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 ďThe Pride of ProvidenceĒ 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 heís at, he knows what he brings to the table, and heís confident that in this, his last hurrah, heís got the goods to extend that hurrah just a little longer.
ďIf I donít win this fight, Iím done,Ē he said. ďI wonít put on gloves anymore because it wonít be worth it for me. Then what? Iím 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 thatís where Iím at right now. If I lose the fight, Iím done. But if I win the fight, my life is set, so Iím gonna leave everything in the ring that night. Iím gonna give all Iíve got, and thatís gonna make for a great fight because he doesnít want to lose in front of his fans, and heís a world champion whoís never lost. This fight is gonna be great, but I think my hand will be raised at the end. Iím very confident.Ē
A cast member on the first season of NBCís ďThe Contender,Ē 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 wasnít ever going to compete on that ultra-elite level with guys like Calzaghe.
ďThat was a different league, a different level,Ē said Manfredo. ďIt 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.Ē
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. Theyíre not the Fearsome Foursome, but theyíre all decent fighters who Manfredo looked good against. And after doing his part, Manfredoís promoter did his.
ďI signed with (promoter) Lou DiBella a year ago to get back into this position,Ē said Manfredo, 37-6 with 20 KOs. ďI wanted one last shot at a big fight and heís a man of his word Ė he got me the shot.Ē
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).
ďWhen 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 Iím ready for him,Ē he said. ďIím looking into his eyes saying Ďbring it mother**ker, Iím ready.íĒ
ďBut in a nice way,Ē he laughs. ďYou know what I mean. He was very respectful, and I was very humble and respectful of getting the opportunity with him too, and heís 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.Ē
Understood. Itís good to be respectful to your opponent, but when the bell rings on fight night, thereís 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.
ďI win this fight, my lifeís set,Ē said Manfredo, who knows that itís likely that the winner of the November 19th bout could square off with WBC diamond champion Sergio Martinez. ďIíll fight Martinez. Do I have a shot to win? Everybody does in this game, but itís 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 Iíll put it away. Iíll pay off my house, Iíll set my family up, Iíll set my kids up for college, and then Iíll go to work, like an Average Joe. If you think like that and be a realist in life, thatís how youíll make it. If you think youíre gonna go in there, take that million dollars and youíre gonna take another fight someday for a million dollars, thatís when youíre gonna have a tough time. Thatís when you end up broke and with nothing.Ē
Manfredoís making sure heís not one of boxingís 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. Itís not something you see too often these days in the fight game, making Manfredo the living embodiment of ďold school.Ē
ďIím not the smartest kid in the world, thatís for sure,Ē he laughs, ďbut Iíve been in the game my whole life, so Iíve 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 donít 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 heís 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.Ē
And now that he has a platform from which to speak, heís 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, itís the truth. So when the spotlight dims, the paychecks get smaller, and the interviews dwindle to a few here and there, itís good to have a work ethic outside the ring to see you though.
ďIíll always be a worker,Ē he said. ďIím still a worker. Obviously I have a talent besides that, and thatís where I make extra money. And in a tough economy like it is now, itís hard to get jobs. Iím laid off now. So you can appreciate being a fighter because itís a trade and another way to make income for your family. Iím just a regular, average family man who has a talent. So I thank God for that, and Iím blessed, but Iíll always be a worker. Boxing is a tough sport and itís not like any other professional sport. Youíre 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 couldnít recover after that. And whatever happened to him, he probably ainít got two nickels to rub together and nobody cares. And thatís how this game is, itís very evil. So you have to have something to fall back on. I go to schools and I talk to these kids and Iím a realist. Iím not the greatest fighter, thatís for sure. You could even be the greatest fighter, but you always have to have something to fall back on.Ē
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, itís boxing thatís 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, heís still a fighter.
ďIíll always have that,Ē said Manfredo. ďYou get hit with a couple shots, you get pissed off and you want to throw back. Iíll wave him on, come on, letís go. The only difference now is that Iím 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, Iíll run five miles, and if I donít take a nap, I couldnít even go to the gym and train hard. (Laughs) Itís definitely a young manís 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. Thereís always going to be someone coming up whoís bigger, faster, stronger, hungrier, and it will be like that always. This kid (Chavez) is young, heís 25, but this is a winnable fight and Iím gonna win this fight. Iím humbled and blessed by the opportunity, and Iím gonna take the best advantage I can of this.ĒTags: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr , Peter Manfredo Jr. , Chavez-Manfredo , Chavez vs Manfredo