It’s often the little things that mean the most. So when Vito Mielnicki Jr. accepted an interview after a sparring session on New Year’s Eve, he didn’t see it as a big deal. It’s just part of the job.
But it is a big deal, because you have to imagine that practically every other 17-year-old in the universe was planning to party that night, not throw hands in the gym.
“When you’re young, boxing is a sport, but now it’s a job and it’s the hurt business, so you’ve got to take it serious no matter what day it is,” Mielnicki said. “I was in the gym on Christmas training, and no matter what day it is, you have to dedicate yourself to it and turn this game into a lifestyle.”
It’s too easy for those of a certain age to look at the younger generation and shake their head in dismay. Yet in the world of boxing, fighters like Mielnicki and Xander Zayas are making it safe for those same older folks to smile and be hopeful for the future, not just in the ring, but outside of it.
Respectful to his craft and those around him, Mielnicki was too young to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, and with waiting for the 2024 Games too risky an option, he entered the pro ranks last summer and three quick wins have followed, with recent foe Marklin Bailey the only one to make it into the second round.
On Saturday, the teenager makes his fourth walk to the ring to face Preston Wilson in Philadelphia, and there’s no reason to believe that Mielnicki won’t make it 4-0 on the Julian Williams-Jeison Rosario undercard. But that’s what life is like for a prospect at this stage of his career. He fights who’s put in front of him, wins – preferably in spectacular fashion – and gets the buzz going.
And there’s plenty of buzz when it comes to the New Jersey native, who is not only bringing fight fans to the table, but the Polish and Italian communities of the Garden State as well. The fact that he’s an action fighter who knocks people out only ups the ante. Maybe that’s why there aren’t any lightweights around this welterweight when it comes to the business end of things. From manager Anthony Catanzaro to Luis De Cubas Jr. and Al Haymon, the heavyweights are everywhere around Mielnicki. And that’s even before mentioning his father, Vito Sr., the longtime CEO of GH3 Promotions.
That’s a lot to live up to, but Mielnicki isn’t rattled by any of it.
“It definitely helps and I know I have a great team behind me,” he said. “Having them behind me and my dad showing me the business as I was growing up definitely helps me know what I’m going to have to go through in order to get to that top level.”
Considering that he’s already signed to PBC, the top level may be coming sooner rather than later, and while only time will tell if Mielnicki has the goods to deliver when facing elite competition, at the moment, he’s hitting all the right buttons on fight night and in dealing with life in the spotlight, even if he is a bit more subdued than Catanzaro’s most notable client, former world champion Paulie Malignaggi.
“I enjoy it,” said Mielnicki. “It obviously comes with the business, doing stuff like this, but I have nothing against it. I enjoy talking to people and meeting people, and it comes with this business, so even if I didn’t like it, I would have to adapt and adjust to liking it.”
Learning to adapt to an ever-changing sport may end up being Mielnicki’s greatest strength, and it’s one he likely learned from being around his dad, who most certainly had to have some days when he came home from work wanting to be in any other business than the fight business. Vito Jr. saw it all, paid attention, and took it in. And he didn’t walk away. That’s the love of the game right there, and that love is the only reason his parents gave their blessing.
“My dad knows that if I don’t really love this, I can never be good in this sport and I could possibly get hurt,” he said. “If I didn’t love the sport, he wouldn’t even let me do it in the first place. When I was younger, football was my first love of a sport and that’s what I thought I was gonna be as I got older. But I fell in love with boxing obviously and it took me to where I am now.”
In the gym since he was a second grader, Mielnicki has sacrificed for his art for more than half his life, going 147-22 with four Junior National Golden Gloves titles as an amateur before making his move to the pro ranks, but when asked about what he’s given up to make it here, he doesn’t see his life path the way others might.
“I think it’s a sacrifice, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a sacrifice,” he said. “This is what I want to do and I want to be great. I don’t want to just settle for average.”
And if he reaches the heights he’s gunning for, it won’t just be a goal achieved for himself, but for the whole Mielnicki clan.
“When I go to the gym every day, I have a set thing in my mind that I’m not doing this just for me,” he said. “I’m doing it for my mom and dad and my whole family. Seeing my mom and dad go to work every day, I don’t want to see them do that anymore. If I can make that happen in a few more years, not having them go to work, that would definitely be my best accomplishment.”
All from the mouth of a 17-year-old.
“My mom and dad raised me that way,” he said. “Never let things like this get to my head and always stay on course.”
So while most New Year’s resolutions are grandiose on the best of days, Mielnicki is keeping his modest. He wants to win this weekend and just keep fighting as much as he can. He’ll leave all the talking to his fans and the media, and the career progression up to his team. Just tell him where and when, and he’ll bring his mouthpiece and his gloves.
“I’m gonna live in the present,” he said. “My main focus is on Preston Wilson on January 18th, but when that time (for the next level) comes, I just have to stay level-headed like I was brought up, and stay humble.”