By Thomas Gerbasi
In the lying game known as boxing, Peter Manfredo Jr. may be the last honest man. There are no punches pulled, no quotes given for the sake of hype. What you see from “The Pride of Providence” is what you get, and oddly enough, it may be that honesty that earns him his first world championship on November 19th.
Because if you lie to yourself about your place in the business, about your skills, or what the future holds, the slightest ripple in the water can cause your boat to sink. But there are no such illusions for the 30-year old middleweight as he approaches his date with WBC middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in Houston. He knows where he’s at, he knows what he brings to the table, and he’s confident that in this, his last hurrah, he’s got the goods to extend that hurrah just a little longer.
“If I don’t win this fight, I’m done,” he said. “I won’t put on gloves anymore because it won’t be worth it for me. Then what? I’m gonna go back to making five, ten thousand dollars a fight? It takes you two months to get ready for a fight, and I could be working, making the same thing, if not more. So that’s where I’m at right now. If I lose the fight, I’m done. But if I win the fight, my life is set, so I’m gonna leave everything in the ring that night. I’m gonna give all I’ve got, and that’s gonna make for a great fight because he doesn’t want to lose in front of his fans, and he’s a world champion who’s never lost. This fight is gonna be great, but I think my hand will be raised at the end. I’m very confident.”
A cast member on the first season of NBC’s “The Contender,” Manfredo Jr. may not have won the reality show competition, but with his blue collar roots, exciting style, and compelling story as a family man who could fight, he was seemingly destined for stardom. And he did achieve a measure of that, eventually parlaying a few solid wins and his mainstream notoriety into a WBO super middleweight title bout against Joe Calzaghe in 2007. Stopped in three rounds, Manfredo realized that perhaps he wasn’t ever going to compete on that ultra-elite level with guys like Calzaghe.
“That was a different league, a different level,” said Manfredo. “It was new for me and I was nervous going in. I showed in the fight that I was very nervous, very defensive and they stopped the fight on me prematurely. Not saying I would have won the fight anyway; the guy was a legend, probably one of the best super middleweights of our time.”
Manfredo stuck around at 168, and after the Calzaghe bout, he won five of six, losing only a close decision to former champ Jeff Lacy. But in November of 2008, he took a bad TKO loss to Sakio Bika, and many wondered whether Manfredo was done, not just as a contender, but as a boxer. He wondered the same thing. But after two more fights at 168, he decided on one more run, this time at middleweight.
Since that move eight pounds south, Manfredo has gone 4-0, with wins over Matt Vanda, Angel Hernandez, Jhon Berrio, and Daniel Edouard. They’re not the Fearsome Foursome, but they’re all decent fighters who Manfredo looked good against. And after doing his part, Manfredo’s promoter did his.
“I signed with (promoter) Lou DiBella a year ago to get back into this position,” said Manfredo, 37-6 with 20 KOs. “I wanted one last shot at a big fight and he’s a man of his word – he got me the shot.”
The two combatants met up this week to officially announce their bout, and while respectful, Manfredo did want to make his intentions clear to the 25-year old Chavez Jr. (43-0-1, 30 KOs).
“When I stood face to face with him at the press conference, that was the first time I looked into his eyes and I wanted him to know that I’m ready for him,” he said. “I’m looking into his eyes saying ‘bring it mother**ker, I’m ready.’”
“But in a nice way,” he laughs. “You know what I mean. He was very respectful, and I was very humble and respectful of getting the opportunity with him too, and he’s definitely a class act champion and a good kid. I have nothing bad to say about him, I just want to win, just like he wants to win.”
Understood. It’s good to be respectful to your opponent, but when the bell rings on fight night, there’s a lot more at stake than just a belt. A win opens up doors that would be shut otherwise, and for a fighter like Manfredo, all it takes is one opened door to secure his family.
“I win this fight, my life’s set,” said Manfredo, who knows that it’s likely that the winner of the November 19th bout could square off with WBC diamond champion Sergio Martinez. “I’ll fight Martinez. Do I have a shot to win? Everybody does in this game, but it’s a slim shot. But I can win this fight to get to that level. And just getting a fight like that is a win. I take that money and I’ll put it away. I’ll pay off my house, I’ll set my family up, I’ll set my kids up for college, and then I’ll go to work, like an Average Joe. If you think like that and be a realist in life, that’s how you’ll make it. If you think you’re gonna go in there, take that million dollars and you’re gonna take another fight someday for a million dollars, that’s when you’re gonna have a tough time. That’s when you end up broke and with nothing.”
Manfredo’s making sure he’s not one of boxing’s statistics. A laborer for Local 271, the New Englander has always kept grounded and kept a fairly steady paycheck, guaranteeing that his wife and three kids are taken care of. It’s not something you see too often these days in the fight game, making Manfredo the living embodiment of “old school.”
“I’m not the smartest kid in the world, that’s for sure,” he laughs, “but I’ve been in the game my whole life, so I’ve been around it, and I matured at a young age. I never hung out in the streets, I hung in the gym. I got married young, I had kids young, and I had to mature young. I don’t have many friends, and the friends I do have are old. Probably one of my best friends is 63 years old, getting ready to retire, and he’s my neighbor across the street. We hang out all the time and I call him every day. I have an old heart. I kept my mouth shut and my eyes open when I was young.”
And now that he has a platform from which to speak, he’s not shy when it comes to discussing boxing, his place in it, and the importance of fighters having a say in their own futures. He knows that nothing lasts forever in this sport, and as cruel as that sentiment may be, it’s the truth. So when the spotlight dims, the paychecks get smaller, and the interviews dwindle to a few here and there, it’s good to have a work ethic outside the ring to see you though.
“I’ll always be a worker,” he said. “I’m still a worker. Obviously I have a talent besides that, and that’s where I make extra money. And in a tough economy like it is now, it’s hard to get jobs. I’m laid off now. So you can appreciate being a fighter because it’s a trade and another way to make income for your family. I’m just a regular, average family man who has a talent. So I thank God for that, and I’m blessed, but I’ll always be a worker. Boxing is a tough sport and it’s not like any other professional sport. You’re only as good as your last fight in this game. You can be on top, but as soon as you fall, you could be down there forever. A guy like Meldrick Taylor is the perfect example. He got beat by Chavez (Sr) and couldn’t recover after that. And whatever happened to him, he probably ain’t got two nickels to rub together and nobody cares. And that’s how this game is, it’s very evil. So you have to have something to fall back on. I go to schools and I talk to these kids and I’m a realist. I’m not the greatest fighter, that’s for sure. You could even be the greatest fighter, but you always have to have something to fall back on.”
Oddly enough though, while he always looked at his jobs as a laborer and electrician as the backups, as he waits out his current layoff, it’s boxing that’s come to the rescue, and less than a month from now, he can change his life and the lives of his family in the space of less than an hour. And hey, he’s still a fighter.
“I’ll always have that,” said Manfredo. “You get hit with a couple shots, you get pissed off and you want to throw back. I’ll wave him on, come on, let’s go. The only difference now is that I’m getting older. When I was 22, 23, forget it, I was unstoppable. I could have ran all day long and have energy to go to the gym and work out for two hours. Now, I’ll run five miles, and if I don’t take a nap, I couldn’t even go to the gym and train hard. (Laughs) It’s definitely a young man’s game, so as you get older, you have to get smarter. You have to get your rest, you have to eat the right foods, and do everything right to be on top of your game. There’s always going to be someone coming up who’s bigger, faster, stronger, hungrier, and it will be like that always. This kid (Chavez) is young, he’s 25, but this is a winnable fight and I’m gonna win this fight. I’m humbled and blessed by the opportunity, and I’m gonna take the best advantage I can of this.”