Greg Haugen answered the telephone in his room at Caesars Hotel in Atlantic City at 8:04 p.m. Haugen's seven-year-old daughter, Jasmine, was calling from Las Vegas, where, because of the three-hour time difference, the telecast of Saturday's 15-round fight for the IBF lightweight title was just beginning. To many people in the West, Vinny Pazienza was still the champion. Jasmine knew that the fight was over but not that her father had reclaimed his title by unanimous decision.
"Hi, Honey. Did you dial this number all by yourself? You did?" said Haugen, the IBF champion of the East, Central and Mountain time zones. "Did you see me fight? Oh, it's just starting. Yeah, that's right. Well, I put the hurt on him. I broke his nose, and I messed up his eye. Yeah, I did good. Put Cassie on the telephone."
Cassie is Haugen's five-year-old daughter. There was a pause while the two sisters made the telephone transfer, then, "Hi, Cas. Daddy's coming home tomorrow. I got the belt back. I'm on TV now? How do I look?"
The answer to that last question from a ringside observer was: He looked unruffled and tough, sharp and savage, dominating and disciplined. Even Pazienza, who wrested the title from Haugen in a controversial decision last June 7, knew by the first round that he was in for a long and uncomfortable afternoon. "From the beginning he had my number." said Pazienza. "I could do nothing. I felt strong, and I wanted to knock him out. I didn't."
February 15, 1988
The difference between the two fights was Haugen's jab, which was an indifferent weapon the first time around but one that he landed 160 times in the rematch. Haugen's jab hurt and confused Pazienza, and rendered him incapable of assembling combinations. "I couldn't stop the damn thing," said Pazienza, who, in fact, could stop almost nothing that his opponent threw. Pazienza's twice-broken nose was further rearranged by a hook in the fifth round, the upper lid of his left eye was ripped open (and closed afterward with 14 stitches) by a right hand in the ninth, and his face was swollen and bruised by 45 minutes of punishment.
At the end, Pazienza looked much as he did after the first fight, which he was awarded in spite of taking a terrible battering. Haugen, now 21-1-1, is a solid puncher who nevertheless just can't seem to deliver a knockout blow. Fewer than half of his victories have been KOs.
Through the first nine rounds Pazienza's comanager and trainer, Lou Duva, screamed at his fighter to stop Haugen's punches. Pazienza, now 23-2 (he lost on a disputed TKO to Abdelkader Marbi in 1984), snapped at Duva just before going out for the 10th round: "I can't stop them, Lou. If you want them stopped, you go out and stop the goddam things."
"Oh. Well, you better knock him out then," replied Duva.
"I'm trying," said Pazienza. "I can't do that either."
Across the way, Haugen, much quicker and stronger than in the June fight, grinned at them both. There is genuine animosity between the two camps, although there was little of the prefight fireworks that went off during their first meeting in Providence, a stone's throw from Pazienza's hometown of Cranston.
"Duva threatened me there," said Haugen. "All I said was that I had ordered a stretcher to carry Vinny out of the ring; that I had ordered a stretcher to carry Vinny's father, Angelo, out of the ring; and that I had ordered two stretchers to carry Duva out of the ring, because he's so fat. Then Duva said if I won I'd never get out of Providence alive. Now I consider that a threat. By the 13th round in that fight I wasn't thinking about Vinny; I was wondering how I was going to get out of town."
This time the closest the two fighters came to exchanging heated words was at a press conference after Haugen said, innocently enough, that he was there to reclaim his championship belt.
"The only belt you are going to get is the one I give you after the fight," said Duva. "My own cowboy belt."
"I can use that to tow my car," replied Haugen with a glance at Duva's waistline. Then Pazienza threw a red pacifier down before his seated challenger. "Here," he said. "Instead of crying after the fight, you can suck on this."
Tame stuff, that. Nobody even raised a threatening fist. Pazienza, no doubt, was more concerned with his own weight. He was carrying 160 pounds at Christmas, and he had cut that to 143, eight pounds over the lightweight limit, four days before the fight. His diet for the last month was mostly liquid.
At the press conference two days before the fight, Angelo spotted his son slipping four chocolate-covered cherries into his pockets. "What are you doing?" Angelo cried in alarm. "Aw, I'm not going to eat them," Vinny replied. "I just want to carry them in my pocket until after the weigh-in." Pazienza was less than happy when his father confiscated the miniature sweets.
After the weigh-in for the first fight, Pazienza had gorged himself on green apples, bananas, raisins and juices, and was almost sidelined by a crippling attack of diarrhea. This time Duva had imported Tim Hallmark, Pazienza's conditioning coach in Houston, to supervise his charge's prefight food intake.
Under Hallmark's watchful eye, the champion dined sparingly after Friday night's weigh-in on bland noodles, green apples and a powdered fluid supplement mixed with water. On Saturday, the menu was lean turkey, oatmeal, one dry pancake and wheat toast. "He wanted to put syrup on his pancake," said Hallmark. "But that is why I was there, to slap his hand."
"What a terrible diet," said Haugen, who came in lean and strong after undergoing a conditioning program designed by Las Vegas physical therapist Keith Kleven, Larry Holmes's former fitness coach. As a result, while Pazienza's plate was nearly empty, in the days leading up to the fight Haugen dined on linguini and clams, spaghetti with meat sauce, eggplant, and eggs Benedict, and consumed a large bowl of strawberries just before the bout.
Pazienza saw destiny in his diet. "I was sick before the first fight," he said, "and because I was weak it made me box more, and I won. This time I felt strong, and I thought I could knock him out. I had no defense, and defense is an important part of my game. Lou told me to jab, but I didn't use my head. I have no excuses. He fought an excellent fight, and I didn't fight well at all."
The officials agreed with Pazienza. Two judges, Stuart Winston and Gary Merritt, scored the fight 147-138, while judge Lynne Carter had it closer, but not by much, at 145-140.
"I think a big difference was that while Pazienza hadn't had a fight since last June, Greg was not afraid to take a tune-up fight to stay sharp," said Haugen's manager, Wes Wolfe. On Dec. 16 Haugen stopped Derrick McGuire, a 14-5 fighter, in the sixth round. For that he earned just $5,000.
"It certainly wasn't the money." said Wolfe, laughing. "Sure we knew that we were risking a $140,000 payday and another shot at the title. But as Greg said, 'If I can't beat this guy, I don't deserve a fight with Pazienza.' And it took him three rounds [against McGuire] to shake the rust out. Rust that you didn't see against Pazienza."
At 11 p.m. in Atlantic City, Haugen and his friends were dining at a restaurant called Orsatti's. The TV fight had finally hopscotched across the country, and Haugen was the IBF champion everywhere. In Las Vegas, tired but content, Jasmine and Cassie were going to bed.