RICHMOND, Va. -- After destroying Jorge Vado in two rounds in Las Vegas last month, junior-middleweight champion Terry Norris was asked by ring commentator Bobby Czyz who was next on his busy agenda.
Norris, who has been fighting almost every month, furrowed his brow until a voice behind him whispered "Pettway. Vincent Pettway, of Baltimore."
"Oh, yeah, Pettway," said Norris, apparently preoccupied with talk of future matches against Pernell Whitaker and Felix Trinidad, who each own part of the welterweight title, and Argentina's Julio Vasquez, who holds the other piece to the junior-middleweight puzzle.
All these grandiose plans will be put on hold tomorrow night at the Richmond Coliseum when Norris will fight Pettway, who lost his International Boxing Federation title to Paul Vaden last August on a 12th-round knockout. Four months later, Norris swept all 12 rounds against a passive Vaden to add the IBF belt to his World Boxing Council crown.
Despite his 42-6 record, Norris, 28, lacks instant name recognition.
"Terry not only wants to become recognized as the best fighter 'pound-for-pound' today, but one of the all-time ring greats," said Joe Sayatovich, his longtime manager. "It's like the NBA. There are a lot of wonderful players, but only a few like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. Terry wants to be in that special class; and to gain that kind of recognition, he has to challenge and beat outstanding champions like Whitaker and Trinidad."
Still, it is highly unusual for a maturing fighter to drop down in weight to go after titles.
"I've got no trouble making the welter limit," said Norris, who turned pro at 19 and has fought professionally as light as 146. "I'm very comfortable at that weight, and I should be physically stronger than either Trinidad or Whitaker."
Norris has all the tools required of a champion, but all too often his impetuous nature and sudden rage have robbed him of certain victory and tainted his reputation.
These qualities cost him dearly in two bizarre title fights with Luis Santana.
Defending his WBC title on Nov. 12, 1994, Norris had Santana on the verge of a knockout in the fifth round. Santana had his back turned when Norris delivered a wicked blow to the back of the head. Santana swooned and was carried out of the ring on a stretcher, declared the winner on a disqualification.
Incredibly, this scenario was repeated five months later. This time, Norris was accused of hitting Santana after the bell ended the third round. Santana exited the ring by stretcher, his crown intact.
"I'm not a dirty fighter," said Norris. "Santana is just a great actor. Why would I foul him when I had him out on his feet? They wanted to ban me for fouling. They should have banned Santana for faking."
Another rematch was ordered by the World Boxing Council last August, and Norris finally registered a clean second-round knockout to reclaim his title. Four months later, he added the WBC belt by dominating Vaden, who did not throw more than several dozen punches over the 12-round distance.
Asked if he could be caught looking past Pettway, Norris said, "Early in my career that might have been a problem. I'd get caught up in the hype and be ruled by emotion. But I'm totally focused now. Nothing can stand in my way when I'm at my best. Pettway? He can't touch me. I'm going to take him to school."
Who: Terry Norris (42-6, 26 KOs), Alpine, Calif., vs. Vincent Pettway (38-5-1, 31 KOs), Baltimore, 12 rounds.
What: For Norris' WBC and IBF junior-middleweight titles
Where: Richmond (Va.) Coliseum
When: Tomorrow night
Also: Oliver McCall (26-6, 18 KOs), Chicago, vs. Oleg Maskiev (15-0, 12 KOs), Brooklyn, N.Y., heavyweights, 12 rounds.
TV: Fox, 11 p.m.
# Tickets: $15 to $50