Warming to his favorite subject, lightweight boxer Vinny Pazienza says, "I am white, am hyped and can fight." But what makes him tick? Can he fight a lick, or is he just another Duane Bobick?
There is something about Pazienza that inspires silliness. Trying to take him seriously requires a quantum leap in logic. After all, here is a 24-year-old who owns 50 pairs of sunglasses. Why? "Because there are many shades to Vinny Paz," he says.
Here is a guy who likes to run in St. Ann's Cemetery, near his Cranston, R.I., home, because "it's peaceful" and because he likes to mock the contention of many that in amassing what he claims is a 22-0 record, Pazienza has fought nothing but dead people dug up by his manager, Lou Duva. And here is a guy whose nickname is the Pazmanian Devil—a local TV announcer's play on the snarling, vicious Tasmanian devil, a despicable little animal indigenous to the island off Australia. So it should come as no surprise to you that Pazienza races around Cranston and through all stop signs in a BMW that he calls a Paz-mobile. Or that the license plate reads PAZMAN. The Providence Sunday Journal ran a map of New England that included Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Pazmania. Devotion to Vinny in the state of Pazmania is at a frenzy, and his fans call themselves Pazmaniacs. All of which may be utter Paznonsense.
The real question is whether the Paz can fight a whit or whether he is suffering from delusions of competence. That will be answered on June 7 in Providence, when Vinny struts into the ring wearing his red and white sequined outfit, dark glasses, bow tie and tasseled shoes, preceded by a supporter dressed up as a Pazmanian Devil. The Paz will be fighting for the IBF title against the current champion, Greg Haugen of Las Vegas. At a recent press conference, Haugen sniffed, "I can't see myself leaving that ring without my belt."
Said the Paz, "Bring suspenders."
While the 5'7", 135-pound Pazienza may be the stuff of which great TV is made, he is largely unknown beyond the shores of Narragansett Bay. And since opponents for Duva fighters are always carefully selected, the Paz remains suspect. In the last year he has beaten former IBF champ Harry Arroyo, who was on his way down (Vinny gave Arroyo a whistle prior to the fight, so he'd be ready to return to his former work as a policeman), and Roberto Elizondo, a 10-year journeyman who is also on the decline. And the Paz thrashed Joe Frazier Jr. in February 1986, but that wasn't much of a test either.
Pazienza has been competing in a division dominated for the last four years by Hector Camacho, Boom Boom Mancini and Edwin Rosario. But Camacho moved up to junior welter last month, Mancini has officially retired (though he may fight Camacho later this year), and Rosario is having difficulty keeping his weight at 135. All of which means the door is open for the Paz. "After I beat Haugen," said Vinny, "I'll fight Rosario, then I'll fight the winner of Camacho-Mancini, then Rosario for the junior welter title, then Hagler, then Holmes, then Reagan."
You can see what we're dealing with. The suspicion lurks that Pazienza may be no more than a cartoon character. He does devious little things, like a misbehaving eighth grader. For example, while fighting Nelson Bolanos in September, the Paz slyly stood on Bolanos's foot, then pushed him, causing the surprised fighter to sit down hard on the canvas. Pazienza looked innocent but everyone knew. "When I fight," he says, "I want to make people smile."
In an effort to be entertaining, the Paz likes to drop his hands in a taunting gesture and resort to flashy combinations. But cute won't beat Haugen, a nasty brawler who had more than 300 fights as an amateur before turning pro in 1982. If Pazienza decides to juke and jive, he will leave himself wide open to Haugen's straight-ahead power. To win, the Paz, eighth-ranked by the IBF, must stand in there and jab. But he isn't worried. "I am fun to watch," he says. "See, the chin is there. Whoops, now it's not. It gets pretty aggravating to fight me."
The Paz does have a way with words. After whipping Bolanos, Vinny explained, "I knew if I saw his legs go like spaghetti, I was gonna be all over him like the sauce." That later prompted Haugen to raise the rhetoric to new elegance by saying, "Vinny's nothin' but a pizza-faced punk." Never mind. Ethnic slurs are acceptable in boxing.