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Home » Vinny Pazienza – A Colorful Life In and Outside the Ring

Vinny Pazienza – A Colorful Life In and Outside the Ring

Professional boxing is full of colorful characters, past and present. And one of the most colorful in recent memory is Vinny Pazienza. 

During his career between the ropes, he was a fearsome fighter across several weight divisions and a two-time world champion. He fought some of the era’s greats, beating Roberto Duran twice, and sharing the ring with the likes of Hector Macho Camacho, Roger Mayweather, Loreto Garza, Luis Santana, and Gilbert Dele.  He is also known for arguably the greatest comeback in sports history, overcoming a broken neck to make a successful return to boxing. 

Vinny Pazienza

Outside the ring his life has also been memorable, featuring booze, alcohol-related incidents, strippers, bankruptcy, and tax problems. Paz, as he’s known, has come out of boxing and his turbulent life somehow with his faculties intact, if not his finances. He is also the subject of the 2016 film Bleed For This, starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, and Katey Sagal. Let’s dive deeper into his wild career.

Career threatening injury

A lot could be said about Paz’s career. The fact that he won world titles at both lightweight and light middleweight, or that he challenged for the light welterweight title twice, against Roger Mayweather (uncle and trainer of Floyd Jr) and Hector Camacho. But perhaps the most spectacular occurrence in Paz’s life was his 1991 car accident, traveling as a passenger in Warwick, Rhode Island. 

A head-on collision left him with a broken neck, amongst many other injuries. Told he may never walk – let alone box –  again, he staged a remarkable recovery, opting against his doctor’s advice to be fitted with a medical device known as a halo, ironic for a fighter once nicknamed the Pazmanian Devil. This device allowed him to resume training and a career which would span over twenty further fights, including two unanimous decision victories over legend Roberto Duran. 

A wild life

Paz led a crazy life outside the ring. Some fighters never stay out of training, doing heavy road work, countless rounds of sparring, dieting, weight training, and more. But Paz preferred the company of strippers and Penthouse pinups – eventually marrying, then divorcing one, Leigh Anderson.

Endless nights of boozy revelry sometimes ended in arrests for drunkenness and disorder, and in a couple of cases assault. He was also busted for drunk driving a few times. None of this is admirable, but Paz was certainly a character. 

Aside from boxing and women, one of Paz’s biggest passions was gambling, and he loved to play at the card tables of Vegas and Atlantic City. Winning and eventually losing vast amounts at blackjack, he was not particularly good at it in the long run. He eventually had to declare bankruptcy. As he said: “I was better at sleeping with girls than gambling, that’s for sure”.

Bleed For This

In 2016, the movie Bleed For This came out to generally favorable reviews. The story documents part of Paz’s career, from his unsuccessful world title challenge against Roger Mayweather (and a night of partying in a casino beforehand) through his horrific car accident and his unprecedented recovery (much to the consternation of his tight-knit Italian family and friends). It climaxes with a grueling fight against Duran, which he wins by unanimous decision. 

The film plays fast and loose with the timeline of Paz’s career, but paints a reasonably accurate picture of the man, his remarkable talents, his colorful lifestyle, and his strength of mind and body to overcome what should have been a life-changing injury. It is also a testament to the obsessiveness and determination of boxers – it’s hard to step away from the ring. 

In the final scene, Vinny is interviewed by a journalist. She asks him about the biggest lie he was ever told as a boxer. Vinny pauses, then says the biggest lie is, “It’s not that simple”.

Current activities

When Paz hung up his gloves in 2004 after twenty-one years as a pro, many were surprised at how lucid he was, having been in so many hard-fought battles during his career – only his zigzag nose gives an indication of combat. Many great fighters of the same era, such as Tommy Hearns, don’t seem to have come away from the ring with all their faculties intact. 

Paz now works as a motivational speaker, successfully transferring the magnetic charisma he showed in his boxing career into his new vocation. He gives inspiring keynote speeches about his struggles and successes in the ring and the life lessons he learned along his journey. 

Vinny Pazienza was one of the most exciting fighters of his generation. And the adversity he overcame in recovering from a devastating injury to return victorious to the ring is an inspiring tale for the ages – with plenty of spicy diversions at the card tables and strip clubs of the world. No wonder they turned his life into a film!