleeping in the back before the fight, and I don’t sleep period. I’m not a good sleeper to begin with but for that one I was out like a light. I had been all jacked-up on cappuccino and fired-up at 10 o’clock. By the time you crash, you lose all of your electrolytes and potassium, you’re pissing out all of your fluids and I was just dead and Roy Jones, JR., was just too good for that.
MP: Compare Roberto Duran and Roy Jones, JR., as punchers.
Duran’s a little heavier handed. Jones hits you with lightning-fast speed that’s still hard, but Duran’s got that thudding power. I can’t explain it. It’s the difference between a Magnum and a ’38.
MP: Let’s talk about Dana Rosenblatt. You literally decapitated him fourteen months after the loss to Roy Jones, JR., to win the WBU Super Middleweight Title. By that time, many had counted you out. What is your recollection of that period?
I loved it because I had just lost to one of the best fighters in the world and people were counting me out. I’m like, when are you people gonna learn not to count me out? I didn’t fight Rosenblatt by coincidence. I fought him purposely because he was a young undefeated kid I wanted to comeback against. I could have fought a million guys who where 20-10 or 15-15 and beat them very easily. I wanted to take on this young up and coming kid to show people that I ain’t going no where, I’m still one of the best and I’m going to fight this guy to prove it to you. That’s why I fought Rosenblatt. I literally thought I was giving him a break and a chance to make money, because I liked him. A nice white boy from Boston, I gonna do the kid a favor. I’m gonna take him to school, but, I’m gonna give him a chance to make money and make a name for himself and I think he should kiss my ass and thank me.
Then when the fight starts happening, he starts talking shit about me, and talks like he’s doing me a favor and that he’s gonna retire me. I’m like what?! Kid, are you out of your mind? Whoa buddy! I picked you here to do you a favor almost, and make it look good on my record because I’m kicking your ass. I’m gonna show people that I’m not going nowhere and this guy thought that he was using me as a stepping stone. I didn’t like his cocky demeanor. He was kind of down talking to me, because like I said, he’s got that Community College degree and he thinks he’s a genius. I didn’t like him and it showed in the fight and it cost me $10,000 but it was worth every penny.
MP: A late loss to Aaron “Superman” Davis and one last shot at a major world championship against Canadian Eric Lucas for the WBC Super Middleweight Title. Did you feel as though you were nearing the end of a long and storied career?
Yes. When I was in the ring with Lucas…Aaron Davis was another guy I was thinking where I left too much in the gym. I was too old to train as hard as I did. I just left everything in the gym against Davis. Against Lucas, I was in the ring literally thinking “Oh my God kid, ten years ago I’d of eat you up.” I was literally thinking as I was fighting him, “You know what Pazman? Suck it up because it ain’t ten years ago. Just like when you beat Roberto Duran’s ass and it would have been different for that fight ten years before our fight. Just take the #^#$%^ beating like a man”.
MP: Tocker Pudwill, your last opponent and number fifty in a career
Yeah, number fifty. Good fighter, he was going for number forty. He was a pretty good fighter. I wanted number fifty or die trying.
MP: In boxing, there are many stories of the negative impact a father/son relationship can have on the career of a fighter. In your case, I recall your father not only being an animated and vocal presence in your corner and in the aftermath of your bouts, he seemed to be your biggest fan and an incredibly powerful boost of support to your spirit. Tell us about him.
Without a doubt. Well put and very accurate. He was my biggest fan. He thought I was better than I really was, to be honest with you. He just had a lot of pride and a lot of love for me. He did everything he could to make my life easier. I give him a mad shout out. He was an animal, my father. The apple don’t fall far from the tree. It’s funny, as we are talking, I’m putting on my first world title ring. The thumb ring, because I gave it to my dad. The IBF Lightweight Championship of the world. I have a real nice championship ring, it’s really pretty. I gave it to my dad. Now I put it on my thumb since my father died, obviously I inherited it. My mother passed also in the same year my dad did. If you remember, my last fight, my 50th win on the back on my trunks I put “miss you mom and dad.” It was really hard for me to fight without my parents, you know because, I mean my whole life I did. It was real hard for me to fight without my parents. It was real hard for me to do that. They were nice and very supportive. Very loving parents, I got lucky.
MP: Looking at today’s super middleweight landscape, how do you rate titleholders such as Joe Calzaghe, Mikkel Kessler and Anthony Mundine? If you had the opportunity, which of the three would you feel that you were best suited to face?
Joe Calzaghe is just a terror to fight. He’s a hard, hard, hard guy to fight. Incredibly hard guy to fight. He’s tall, long, strong, fast, he’s got good power. He don’t look like much but very, very hard to fight. On top of it all, he’s left-handed. The other two guys I’m not really familiar with. I’d love to see Joe and Kessler fight each other.
MP: In closing, is there anything you’d like to say to all of your fans around the world that followed you through the highs and lows, the heartbreaks and the triumphs? How do you want to be remembered by history?
I’d love to thank my fans for watching me. I hope that I’ve given them some inspiration in life to keep fighting, because that’s what life is all about. Life is a great deal like a boxing ring. You get out of it what you put into it. You‘ve got to take the good with the bad. You have your highs and your lows but you’ve got to keep fighting. On my DVD, it’s like when I say, life is a battle and the wars only over when you quit, and you can’t quit. To my fans, please buy my DVD because it will inspire you and motivate you and that’s what I’m looking to do out of my life. I think it’s the greatest thing I’ve done with my life is give people hope and inspiration and a lot of excitement, and I was very happy to have done that.
Nickname: “Pazmanian Devil”
Division: Light Welterweight
Professional Record: 50-10, 30 KO’s
Date Opponent Location Result
1983-05-26 Alfredo Rivera Atlantic City, USA W TKO 4
1983-06-30 Keith McCoy Atlantic City, USA W KO 3
1983-07-10 Patrick Dangerfield Atlantic City, USA W KO 2
1983-08-16 Eddie Carberry Atlantic City, USA W TKO 2
1983-08-31 Rafael Alicia Atlantic City, USA W TKO 2
1983-09-09 Ricardo Moreno Las Vegas, USA W TKO 3
1983-09-24 Jim Zelinski Totowa, USA W TKO 2
1983-10-27 Robert Stevenson Atlantic City, USA W KO 1
1983-12-02 Emilio Diaz Warwick, USA W TKO 3
1983-12-14 Jose Ortiz Totowa, USA W KO 6
1984-02-26 David Bell Beaumont, USA W TKO 4
1984-04-15 Mike Golden Atlantic City, USA W PTS 8
1984-08-29 Rich McCain Atlantic City, USA W UD 8
1984-11-17 Bruno Simili Riva del Garda, Italy W TKO 3
1984-12-01 Abdelkader Marbi Milan, Italy L TKO 5
1985-03-27 Antoine Lark Atlantic City, USA W TKO 6
1985-09-18 Jeff Bumpus Atlantic City, USA W UD 10
1985-11-26 Melvin Paul Atlantic City, USA W TKO 2
1986-02-05 Joe Frazier Jr Providence, USA W TKO 7
1986-05-18 Harry Arroyo Providence, USA W UD 10
1986-09-18 Nelson Bolanos Providence, USA W TKO 6
1986-11-08 Roger Brown San Juan, Puerto Rico W TKO 4
1987-02-08 Roberto Elizondo Providence, USA W TKO 10
1987-06-07 Greg Haugen Providence, USA W UD 15
IBF Lightweight Title
1988-02-06 Greg Haugen Atlantic City, USA L UD 15
IBF Lightweight Title
1988-06-27 Felix Dubray Providence, USA W TKO 4
1988-10-04 Rick Kaiser Chicago, USA W TKO 3
1988-11-07 Roger Mayweather Las Vegas, USA L UD 12
WBC Light Welterweight Title
1989-04-14 Jake Carollo Atlantic City, USA W TKO 2
1989-06-11 Vinnie Burgese Atlantic City, USA W TKO 10
1989-11-27 Eddie VanKirk Providence, USA W TKO 5
1990-02-03 Hector Camacho Atlantic City, USA L UD 12
WBO Light Welterweight Title
1990-08-05 Greg Haugen Atlantic City, USA W UD 10
1990-12-01 Loreto Garza Sacramento, USA L DQ 11
WBA World Light Welterweight Title
1991-07-02 Ron Amundsen Providence, USA W UD 12
USBA Light Middleweight Title
1991-10-01 Gilbert Dele Providence, USA W TKO 12
WBA World Light Middleweight Title
1992-12-15 Luis Santana Mashantucket, USA W UD 10
1993-03-02 Brett Lally Mashantucket, USA W RTD 6
1993-06-26 Lloyd Honeyghan Atlantic City, USA W TKO 10
1993-10-26 Robbie Sims Mashantucket, USA W UD 10
1993-12-28 Dan Sherry Aspen, USA W KO 11
IBO International Boxing Organisation Super Middleweight Title
1994-04-05 Jacques LeBlanc Mashantucket, USA W UD 10
1994-06-25 Roberto Duran Las Vegas, USA W UD 12
International Boxing Council Super Middleweight Title
1994-11-08 Rafael Williams Mashantucket, USA W UD 10
1995-01-14 Roberto Duran Atlantic City, USA W UD 12
International Boxing Council Super Middleweight Title
1995-06-24 Roy Jones Jr Atlantic City, USA L TKO 6
IBF Super Middleweight Title
1996-08-23 Dana Rosenblatt Atlantic City, USA W TKO 4
World Boxing Union Super Middleweight Title
1997-12-06 Herol Graham Wembley, United Kingdom L UD 12
WBC International Super Middleweight Title
1998-07-26 Glenwood Brown Mashantucket, USA W MD 10
1998-11-06 Arthur Allen Mashantucket, USA W UD 10
1999-01-08 Undra White Mashantucket, USA W TKO 9
1999-04-09 Joseph Kiwanuka Mashantucket, USA W UD 10
1999-06-25 Esteban Cervantes Mashantucket, USA W SD 10
1999-11-05 Dana Rosenblatt Mashantucket, USA L SD 12
IBO International Boxing Organisation Super Middleweight Title
2001-02-09 Aaron Davis Mashantucket, USA L TKO 8
2001-07-27 Pat Lawlor Cranston, USA W KO 2
2001-09-21 Tim Shocks Cranston, USA W UD 10
2001-12-07 Levan Easley Mashantucket, USA W UD 10
2002-03-01 Eric Lucas Mashantucket, USA L UD 12
WBC Super Middleweight Title
2004-03-27 Tocker Pudwill Mashantucket, USA W UD 10