Everyone loves a good comeback story. You know, the ones where the hero faces tremendous adversity and somehow finds a way to succeed.
The tale is all too familiar and has been written and told, and then retold for decades. But what if I told you there’s a unique story out there?
A story of a man who defied all odds and despite everyone telling him that what he wanted to do wasn’t possible, he powered through to prove everyone wrong. Not just once, but five times.
This is the story of Vincenzo Pazienza. You may know him as “The Pazmanian Devil,” or simply as Vinny Paz.
Paz is a retired boxer who fought over a span of 21 years as a professional prize fighter. During those 20 plus years, he faced some of the toughest guys the sport has produced, and captured world titles an impressive five times.
Let’s put things into perspective for a moment. The odds of becoming a world champion don’t favor the average person. The few who make it do so by beating everyone who stands in their way of greatness. Vinny is by no means an exception.
In the mid-1980’s, Paz had made a name for himself by stacking up impressive wins over stiff competition, winning his first world title over Greg Haugen in 1987.
Shortly after, Paz would face Roger Mayweather, Loreto Garza and Hector “Macho” Camacho, but came up just short of victories.
During this time, Paz struggled to make weight and even found himself collapsed in his dressing room after the Mayweather fight due to dehydration.
Paz then made a two-weight class jump from Junior Welterweight to Junior Middleweight.
He would go on to fight for the WBA title against Gilbert Dele and capture the belt via Round 12 TKO. Paz became only the second fighter to ever win a lightweight and middleweight championship.
The celebration would not last long. Shortly after capturing the title, Paz was involved in a near-fatal car accident that left him with a broken neck.
Doctors told Paz he may never walk again, let alone ever step into a boxing ring.
Due to the accident, a crown-like device called a halo was screwed into his skull–without the aid of painkillers at Paz’s insistence.
“I’ve experienced a lot of pain in my lifetime,” said Paz in a recent interview with Round By Round Boxing.
“I’ve had a thousand stitches and a ton of broken noses. Nothing compares to the pain of having screws being taken out of your skull.”
Deliberately going against doctor’s orders, Paz began to work out in his garage just three days after having the halo attached. In Paz’s eyes, boxing was more important than anything in his life.
“I remember my mom telling, ‘Vinny please don’t do this’, and I was just like, ‘Ma I’m gonna box again or I’m gonna die trying’,” said Paz.
Only 13 months after his accident, the Pazmanian Devil was back in the ring, solidifying one of the greatest comeback stories in boxing.
The story has now been adapted into the feature film, Bleed For This, starring Miles Teller in the lead role with Aaron Eckhart as Paz’s trainer, Kevin Rooney.
Writer-director Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Prime) and executive producer Martin Scorsese insisted on crafting a story as authentic to the truth as possible.
“Nobody knows this story,” said Younger. “Even boxing fans who sort of remember say it is a vague memory.”
Prior to filming, Teller impressed Paz with his commitment to embodying his colorful, indomitable persona.
Teller often phoned Paz seeking advice for his performance. “I remember Miles called me and said he really wanted to nail my accent,” said Paz.
“I told him ‘What fucking accent? I don’t have a fucking accent.’ He was like, ‘I’m sorry bro I thought you sort of have an accent.’ I laughed and said ‘of course I have a fucking accent.’ I just wanted to mess with him, but he truly did an amazing job.”
Teller appears to have benefited from his due diligence–early reviews have praised his accurate portrayal of Paz.
Watch Bleed For This and let us know your thoughts.
Photos courtesy of Vinny Paz
Peter Nieves is a sports journalist who's been writing for Round By Round Boxing since 2012. When he's not covering the sweet science, he's busy twirling his mustache and writing a screenplays. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @pnieves90