November 24, 2012

STEVE SOLLOWAY: Paz has defied the odds

By Steve Solloway

Vinny Paz didn't sound upset at the news that former boxing champ Hector "Macho Man" Camacho had been shot in the face and was dying. The man who brought heat to everything he said and did wasn't being cold.

Paz, a five-time world champion himself, was realistic.

"It is a brutal sport. It's brutal in the ring and it can be brutal away from the ring. I literally chalk it up to that life."

Paz will be at the Stevens Avenue Armory in Portland on Saturday night. The finals of the 126th annual USA Boxing New England Championships will be fought and Paz is the guest of the Portland Boxing Club.

He'll celebrate his 50th birthday next month. He was one of the giants from boxing's last golden age. When men like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Ray Boom-Boom Mancini, Camacho and a 5-foot-7, 154-pound beerkeg named Vinny Pazienza, the Pasmanian Devil, transcended their sport.

"Who was more famous in Rhode Island than me?" asked Paz, who legally changed his name about 10 years ago. "I say they'll never be another Vinny Paz. We're not in that era anymore. Who today is going to win 50 fights and win five world titles?

"People are telling me there's a kid on the card Saturday who could be the next Vinny Paz. His name is Anthony Marcella (135-pound lightweight from Smithfield, R.I.). I'm looking forward to seeing him."

America is losing its great fighters to dementia or death but Paz laughs and spits in the eye of mortality. He nearly died one night in 1991, the passenger in a car skidding across a wet road. After the crash, he had to be cut from the car.

"I remember sitting on the gurney in the hospital and the first thing the doctor told me is I cracked vertebrae No. 3. And vertebrae No. 4. He starts telling me what else was wrong and I say, 'Doc, can you cut to the chase? Will I be able to fight again?'

"He looks at me and says, 'son, you don't understand. You'll never be able to fight again. I don't know if you'll be able to walk.'"

In a few, choice words Paz told the doctor what he could do with the prognosis of his injuries. He discovered soon enough he could walk although he was fitted for a metal halo, its supports screwed into his skull.

Soon after his release from the hospital, Paz was lifting weights. "I looked like a Martian," he told the New York Times in a 1994 interview. He didn't tell his doctors, not even when he returned for follow-up visits and it was discovered screws had loosened from the workouts.

He had won the WBA light middleweight 10 months earlier. He had to get back into the ring.

Paz did, on Dec. 15, 1992. the day before his 30th birthday and a little more than a year after his accident. He won a 10-round decision on an emotional night at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. A year later he knocked out Canadian Dan Sherry in the 11th round to win the IBO super middleweight title.

Paz had taken risks all his life. He loved to play $10,000 hands of blackjack, drink too much and enjoy his many relationships with women. "That's how I was able to come back," Paz said over the phone. "I'm a risk-taker. That's who I am."

Bob Russo, the Portland Boxing Club founder and its head trainer and promoter, watched Paz fights in the 1980s and 1990s. "He fought with reckless abandon. It was like he was shot out of the corner when the bell rang. He was one of the more gutsy fighters."

(Continued on page 2)

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