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Big test for fast-talking Pazienza


ATLANTIC CITY -- Flamboyant Vinny Pazienza said the story of his life as a professional fighter, complete with a comeback from a near-paralyzing neck injury in 1991, is currently being filmed under the title "Heart and Soul."

"It will be greater than 'Raging Bull,' " said Pazienza, referring to the 1980 movie that featured Robert DeNiro's Oscar-winning portrayal of former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta. "And when I shock the world and beat Roy Jones, I'll have the perfect ending to my movie."

Many boxing fans believe Pazienza, 32, has been acting all his life. They view him as a cocky showman with more sizzle than substance.

But he has lost only five of 45 fights in five weight classes and has held world titles at 135, 154 and 168 pounds -- all while drastically changing his style from a brawler to a versatile boxer.

Since returning to the ring in 1992 after training for close to a year with a steel band protecting his neck, Pazienza has won all nine of his fights, including two victories over Roberto Duran.

Yet he is rated a 10-1 underdog against Jones, who is unbeaten in 28 fights. Jones, defending his International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title, is gaining a reputation as boxing's best pound-for-pound fighter.

The Atlantic City Convention Center will be filled mainly with Pazienza's supporters from his hometown of Providence, R.I. Fanatics aside, most boxing observers long have considered Pazienza a product of hype who hides his ring shortcomings behind sequined ensembles, bolo punches and a gift of gab.

"I just don't get credit from the media for the things I've done in the ring," he said. "I can fight my butt off for 12 rounds. I'm a victim of reverse discrimination."

This lack of recognition is no mystery to Kevin Rooney, Mike Tyson's former mentor who began training Pazienza in 1989 after he lost the lightweight title in a rematch with Greg Haugen.

"Vinny was just mismanaged in the past," said Rooney. "His old )) trainer, Lou Duva, was always telling reporters off the record that Pazienza was really a glorified club fighter. When people keep hearing the same story, they start to believe it."

Rooney said there were reasons for Pazienza losing title fights to Haugen, Roger Mayweather and Hector Camacho at 135 and 140 pounds.

"Duva had Vinny killing himself to make weight," Rooney said. "He was never meant to be that light. He had to take off 13 pounds to fight Haugen the second time, and nine pounds the day of the fight for Mayweather. Against Camacho, he was totally dehydrated. He was never his best.

"Now he doesn't have to battle the scales. . . . People who think he's got no chance against Jones are in for a big surprise."

But Rooney is in the minority.

"I have a lot of respect for Vinny, the way he came back from his injury," said former welterweight champion Buddy McGirt. "But the only way Jones can lose this fight is if he gets struck by lightning."

Pazienza is used to such predictions.

"That kind of talk only motivates me," he said. "The bigger the obstacle, the harder I fight. I'm the ultimate warrior. It's me against the world. Hey, that sounds like another movie script."


Who:Roy Jones (28-0, 24 KOs), Pensacola, Fla., vs. Vinny Pazienza (40-5, 37 KOs), Providence, R.I.

What: For Jones' International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title

When: Tonight, 9

Where: Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Hall

Tickets: $300, $200, $100, $50

TV: TVKO pay-per-view, buy rate $24.99

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