Nigel Collins: Vinny Paz, a fighter you don't forget
Vinny Paz was the sort of fighter you don't forget. Everything about him was hyper, supercharged with the frantic energy of someone born without brakes.
He was a cocky, over-the-top extrovert who called himself the "Pazmanian Devil" and once posed for a boxing magazine wearing a red cape and horns. But when he fought it was with unrestrained passion that belied his cartoonish persona.
Vinny didn't always win, but he won 50 of his 60 pro fights and never gave less than everything he had. He was one of those guys who grins through the blood and keeps coming, and his loyal fans, the "Pazmaniacs," were crazy about him from start to finish.
The greatest measure of his indomitable spirit was returning to the ring just 13 months after breaking his neck in a 1991 auto accident. Told he might not even walk again, let along box, Vinny did what he always did. He took his fate into his own hands and went for it, working out against his doctor's order while still encased in a circular metal brace screwed into the skull.
That's the kind of fighter Paz was and the kind of guy he still is, somebody who devours life and all its vagaries head-on. He turned pro in 1983 and fought his last fight in 2004, 21 years of high highs and low lows that have now been turned into a biopic called "Bleed For This."
Paz was headed home in his car when he answered the phone. He was leaving Rhode Island for California the next day for the movie premier and a media blitz, so he had to do the interview on the fly. After telling his raucous traveling companions to keep it down, Vinnie dove right into the topic at hand. Here, then, in his own words, are Paz Man's brutally candid memories of the best five fights of his career.
W15 Greg Haugen
IBF lightweight title -- June 7, 1987; Providence, Rhode Island
The setup: We were the last two boxers in history to fight 15 rounds. I was psyched. I hated Haugen. He was a little punk bitch. The day of the fight I was as sick as a dog because I was struggling to make weight. When I finally made it, I pigged out and started throwing up -- diarrhea, too. They wanted call it off the fight, but I said, "Don't call it off. I'm OK. Don't worry about it. I'm gonna fight." I thought if they changed the fight to another date, it would never happen.
The fight: It was a rough and tumble. I won the fight in the 13th, 14th and 15th rounds. I was losing going into those rounds but I pulled it out at the end and I won a unanimous decision. I just wanted it more -- more heart, more determination, more perseverance. And I came out on top. All three judges had it 144-141.
The aftermath: After that belt was mine, I felt great. It was the greatest feeling in my life. That day was special. I remember staying up all night, waiting for the Providence Journal to come out in the morning. I was on the front page. Haugen called me the other week. One of my buddies put him on the phone with me. I said, "Dude, I still don't like you. What are you doing calling me?"
KO 12 Gilbert Dele
WBA junior middleweight title -- Oct. 1, 1991; Providence, Rhode Island
The setup: I fought at 132 pounds as an amateur but was never a really lightweight as a pro. By the time I fought Dele I'd moved up to junior middleweight, where I felt great.
The fight: Dele was pressing me so freakin' hard. He put more pressure on me than anybody. If I weren't so determined to win, that sucker would have worn me down. If you go back and watch that fight, you'll see I was moving the whole time -- every second, every minute for almost 12 rounds. I didn't stop. I was sharp that fight, really on point. People didn't know I had a good defense because I bled a lot and they thought I was getting killed. But I was pretty cute on the ropes, and in the last round I came off the ropes with a left hook that cracked his jawbone. He walked away from me, bent over and holding his eye. I though, no m----- f-----, you tortured me and you're not getting away with just walking away. I went after him and hit him with another left hook for the finishing touch.
The aftermath: The Dele fight was the best of my career. It was also my toughest ever. I beat a guy who was undefeated in 30 fights. Six weeks later I broke my back in a car accident.
W 10 Roberto Duran
Super middleweight -- June 5, 1994; Las Vegas
The setup: I had a lot of respect for Duran. He was one of my heroes, but at the first press conference he was dogging the s--- out of me. I couldn't believe he was talking about me like that, so we went at it, neck and neck. I wasn't going to take no backseat to him. Walking to the ring at the MGM Grand in front of 15,000 people, I said to myself, "All right, Paz Man, the crowd is going to be with him. But don't bug out. Do what you have to do." They introduced me first and I got such a big round of applause. I couldn't believe it. I thought OK they're with me. I'm gonna kill this guy. But when they introduced Duran, the roof almost came off the building [laughs].
The fight: Once the fight started I thought, imagine this guy in his 20s and 30s. I was 33 at the time, but a young 33. He was 42. Duran was defensive master and as mean as they come. At first I couldn't hit him, but as the fight went on, I started reaching him a little bit more. In the fifth round I threw a bomb, and the next thing I know I see the canvas next to my eye. He'd nailed me with a straight right. I got up and went to a neutral corner and put my hand on the rope. I looked out into the crown and locked eyes with Montel Williams. I had done his TV show with my mother a month and a half ago. He was the coolest guy; really, really nice. Montel is cheering me on and pumping his fist in the air. At the end of the round, I chased Duran back to his corner and yelled, "I ain't going anywhere, Duran." He put his hands up and said, "Loco, loco." That's when I got his respect. I kicked his ass after that.
The aftermath: I fought Duran again the next year, but it was different. He'd got old. It was an easy fight for me.
KO 4 Dana Rosenblatt
Super middleweight -- Aug. 23, 1996; Atlantic City, New Jersey
The setup: I picked Rosenblatt, who was 28-0, because I'd just lost to Roy Jones and wanted people to know I could still fight. They screwed me on time of the Jones fight. They told me I was going to fight at 9:30-10:00, so I got all jacked up. I took my legal stuff and drank cappuccino, but I didn't fight until 10 minutes after midnight. I was dead. To beat Roy Jones I would have to be 100 percent and Jones 25 percent. But he was 100 percent and I was 50 percent. I was so bad that night that Jones stopped me in the sixth round. Anyway, I thought I was giving Rosenblatt a break so he could makes some money and bring him into the spotlight. Then the kid starts talking like he's gonna use me as steppingstone. He said I was just an old warrior and a good win for him. That's why I hated him so much.
The fight: Before I went out for the fourth round I told my trainer, Kevin Rooney, "I'm knocking this kid out." I was catching him with real clean shots and I knew he wouldn't be able to take it. I nailed him with a big bomb [that floored Rosenblatt. He beat the count but was badly hurt, and Vinny rushed in and pushed referee Tony Orlando aside in his eagerness to get to his victim. Orlando fell and Paz pummeled Rosenblatt with a flurry of punches. Commissioner Larry Hazzard jumped into the ring and stopped the fight. It was quite a scene].
The aftermath: I hated Rosenblatt so much I wanted [to] bury him. They fined me $20,000. Wish I had that today. Every time I see Larry now I say, "Hey, Larry, $20,000!" He just laughs.
W 1O Tocker Pudwill
Super middlewweight -- March 27, 2004; Mashantucket, Connecticut
The setup: I announced that this would be my final fight. I was hoping to go out with my 50th win, but I didn't want to take on just anybody. Pudwill was a legitimate fighter and had more than 40 fights. John Scully was my sparring partner for the Pudwill fight, and he told me that he'd sparred with him and not to take him lightly. "He can punch," said Scully. "He has a big right hand." Tocker was as sweet as pie before the fight, but after the weigh-in I started to razz him a little, trying to get under his skin. I was yelling, "Tocker, for the rest of your life you're going to be known as Vinny Paz's last win. You're gonna be know as No. 50." It didn't bother him one bit. I thought to myself, this m----- f----- really thinks he's gonna beat you.
The fight: He wasn't easy to hit, so in the second round I leaped in with a big left hook. It bounces off his head and I ended up crouched down in front of him. He hit me with a right hand on top of the head. The first thing I thought of was Scully telling me he had a big right hand. I didn't want Pudwill to know I was hurt, so I started moving around. I thought, you m----- f-----, 10 years ago I would have cleaned your clock. Then I thought, shut up Paz Man. Roberto Duran was thinking the same thing about you. Little by little I started to get to him. It wasn't easy, but I dropped him [in] the eighth and won a unanimous decision.
The aftermath: I walked away feeling happy, confident and satisfied. I gave my heart and soul to my fans. I was done.