Perhaps the best indication of how Vincent Pettway's boxing career has gone in recent years is that the current Boxing Record Book lists the Baltimore native among past champions rather than active fighters.
To qualify for the active list, a fighter must have performed at least three times in the previous year. Pettway has fought only twice in the last 24 months, winning a pair of 10-round decisions over journeyman Gerald Reed.
But it is the fights that didn't happen that prey most on Pettway's mind. Twice, he was scheduled to challenge Felix Trinidad for his International Boxing Federation welterweight title.
In March 1998, Pettway was forced to withdraw after fracturing his right hand. Despite his inactivity, he retained his No. 1 ranking by the IBF and was again scheduled to fight Trinidad in Puerto Rico last May.
After rancorous negotiations with promoter Don King, he was promised a purse in excess of $300,000. But a routine eye examination revealed Pettway had a detached retina in his left eye. Dr. John Thompson recommended immediate surgery, and King was again forced to find a new challenger for Trinidad.
Tonight at Martin's West, Pettway, who has dropped to No. 11 in the rankings, will earn $4,000 for fighting 39-year-old Tyrone Jackson, a onetime lightweight contender from New York.
"It's been a very humbling experience," said Pettway, 33, who reigned briefly as junior middleweight champion in 1995.
"Trinidad is a great fighter, but I thought the fight would have brought out the best in me. His ability to survive a hard punch has always been questioned. It would have been an intriguing night."
But Pettway, a deeply religious man, harbors no bitterness over the depressing turn of events.
"I'm appreciative to the point that I know that my injuries might have prevented me from fighting at all," he said. "It's tough getting boxing out of your blood, and it's a blessing to get another chance. The position I'm in now, I have to re-prove myself. It's like getting back on a horse and riding again."
Getting back into his normal boxing routine has been difficult for Pettway, who holds a full-time job as a group leader at the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Marriottsville. "When I first came back in July after eye surgery, my conditioning was horrendous. I was accustomed to running six or eight miles, but I had to come back in stages, working my way up from two miles.
"It was the same with sparring. But now I can visualize things better in the ring. I'm relying more on boxing, making guys miss and countering instead of loading up and trying to walk over my opponent."
Both Pettway and Mack Lewis, who has served as his manager and trainer for the past quarter of a century, realize each step now must be designed carefully to ultimately get the fighter back in title contention.
"I can't afford any more missteps," said Pettway, who lost his 154-pound title to Paul Vaden and lost another title shot against Terry Norris in 1996 before returning to the welterweight ranks.
"Every fight now is like a world championship, like I'm fighting Trinidad. But every step has to be decisive and careful. It's almost like walking on eggshells. I don't have to be spectacular, but I have to be very professional, keep winning and convince the IBF I deserve another chance."
Said Lewis: "I don't believe in making fighters hang on just for paydays. I believe Pettway still has some good fights left in him. I think he's serious. He's working hard, but he knows he has to work even harder to get back on top."
Pettway dispels any talk that boxing has become an avocation.
"This is my job until God tells me to hang 'em up," he said. "I still have the desire and ambition. But when it's time to quit, I'll accept it. I know there's more to life than boxing."
Who: Vincent Pettway (42-6-1), Baltimore, vs. Tyrone Jackson (31-6), New York, 10-round welterweight bout
Where: Martin's West, Woodlawn
When: Tomorrow night, first preliminary bout, 7.30 p.m.
Promoter: Arnie Dansicker
Tickets: $40, ringside; $25, reserved; $20, general admission.
Pub Date: 9/15/99