By Thomas Gerbasi
Long Island welterweight Tommy Rainone is quite the negotiator. Offered a slot on the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale undercard against Dusty Harrison in Madison Square Garden this past July, Rainone turned it down, holding out for a better offer.
He got it, as he now faces Harrison in the Garden’s Theater on January 9th as the headliner on Roc Nation’s first event, one that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 and that will garner plenty of attention thanks to it being the first foray into the sweet science by Roc Nation boss Jay-Z.
Not bad, Rainone, not bad.
“I originally turned the fight down because there was no TV involved,” he explains. “I knew the Dusty Harrison people had me on their radar, and I knew I would get offered the fight again; it was just a matter of getting the most I could out of it. A main event at Madison Square Garden is more than enough for me. And it’s on Fox Sports 1 and it’s Roc Nation’s first show, so I’m happy that I held out.”
For a 34-year-old who always brings a nice crowd out to his fights but isn’t on the international radar as a 147-pound contender, it was a gutsy play, but also one based in common sense. Of course, in boxing, common sense isn’t a phrase tossed around – or used - too often.
“It’s a little bit of luck and a little bit of common sense,” Rainone said. “I would have loved to fight in the big room under Golovkin, but at that point, why am I gonna fight a guy that’s 21-0 while I’m the B side and it’s not on TV? It doesn’t make sense. A lot of other people might have gone for that; I wasn’t. I knew my worth, I knew it was a TV fight at least, and that’s the only way you can make any kind of real money, with TV.”
“Common sense is lost in society, in general, these days. I’ve got to make the smartest choices that I can.”
In addition to his negotiating prowess and hefty surplus of common sense, Rainone is also a realist. He is well aware that the 20-year-old Harrison is there on January 9th to be the star of the show as the hot prospect being introduced to the nation on a huge platform. Rainone? He’ll sell tickets. He’s not expected to win, but those guys are usually the most dangerous and he knows that from experience as a self-managed fighter who never got the push someone like Harrison has. And when that’s the case, you’re often in tougher than a rising star. You wouldn’t immediately detect that from running down Rainone’s 22-5-1 record, but records aren’t always everything.
“I never had money behind me, I never had a promoter,” he said. “I’ve been self-managed my entire career, so the goal of every promoter I ever fought for was real simple: my fight is to turn a profit, so it really doesn’t matter who I fight. Sure it would be nice to see me get the win, but at the end of the day they’re not going to lose money on my fight. So I really never had anybody looking out for me, for the most part; it’s just me and my trainer working hard. Usually they’ll get whoever’s gonna fight me for the best price, which usually means a hungry guy that’s gonna come in some sort of shape and he looks at me as his opportunity. So I had to fight a lot of tough dudes that just came and didn’t care – they came to fight hard, and any guy that comes to fight and is in any kind of shape is always gonna be a bit of a problem. I never had anything easy. I may not have beaten a bunch of good fighters to get to where I am, but I’ve beaten a bunch of decent fighters, and I never had any easy fights. I earned my record.”
He’s earned his place in the spotlight against Harrison as well. But the question is, at this point, what’s the end game for a guy like Rainone? He’s not going to be challenging Floyd Mayweather anytime soon, but does he look at the Harrison fight as the stepping stone to a world championship one day, or is he simply content to do what he loves and make a few bucks in the process?
“Everybody wants to be a world champion, that’s why you get involved in boxing. But you got people talking about winning world titles and they have two, three fights in their career, and that’s their ultimate goal,” he said. “I’m a little more realistic in that I always set small, reasonable goals for myself, and once I achieve those goals, I set myself another set of reasonable, achievable goals. Earlier in my career, I met some of my goals, which were to fight at the Blue Horizon, one of the most historic venues around, and to fight in Madison Square Garden. I wanted to win a couple of minor titles, and I accomplished that. I also wanted to get on TV a couple times. My last fight was a delayed telecast, but it was on TV, and I had one fight earlier in my career that was on TV, and of course this one is going to be live on TV, so it’s another dream accomplished. And I have a few more goals I have to accomplish before my career is up. So if I keep winning fights and I pull off an upset like this, it sets me up for another great opportunity. I would never say that a world title is not one of my dreams; I would just say that I set up realistic goals and take the steps to get there.”
If you’re a real fight fan, it’s impossible not to appreciate Rainone’s attitude. Maybe it’s a New York thing, maybe it’s a maturity thing. He doesn’t even look back at a career pretty much fought on the fly and play the ‘what if’ game when it comes to how things could have been different if he was brought up by a promoter.
“I never wasted a lot of time thinking about that,” he said. “This is all I’ve ever known.”
Things may be very different on January 10th though. If he upsets Harrison, he knows there will be at least one more big fight, and if he keeps winning while in those positions, it could end up being one of the biggest stories seen in boxing in years. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, something Tommy Rainone refuses to do.
“I’m just focusing on the task at hand, so I really haven’t thought much about what January 10th looks like,” he said. “I’ve got a tough job to do, I’m in with a good opponent, and hey, I know my role, I know why I was chosen for this assignment, and I know that I’m the B side here. So it’s my job to pull off the upset. All I’m worried about it going out there and performing to the best of my capabilities on January 9th. As long as I do that, Dusty is gonna be in for a helluva night.”