Vinny Pazienza was a medical disaster. By 7:30 Sunday evening his nose was broken, his left eye was cut and swollen shut, his right hand was badly bruised, and he was on his way to the hospital to get 10 stitches—six to close a cut in his scalp and four to close the gash over his eye. But Pazienza was in better shape than he had been 10 hours earlier, when his body was wracked by chills, vomiting and waves of diarrhea. So much for the health chart of a guy who had just spent part of a Sunday afternoon in Providence, R.I., winning the IBF lightweight championship.
The sickness came early in the day after Pazienza, 24, weighed in under the prescribed 135-pound limit, then spent the next 20 minutes gorging himself on green apples, bananas and raisins, washed down with a few gallons of water and juices. The assorted hurts came that afternoon from the fists of Greg Haugen, who learned his violent trade while beating up stevedores and lumberjacks in the Gussie L'Amour Dance Hall & Saloon in Anchorage, Alaska.
And the title came from the decision of the three judges, all of whom seemed as moved by the cheers of Pazienza's rabid hometown fans as they were by what was happening in the ring. Still, after Pazienza's gutsy performance over 15 rounds, only a churl would suggest that a judge from Providence with an Italian surname (Clark Sammartino) would have given Haugen anything less than an honest count in his first defense of the IBF title.
This was the same Haugen, of course, who had charmed the locals by saying, "I've heard the town is run by Mafiosi, and I don't want to have to dodge bullets." He also said such things as: "Hector Camacho [the WBC lightweight champion] is a nothing...." And: "Take Edwin Rosario [the WBA champion] out of Puerto Rico and he's just another gutless Spanish fighter...." Also: "Pazienza has a face like a pizza and dresses like Liberace."
In between vocal outbursts, Haugen threatened Pazienza's father, Angelo, and Lou Duva, the local fighter's trainer—both of whom offered to meet the Auburn, Wash., fighter in a dark alley of his choosing. Obviously, with a mouth like that, the 26-year-old Haugen can fight; he came in with a 19-0-1 record, and that didn't include the 29 Tough Man victories he racked up in Gussie's saloon during leaner, meaner times.
They could have fought this one on Gussie's sawdust floor. Pazienza may dress pretty, but once somebody hits him in the mouth he sheds his fancy manners and fights like a mugger. It was just a boxing match until Haugen hit him with a hard hook in the second round, breaking his nose. It was soon to be vintage barroom, with Pazienza dripping blood from his nose and the cut over his eye and Haugen somewhat bloodied by a cut under his left eye.
Haugen, counterpunching over Pazienza's picturesque but ineffective jab, built a solid lead through the first five rounds, but in the sixth Pazienza made him wince with a digging body shot, a stiff right hand. "That's it," Duva told Pazienza between rounds. "Walk in behind the jab, go low and then dig to the body. He doesn't like it there."
Pazienza—who fought the last three rounds with his left eye swollen shut—stayed with that strategy and scored well in the last rounds, although perhaps not as well as the judges' scores indicated. If this joust had been judged on courage alone, it would have been a draw. If it had been fought on the sawdust at Gussie's, the decision surely would have gone the other way.