Pazmanian Devil

A boxer returns from the brink of paralyzation to defend his championship belt.

Written by Dave Joseph and Originally Published in The Sun Sentinel on July 13, 1992

He is bouncing, floating, dancing around the ring this early afternoon, looking like a spinning top.

A jab here, a hook there, and then, as always, Vinny Pazienza hits his sparring partner with a flurry of punches from every direction.

The onlookers at Angelo Dundee’s Training Center at the Presidential Fitness Club stop and gawk. Pazienza’s trainer, Kevin Rooney, lets a smile slide across his face.

Last November, a month after winning the WBA junior-middleweight title, Pazienza watched his future nearly slip away when he fractured two vertebrae and dislocated another as a car he was riding in skidded across a highway in Warwick, R.I., and hit another car.

Pazienza lay in a hospital bed for weeks, a halo bolted into his head to allow his neck to heal, wondering if his career were finished.

But the doctors, who had told Pazienza he would never fight again, offered the champ a glimmer of hope upon his release.

“When you give me a glimmer of light,” he said, “that’s like giving me the sun.”

Eight months after escaping paralysis, Pazienza has come here to train. Punching, jabbing, dancing -- the Pazmanian Devil prepares for his return.

Pazienza, who sparred last week for the first time since the accident, points to his forehead: two scars.

“That’s where they put the screws in my head,” says Pazienza, who won his title Oct. 1 with a TKO of previously unbeaten Gilbert Dele. “In fact, I’m still a little sore from the screws.”

But Pazienza, 29, in remarkable shape despite his layoff, wouldn’t let the halo stop him from starting his comeback.

A month after the accident, Pazienza was lifting weights -- around his neck!

“I did get some strange looks in the gym,” he said. “My father, Angelo, saw me lifting 50-pound weights that were hanging around my neck, and he started breaking out in a sweat. He said, ‘What are you, crazy?’ I said, ‘Dad, relax. I just did a set of 15.”

Incredible? Not for the Pazmanian Devil, the former IBF lightweight champ whose 31-5 record lists 24 knockouts and three memorable fights with Greg Haugen. Not for the burgeoning legend who claims, “Danger’s part of my life.”

“If I thought of one person who could come back from something like this, it would be Vinny,” Rooney said. “He’s very determined and has a great threshold of pain. And I learned from Cus (D’Amato) that the mind is more powerful than the body. You can heal yourself.”

And Pazienza, who has made his way with a brash image and an exciting style, appears healed.

After sparring at Dundee’s, Pazienza said he should be ready for a fight by December. But in Pazmanian fashion, he isn’t looking for a walkover.

“I’m the champion, and I’m not going to duck anyone. After a year off, after a broken neck, I’m going to defend my title against the WBA’s No. 1 contender, Julio Vasquez. I’m looking for it to be a great story.”

And a great comeback.

Just when boxing has grown lethargic, Pazienza has returned right on time. It’s a return he never doubted.

“The last time some people saw me -- I had screws in my head -- they probably thought I’d be lucky just to walk,” he said. “But I said to myself I was going to make this happen. Yeah, I’m definitely a little crazy, but I figure you have to let it fly, and whatever happens happens.”

Pazienza takes a drink of water, tilts his neck left, then right, and smiles.

“I love to live. When I defend my title, it’s going to be high drama in Dodge City.”

The Pazmanian Devil is back.

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Original Article