On August 23, 1996, Vinny Pazienza met Dana Rosenblatt at the famous Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ. The bout was billed as “The Neighborhood War” and was aimed at settling the score as to who was the best fighter from New England.
Known as “The Pazmanian Devil,” Pazienza (40-6, 27 KOs) brought quite a story into the ring with him. He had fought for, and won, multiple world titles. Originally fighting at Lightweight, he had now moved all the way up to Super Middleweight.
His career saw him fight well-known ring warriors like Roy Jones Jr., Greg Haugen, Roberto Duran, Hector Camacho, Roger Mayweather, and Lloyd Honeyghan.
In late 1991, Pazienza’s career was put on hold and nearly came to a screeching halt. A terrible automobile accident left doctors informing him that he would never fight again. After three months in the hospital, he emerged wearing a neck brace. Pazienza soon began working out and miraculously returned to the ring in December of 1992. It was no small miracle in and of itself.
In his extraordinary comeback, he emerged victorious in nine consecutive bouts. Pazienza then faced Roy Jones Jr. in June of 1995. He suffered a devastating beating at the hands of the pound-for-pound king.
Since that sixth-round TKO loss to Jones, Pazienza had been out of action 14 months. Not one to go quietly into the night, Pazienza returned to meet fellow New England rival “Dangerous” Dana Rosenblatt.
Rosenblatt (28-0, 21 KOs) was an undefeated, heavy hitting southpaw. He began learning martial arts at age 13 and earned a black belt at age 16.
At 24 years of age, Rosenblatt certainly had youth on his side. What he did not have was the experience and pedigree of Pazienza. Fighting mainly journeyman, the only recognizable name to most boxing fans was Howard Davis who, at 40 years of age, was well past his better fighting days.
Many saw Rosenblatt, the current WBU Middleweight Champion, as the young up-and-comer, the man who may replace Pazienza as “the best fighter from New England.”
During the build up to the fight it was clear that neither man liked the other. There was a tremendous amount of bad blood and it was unmistakably evident in the pre-fight build up.
Pazienza appeared irritated with the billing “Neighborhood War,” saying that the fight wasn’t a neighborhood war to him and when he fights, it’s a world-wide event. Rosenblatt returned fire describing Pazienza as everything he didn’t want to be.
Pazienza, never to be outdone in pre-fight dramatics, responded by saying, “If I’m everything he don’t wanna be, then he should stop boxing. I’ve won four world titles, won 40 professional fights, fought everybody.”
Rosenblatt, smiling sheepishly, responded, “He’s like an out-of-work school teacher. No class.” Pazienza rebutted, “He’s an idiot. The kid’s an idiot. He looks through the dictionary every day and finds a big word to act like a smart ass. I hate him. I don’t like him.”
Whatever the root of the dislike for each other was, few questioned its authenticity. Some however, questioned how Rosenblatt was a 5-2 favorite over the well-traveled and experienced Pazienza.
Thousands of fans made their way to Atlantic City from Massachusetts and Rhode Island to witness the event in person. Scheduled for 12 rounds with the WBU Super Middleweight title on the line, USA Network’s Tuesday Night Fights covered the action.
Al Albert and “The Champ” Sean O’Grady sat ringside to call the night’s action.
Rosenblatt entered the ring first to Kenny Loggins “Highway to the Danger Zone.” He wore a white robe and white trunks with powder blue trim. The Star of David symbol was sewn into the front right leg of his trunks. This took us back to the legendary Jewish fighters of the 1930’s, ring legends like Benny Leonard and Barney Ross who introduced this practice.
The 33-year-old Pazienza entered next. With Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” blaring loudly, the Italian-American wore red, white, and green trunks with the word “war” painted on the side of his face.
After the fighter introductions by ring announcer Mark Beiro, both men met Referee Tony Orlando at center-ring. The height advantage Rosenblatt owned was immediately apparent. He would employ that size advantage from the get go in the first round by moving, circling and pumping the long right jab into Pazienza’s face.
At the halfway point of the round, Rosenblatt caught Pazienza with a short, crisp right jab. The punch sent Pazienza to a knee. Pazienza shot upwards off the canvas and cracked Rosenblatt with a left hook haymaker that sent Rosenblatt reeling into the ropes.
Orlando grabbed Pazienza, pulling him away from Rosenblatt. He then wiped off his gloves and signaled that the action resume. No knockdown was called. Rosenblatt pounded his chin as if to say he could take whatever Pazienza could dish out.
This could have very easily been ruled a knockdown as Pazienza’s right knee and glove hit the canvas.
Round 2 saw Rosenblatt controlling the action with his jab. He said before the fight that he could visualize himself cutting up Pazienza with the jab. Pazienza continued to try to work his way inside to launch the better part of his arsenal, but was meeting stiff resistance.
As the third round got underway, Albert commented on the puffiness around Pazienza’s eye. “The left eye already starting to close.” Indeed, the swelling was also accompanied by a nasty looking black and blue discoloration. The crowd seemed to be in shock as to what they were seeing. There were moans and groans and oohs and ahs as the young Rosenblatt controlled the experienced veteran with his jab.
Entering Round 4, Rosenblatt had shut out Pazienza on all three of the judges’ scorecards. The inflammation around his left eye from Rosenblatt’s stiff right jab had now nearly closed it entirely. Blood then began to pour from Pazienza’s nose.
With just under a minute to go in the round, Pazienza leaned forward, bent at the waist, face down and unloaded a spectacular over hand right that landed flush on the side of Rosenblatt’s face. As Rosenblatt crashed to the canvas, the crowd rose to its feet and roared.
Orlando began the count. As Rosenblatt climbed to his feet, his face was a mask of bewilderment. He was clearly out on his feet and visibly had no idea what had just hit him. With eyes rolled back in his head, he covered up as Pazienza charged in, bullying him into a corner. Pazienza launched vicious combinations to the body and head, the last punch a left hook that sent Rosenblatt’s head snapping back.
As Orlando moved in, waving his hand over his head to stop the action, a laser focused Pazienza continued bombing away, sending Orlando to the deck. The ring then began to fill with the cornermen, promoters and security in an attempt to restore some order.
Orlando had stopped the bout as “The Pazmanian Devil” emerged victorious by TKO at the 2:13 mark of the fourth round.
O’Grady may have had the best one-liner of the evening, “Dana Rosenblatt just became Dana Rosen-splat.”
After calm was restored, Pazienza made his way across the ring to shake hands and congratulate Rosenblatt. His eye a gruesome mess, Pazienza told O’Grady, “I love drama, big drama in Dodge City. The war is not over. Life is a battle every day. I don’t quit.”
Rosenblatt was gracious in defeat, “He’s the better man tonight. There’s no excuses. He’s the better man tonight. He used his experience and I give him a lot of credit.”
Both men agreed to face each other again in November of 1999. Rosenblatt would go on to beat Pazienza in their rematch via a split decision. In doing so he won the vacant IBO Super Middleweight Championship.
Rosenblatt would retire from boxing in August 2003 with a record of 37–1–1 with 23 knockouts. His only professional loss, later avenged, was to Pazienza.
Pazienza, who later legally changed his name to Vinny Paz, would go on to fight into March 2004. He would retire after reaching 50 victories, leaving the ring with a record of 50-10 with 30 knockouts.
Boxing history will forever link the names of Pazienza and Rosenblatt and their neighborhood wars.
Header photo courtesy of Vinnypaz.com