By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Though he’d like to climb through the top 10 in his division and ultimately land a fight with an established pound-for-pound commodity, it’s first things first for Paul Spadafora.
The Pittsburgh native, now 37, simply wants people to know that he’s still out there.
“My manager and promoter have been working hard to make meaningful fights for me and I’ve been working hard in the gym to keep myself sharp,” said the still-unbeaten ex-IBF lightweight champ, who made eight title defenses from 1999 to 2003. “We’ve come a long way from being unranked to top 10 in three out of four belt organizations.
“I’m also hoping that an opportunity comes around for me where a top guy is willing to fight me. Many people thought I retired, so I need to keep busy and perform well and become relevant again. I think I’ve shown that in my last two fights.”
Spadafora, who fought just nine times amid myriad non-ring problems between 2004 and 2010, resurfaced last August with a unanimous eight-round decision over Ecuadorian veteran Humberto Toledo at the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in West Virginia and returned four months later with a 10-round nod over Solomon Egberime.
The wins moved him to 47-0-1 in an intermittent career that began in 1995, and, more vitally, got him to No. 8 in the IBF rankings at junior welterweight, where he’s also ranked ninth by the WBA and WBO, and 15th by the WBC. He was hoping to boost his standing by facing off with once-beaten Vernon Paris on April 6, but that match fell through due to promotional issues and left Spadafora to instead face unheralded Robert Frankel (32-12-1) – a sparring partner of WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner.
Spadafora’s team said a match with the WBC’s No. 3 contender at 140 pounds, Viktor Postol, is possible later this year, and they hold out hope that Broner would be a willing opponent if he’s successful in a reportedly imminent challenge of WBA welterweight champion Paul Malignaggi.
“We feel we are one more fight away from breaking out of the shadows, mindful that with a win Paul would go to 48-0-1 and would be win away from tying the best Italian fighter of all time Rocky Marciano's win streak,” said Spadafora’s attorney, Joseph Horn. “The bout is significant and we hope the boxing world takes note of this and clamors for a big fight for Paul.”
We caught up with Spadafora in the midst of preparation for the Frankel fight to discuss his past issues, his return to the spotlight and what he still hopes to accomplish before calling it a career.
Fitzbitz: How often do you think about where your career was – a decade ago as a champion with eight title defenses – and where it is now? How frustrating is that to consider?
Spadafora: I try not to think about it. I keep motivated knowing I have a fight in front of me. I love fighting and I’m moving forward with purpose. The frustrating thing is that I’m considered as low as I am, given my record and how I have never lost and defended my title eight times.
Fitzbitz: Back then, you were 27. Now you're 37. Can you talk about what's different about you as a fighter, as an athlete, as a man? What has changed?
Spadafora: In terms of boxing, I rest more and I train smarter. I work harder because I have to. I’ve always had heart and courage. Personally, I was immature and a product of my environment – the places I was living, the people around me – and it affected the decisions I made. I’ve grown on a lot of levels; spiritually, mentally and focusing on the positive things in life that have remained constant, like boxing, to help me evolve into the man I am today. I’m more respectful of boxing and life in general. I’ve been working hard to be a better man, a better example to my children, to be a role model to children of what not to do from the mistakes I’ve made. I want to be successful in and out of the ring.
Fitzbitz: How would Paul Spadafora 2013 fight the Paul Spadafora of 2003? Which version would win, and why?
Spadafora: Definitely the Paul of today. I would counterpunch between all the bullsh*t I used to throw. Lots of wasted punches. I would take advantage of the old me by countering those wasteful punches and look to time the old Paul.
Fitzbitz: When you look back, what is your best memory in your career so far? What fight do you look back at and say "that was me on my best night"?
Spadafora: Getting off the canvas to beat Sosa was my best memory. Me on my best night was a fight against Jose Aponte, and I did real well against Cardona.
Fitzbitz: When your name comes up, the first things most people think about are the issues you've had outside the ring. Does that bother you that your reputation has been impacted so much by those sorts of negatives?
Spadafora: People talk so much about my past outside the ring but don’t mention I was shot in ’94 and came back to be champion. I wasn’t supposed to fight again. Max Kellerman called me a B-fighter. I used that as fuel to be a great fighter. No one is a saint. I’ve made mistakes, but people change.
Fitzbitz: Do you think there's still time to change the impression that people have? How do you go about doing it? What are your biggest regrets, as a fighter and as a person?
Spadafora: Every day is an opportunity to do the right thing. If people are somehow moved by the positive things I am doing, that is great, but I do the right thing now every day because it’s the right thing to do and not because it will have a particular impression on strangers. My biggest regret was not breaking away from my old manager and old promoter when I came home from the penitentiary. I was doing nothing for all those years since I got out. It was wasted time. It took a lot of personal struggle to realize that I had to get away from them and start doing things differently to get a different result.
Fitzbitz: Were you unlucky, a victim of circumstance, or do you blame yourself for the issues/problems you've had?
Spadafora: I don’t believe in luck so much as the fact that the decisions you make help create opportunity or hide it from you. There have been bad choices that definitely made things harder for me to succeed. I can’t change the past. I can change my future.
Fitzbitz: You made news recently by suggesting you'd fight Broner, after he said most guys don't want to fight him. If it occurred, how would that fight unfold? How would you compete against him?
Spadafora: I would fight Broner just by being Paul Spadafora. I would box him and just do me, the way I know how. There is nothing I would do differently. He would have problems. It would be a great fight to watch, as we both have special skills in our own ways. It will be a great fight to watch.
Fitzbitz: Look at the other guys at junior welter and welterweight. Who would you most like to get into a ring with, and why? Who would match up with you to make the best fight?
Spadafora: I would love the opportunity to fight Broner. He is the next Mayweather, no doubt, and I want to see how I would do against him. Honestly, I think he is one of the best out there. Andre Ward is the best out there, Mayweather 2, Broner 3 and Marquez 4. I think Broner would have problems with Marquez. I know Broner would have problems with me.
Fitzbitz: At age 37, you're probably closer to the end of your career than the beginning. What are you most desperate to achieve between now and the time you retire?
Spadafora: I know I have much more I can achieve in the ring. While I’m closer to the end than the beginning, there is more realistically that I can do, like win another world title. Before I retire I want to be able to fight the top guys, whoever they may be. There are no particular names, just those guys that people feel are the top guys. That’s important to me. That’s what I want to achieve. If I prepare 100 percent and I’m on my best behavior in the ring there is not a guy out there that can beat me. I know this. You can’t tell me otherwise. If I go in there and I’ve done all I can do and I get beat, then I tip my hat to that guy.
Fitzbitz: If you don't get that big fight, will you still be satisfied with your career as a whole? How long will you stay around waiting for it before conceding, "OK, it's not going to happen for me?"
Spadafora: I won’t be satisfied with my career as a whole if I can’t look in the mirror and say I fought top guys. I will keep working hard to have the opportunity to fight those guys, whether by working my way up the rankings or being given an opportunity. I know it’s going to happen, so I’m being patient and focusing on doing what I need to do to get there.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior flyweight title – Panama City, Panama
John Riel Casimero (champion) vs. Luis Alberto Rios (No. 1 contender)
Casimero (17-2, 10 KO): Second title defense; Sixth fight outside Philippines (3-2)
Rios (18-1-1, 13 KO): First title fight; Seven straight wins by stoppage
Fitzbitz says: “The challenger not only has the home-turf advantage, but, in this case, he’s also fared better against better opposition. Looks like a Panamanian title celebration.” Rios in 9
WBO welterweight championship – Carson, Calif.
Timothy Bradley (champion) vs. Ruslan Provodnikov (No. 3 contender)
Bradley (29-0, 12 KO): First title defense; Held WBC/WBO belts at 140 (2008-11)
Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight in California (3-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Bradley is one of the sport’s better fighters, but least appreciated champions. He’ll add a notch to his belt here, but probably won’t move the ‘Wow’ needle too much.” Bradley by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 0-2
2013 picks record: 8-7 (53.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 471-159 (74.7 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.