By Thomas Gerbasi
Vinny Maddalone has always been one of the good guys of the boxing world. That being said, I have to warn him that on Thursday, the night of his official retirement dinner / roast at Russo’s On the Bay in Queens, it may end up being the shortest roast in history.
The former heavyweight contender laughs.
“I just want people to enjoy it and have a good time,” he said. “That’s what it’s about.”
Yeah, but who will Ring 8, the sponsors of the dinner, find to roast Maddalone?
“I’ve got some people coming up and they might throw me under the bus,” he said. “But it’s gonna be a fun time. When (Ring 8 president) Jack (Hirsch) told me about the roast, I was a little skeptical at first, but this might be good. (His former cutman) Danny Milano wants to finish it off. He wants to be the last guy.”
Now that should be worth the price of admission right there, and it’s fitting, considering that Maddalone always gave his fans their money’s worth over the course of a 14-year career that saw him compile a 37-8-1, 1 NC record with 28 wins by knockout.
“I told people when I started that if I could just be remembered as a standup guy and a tough guy, that’s all I care about,” he said. “The fans came in to see a fight and I gave them a fight. Win, lose or draw, I was gonna give everything I’ve got, and that’s what it’s about.”
Mission accomplished for the 44-year-old, who works with the local Steamfitters union these days. It’s not surprising, considering Maddalone’s blue collar attitude throughout his boxing career.
“It’s a good bunch of guys I’m working with,” he said. “I don’t know too much and they’re teaching me and telling me what to do. I’m a fetch boy – go get this, go get that – (Laughs) but I don’t mind it, it’s good.”
You never know what life after boxing will look like for a fighter. There are enough horror stories to make you wonder why you ever want to watch this sport anymore, but thankfully Maddalone came out the other side the way he went in, only now with a bucket load of memories that he never thought he would make when he first entered a Toughman contest and got hooked on fighting after his hopes of making the Major Leagues as a pitcher were dashed by injury.
“Not even in a million years,” he said. “I couldn’t even think of that. If you told me I was either going to hit the lotto or be in boxing, I would have guessed hitting lotto. (Laughs) That’s how far away it was for me. I never thought anything like that. From there to this, I can’t believe it.”
Turning pro in 1999, the Queens native raced out to a 15-0 record before losing a decision to former world champion Al Cole in 2002. That didn’t dim his popularity among New York fight fans, who knew that when the free-swinging Maddalone was in the ring, there would be blood, a knockout or often both. And in a town where club shows were still a regular occurrence, that grassroots following was something no fighter took for granted.
“For these kids not to experience these club shows, I feel like they’re missing out because that was everything,” he said. “I would rather fight at Yonkers Raceway than fight at the Prudential Center. You feel like everybody’s on top of you, you feel the excitement, the ring shakes, and it’s a nice feeling. You’ve got all your friends and family coming out to support you, and that makes everything.”
Maddalone even fought twice at the Russo’s On the Bay catering hall that will be hosting his retirement roast this week. Which begs the question, why a retirement party when his last fight was a 2013 draw with Maurenzo Smith?
“It’s five years after my last fight because I keep telling people I’m gonna do one more,” he laughs. “That’s why they’re finally doing a retirement roast.”
There are no plans for a comeback, but when asked if anything can replace the rush of being in the ring, he doesn’t hesitate to answer.
“No, never,” said Maddalone. “There’s nothing like it. The training and preparing for the fight is the worst in the world. I don’t wish it on anybody. But once you get into the ring, it’s euphoria. It’s such a rush, and when the bell rings and all those people are watching you, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
The local success Maddalone had translated into bigger opportunities. He lost an ESPN-televised war to Brian Minto in 2004, but a year later, another war saw him emerge victorious, as he knocked out Shannon Miller in a bout Maddalone marks as the favorite of his career.
“Neither of these guys are dancers,” said ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas early in the slugfest, and he couldn’t have been more accurate.
“The toughest fight I ever was in was against Shannon Miller,” said Maddalone. “I knocked him down two times in the first round, then he came back and he wouldn’t go away. In the fifth round, I finally knocked him out and I said, ‘What did I get myself into?’ I had a headache for about four days after that.”
He laughs, the way only a prizefighter can laugh after going through hell.
“I go up to Saratoga for the horses and people still come up to me to this day and say, ‘I can’t believe that fight. What a great fight that was.’ That was 13 years ago and it still means so much.”
But does he still get the headache when at Saratoga?
“When I lose on an exacta, I get a headache, that’s about it.”
If you weren’t around to watch Maddalone fight, hit YouTube now and do a search on the Miller and Minto bouts, and while you watch the brutality on display, remember that this was a guy who didn’t need mean mugging and trash talk to go into a ring and throw hands round after round. Maddalone saved his fighting for the ring, and when it was over, it was over. That made you want to root for him, and while heavyweights in recent years could almost trip into a title shot, the New Yorker never got his championship fight. That’s unfortunate, but there is no bitterness from Maddalone.
“I was always one fight away,” he said. “(Tyson) Fury, (Tomasz) Adamek, (Jean-Marc) Mormeck. If I would have beat any of those guys, I was the one. And I accept that. You have to win that fight to get the title shot. I had about four opportunities and if I would have beat those guys, then that was it. I always wanted that. Just give me the opportunity and I’ll give it everything I got, but I can’t say anything because I had the opportunity to beat those guys and fight for the title. I was right there.”
He was, yet despite losses to Evander Holyfield and the aforementioned trio, Maddalone left a mark on the sport that didn’t require a belt. He was an honest fighter who gave the fans an honest effort every time he stepped through the ropes. That’s a resume any pro should be proud to own.
And Maddalone is.
For more information on the Vinny Maddalone retirement roast, visit www.ring8ny.com