“I feel like I’m fighting for the people. They want to see me win. I’m the peoples champion and every fight is a title fight.”
As the great Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” For Vinny Pazienza, Dickens couldn’t have been more spot on.
Standing alongside trainer Kevin Rooney, Pazienza continued with his post-fight interview, “I’m coming back to win the Middleweight championship of the world. I’ll be the first Italian-American to do it since the Raging Bull, the colorful Jake LaMotta.”
It was an early summer night in June of 1993. As the tide from the Atlantic roared in near the boardwalk, The Convention Center in Atlantic City was locked and loaded with an entertaining card of action.
The main event featured Evander Holyfield, who had just lost his undisputed crown to Riddick Bowe nearly eight months ago, making his return against an old nemesis, Alex Stewart. But before the main event, a sold out Convention Center was primed and ready for an appetizer that, as we would all find out shortly, turned out to be the main course.
Billed as “Only the Strong Survive”, Pazienza and Lloyd Honeyghan were about to steal the show.
Pazienza (33-5, 25 KOs) brought quite a story into the ring with him.
From Cranston, Rhode Island, the “Pazmanian Devil” had been a professional for nearly 10 years. As Pazienza continued to fight, he continued to move up in weight. He had transitioned from Lightweight, to Welterweight, and then to Super Welterweight.
In October 1991, in front of his hometown fans in Providence, Pazienza knocked out Gilbert Dele in the 12th round to win the WBA World Super Welterweight championship.
In late 1991, true to Dickens’ celebrated line, tragedy struck. Pazienza’s career was put on hold and nearly came to a screeching halt. A serious automobile accident left doctors informing him that he would never fight again.
After being forced to vacate his title, and just months out of the hospital, Pazienza had ideas of his own and soon began working out. He would then launch one of the more miraculous comebacks in all of sports and return to the ring in December of 1992.
Just 14 months after the accident, Pazienza beat Luis Santana in a 10-round decision.
On this night, the 30-year-old Pazienza would test himself against the dangerous, two-time undisputed Welterweight champion Lloyd Honeyghan.
Now 33, Honeyghan (41-3, 28 KOs) was born in Jamaica and now living and fighting out of London, England. Having won numerous British and European titles, he was considered as a legitimate risk to derail the Pazienza comeback.
In September of 1986, Honeyghan put himself on the map and etched his name into the memories of boxing fans when he faced Donald Curry. A 5-1 underdog, many of the legal bookmaking parlors refused to take action on the bout citing that the fight was “too much of a mismatch.”
Honeyghan responded by working over Curry and scoring a sixth round technical knockout. The victory registered as The Ring’s “Upset of the Year”.
Pazienza and Honeyghan were the co-main event of a pay-per-view card that aired live on Main Events Television. Dave Bontempo and Bob Papa sat ringside to call the action.
The 10,000 plus fans inside the Convention Center roared as both fighters were now in the ring.
Although there was no official title on the line, the bout was scheduled for 12 rounds. Ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced referee Tony Orlando and then the fighters.
As Round 1 got underway, so did a feeling out process. Both men took turns pursuing each other early on and each tried to establish their left jab. The pro-Pazienza crowd roared anytime he landed or even came close to doing so.
The pace began to quicken in round two as Honeyghan was getting comfortable fighting off the ropes and countering. Pazienza then took the lead and was now marching forward.
In his corner. Mickey Duff pled with Honeyghan to stay out of the corners and concentrate on making Pazienza miss.
With a minute gone in Round 3, Honeyghan failed to heed that advice. With his back against the ropes, Pazienza wound up his right hand and fired a crushing right uppercut. As the crowd moaned, Honeyghan staggered.
Pazienza then launched a wicked right hand that impaled the side of Honeyghan’s face. The right hand sent him crashing to the canvas.
Rising to his feet, Orlando gave the standing eight count.
Smelling blood, Pazienza swarmed as most in the Convention Center were now standing. A game Honeyghan would survive after being relentlessly battered for the duration of the round.
Gunning for the knockout, an energized Pazienza went back on the offensive and controlled much of the action in the middle rounds. Although he was dictating the pace and flow, the game Honeyghan continued to pick his spots and land hard, effective counter punches.
Rooney, alongside Lou Duva, liked what they were seeing from Pazienza. They wanted to pressure Honeyghan with feints, a stiff left jab, and straight right hands.
As the bout entered Round 9, Honeyghan had switched to a southpaw stance. Recognizing that the gap was widening and that he needed something big to turn the tide, he was now standing and trading more with Pazienza.
Standing alongside the ring apron with less than a minute remaining in the ninth, Pazienza again landed a wicked right hand bomb that snapped Honeyghan’s head back and over the ropes. On wobbly legs, he retreated to the ropes where Pazienza unleashed a fusillade of power punches, raining lefts and rights to the head and to the body.
With nowhere to go, Honeyghan slumped to the canvas for a second time. Again he rose bravely to take Orlando’s standing eight count. The two stood toe to toe until the bell sounded to end the round.
Respect is earned and tonight it was mutual. Both men embraced before returning to their corners.
Still on rubber legs, it was clear that Honeyghan had nothing left as the tenth round got underway. Papa sensed the end was near, “Pazienza opens up with a sweeping left!”
Pazienza attacked and drove Honeyghan across the ring and into a corner. A white towel of surrender then flew into the ring from the Honeyghan corner. Neither fighter saw the towel as the action continued at a torrid pace.
Pazienza kicked it into fifth gear and went in for the kill as Honeyghan collapsed to the canvas for the third and final time.
A moment of bedlam ensued as New Jersey Commissioner Larry Hazzard jumped in the ring to pull Pazienza off his fallen opponent. While Orlando tended to the fallen Honeyghan, the ring began to fill quickly.
Security and New Jersey Police began to file into the ring as Duva screamed, “Don’t let anybody in the ring!”
Order was quickly restored as Papa then sifted through the wreckage and declared, “Vinny Pazienza has knocked out Lloyd Honeyghan in Round 10!”
While the fighters again embraced for the last time, Buffer announced the decision. The bout was officially halted at 56 seconds of Round 10.
At the time of the stoppage, Pazienza was well ahead on all three of the judges’ scorecards. His performance tonight was impressive in more ways than one.
Although the action ended in a wild scene. Pazienza had accomplished what many said he could never do again.
He fought, he won, and he had scored a TKO victory over a tough, game veteran while overcoming what were deemed insurmountable odds.
It was again the best of times for Pazienza.