“I wanted people to know that I am OK. That I will survive this. At first when I came in here, I had tears in my eyes. I thought it was going to be over, and Dr Carter had a tear in his eye I could tell he felt for me and he said, “Son, I’m sorry, you’re never going to box again.” I looked at him and said, “No Dr Cotter you’re wrong, I am going to box again. You don’t understand what kind of man I am.”” – Vinny Paz, 14th November 1991.
No ordinary man could have overcame such a life altering accident. No ordinary man could tell a room full of people, with a metal halo bolted into his skull and without the mobility of his neck, that he would box again and truthfully mean it. Vinny Paz is no ordinary man.
Vinny Paz is a fighter – in both senses of the word.
“The Pazmanian Devil”, as he is affectionately known, made his boxing debut on 26th May 1983; beating Alfredo Chino Rivera by KO and sending a warning to the boxing world of the eminent and venerable career that was written in the stars for the young Rhode Island native.
The Pazman seemed unstoppable, winning his first title; the IBF Lightweight Championship, in a 15 round decision victory against Greg Haugen in the summer of 1987. After losing the belt in the rematch, Vinny went on to beat Ron Amundsen in 1991 and comfortably beat French boxer Gilbert Dele by KO in the 12th round to capture his next belt – the WBA Junior Middleweight Championship – later in the same year. Vinny was on top of the world with his belt hoisted above him in jubilation, but it was all about to come crashing down on the 28-year-old.
Just a month after his momentous championship win, Paz was a passenger with his friend Kurt Reader driving his Camaro to the boxer’s chiropractor, during a prophetic fallacy of thunderous downpour, when Reader slammed the breaks on the car and crashed – resulting in Paz cracking two vertebrae, snapping his neck in two places and dislocating it in another. Vinny spent three months helplessly residing in a hospital bed with a metal halo screwed into his skull “like an antenna receptor,” as he put it. The doctors thought he was going to be paralysed and told Paz that he may never walk again let alone step into a boxing ring and compete again.
“Walk? WALK??? Who the f*** is talking about walking, doc? This kid is going to fight next month. Why? Because fighters fight. Vinny’s got the biggest set of jewels in the world.” – Angelo Pazienza, Vinny’s father.
But compete he did. After going against the doctors’ orders and training in secret – lifting weights to strengthen both his arms and his damaged neck – Vinny Paz returned to the ring just over a year later and defeated Luis Santana in one of the most remarkable comeback stories in boxing history. Paz went on to win the IBO Super Middleweight Championship, IBC Middleweight Title and the WBU Super Middleweight Title throughout the nineties; making him a five-time world champion.
Retiring in 2004 with a victory over Tocker Pudwill, Vinny finished his career with a record of 50-10 with prestigious victories from acrimonious rivalries against Roberto Duran and Dana Rosenblatt among other renowned and celebrated bouts. With 5 world titles, an abundance of championship matches against world class boxers and one incredible comeback story, Paz leaves a pristine legacy behind as one of America’s boxing greats.
Vinny gladly agreed to talk to Harry Robinson about his career and his fantastical comeback story among other things.
MMA UK: “So Vinny, you had such a long and illustrious career that started way back in 1983. Had you always had the passion for the sport of boxing and aspired to fight professionally?”
Vinny Paz: “That’s all I EVER wanted to do since I was five years old is BOX – nothing else!”
MMA UK: “You had a career spanning 60 fights, 50 of those you won. Is there any fight that has particular significance for you?”
Vinny Paz: “Yes, I would of done things differently for that Mayweather fight I almost died that night. I always took extreme measures making weight. The other fight that stands out is my first world title [against Greg Haugen]. I wouldn’t change a thing!”
Among the many trials and tribulations that Vinny overcame during his career, his perilous and near-fatal bout against Roger Mayweather is in the realms similar to his horrific car crash. After losing a 12-round title fight against Mayweather by decision in 1988, The Pazman was whisked to the hospital where Vinny’s father was told by doctors, “the kid’s dying,” before his heart rate returned to normal. As well as his 50 career wins, Vinny Paz also holds multiple victories over death itself.
MMA UK: “You are a 5-time World Champion. Do you feel you accomplished everything you wanted to throughout your career?”
MMA UK: “Shortly after beating Gilbert Dele for the WBA World Light Middleweight Title, you had a near-fatal car crash and was told you may never walk again. What was going through your mind when the doctors told you that news?”
Vinny Paz: “I AM GOING TO WALK AND FIGHT AGAIN!!! There was never any doubt about that. Of course, I had a few thoughts but always believed I would accomplish what I eventually did.”
MMA UK: “You came back and defeated Luis Santana in 1992, how did it feel to step into a boxing ring once again after a long road from recovery and win the bout?”
Vinny Paz: “No words can describe the feeling. No words ever.”
It is almost fairytale-esque. A man who was mere millimetres away from being a quadriplegic, carried solely by his own determination, makes a return just a year later and not only survives ten full rounds but leaves the unanimous victor. You could call it a miraculous recovery but there was nothing miraculous about it – sheer willpower and heart led Vinny Paz back into the boxing ring and back on the road to boxing greatness. It’s a story that seems like it was extracted directly from a Hollywood motion picture…
MMA UK: “Your inspirational story was turned into a movie in the film Bleed For This. How did it feel seeing yourself be portrayed on the big screen?”
Vinny Paz: “It was crazy to see it! However, I would of like them to have done more with my career. If I could go back I would of had a lot more control over my movie but you know how Hollywood is. My story will help many and it is inspirational.”
MMA UK: “Away from your career, here in the British boxing scene we have had high profile fighters who have suffered mental health problems post-boxing such as the likes of Frank Bruno and Ricky Hatton. Do you feel that this problem is also prevalent in the American scene and what do you think could be done to help these athletes?”
Vinny Paz: “Yes! It affects all fighters and I don’t know (what could be done) as I don’t have that issue but memory issues and different things do begin to happen.”
In the inspirational fairytale story of his life, Vinny ended the chapter on his boxing career with his 50th victory on the combat stage against Tocker Pudwill over 13 years ago. The 55-year-old is now a motivational speaker, using his awe-inducing story to help inspire the people he meets, as well as cornering up and coming boxers such as his former opponent’s son; Robert Duran Jr.
An ordinary man may have succumbed to such a horrific injury and accepted defeat. An ordinary man wouldn’t have gone on to win 50 professional boxing bouts and hold 5 world titles.
Vinny Paz is no ordinary man.