Share This Page

Spadafora knows this championship bout can change his life

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 8:49 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Paul ‘The Pittsburgh Kid’ Spadafora works out at a media event at the Boilermakers Hall in Green Tree on Friday, November 22, 2013. Spadafora, who is 48-0 with 19 knockouts and one draw, is training for an upcoming WBA World title bout against Johan Perez on Saturday, Nov. 30 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Paul ‘The Pittsburgh Kid’ Spadafora works out at a media event at the Boilermakers Hall in Green Tree on Friday, November 22, 2013. Spadafora who is 48 (KO 19) and 0 with 1 draw, is training for an upcoming WBA World Title Bout against Johan Perez on November 30th at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Paul ‘The Pittsburgh Kid’ Spadafora works out at a media event at the Boilermakers Hall in Green Tree on Friday, November 22, 2013. Spadafora who is 48 (KO 19) and 0 with 1 draw, is training for an upcoming WBA World Title Bout against Johan Perez on November 30th at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Paul ‘The Pittsburgh Kid’ Spadafora, poses for a portrait at the Boilermakers Hall in Green Tree on Friday, November 22, 2013. Spadafora is training for an upcoming WBA World Title Bout against Johan Perez on November 30th at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Paul ‘The Pittsburgh Kid’ Spadafora poses for a portrait at Boilermakers Hall in Green Tree on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Paul ‘The Pittsburgh Kid’ Spadafora poses for a portrait at the Boilermakers Hall in Green Tree on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Spadafora is training for a WBA world title bout against Johan Perez on Saturday at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.

Paul Spadafora remains unbeaten in the ring, yet the McKees Rocks boxer has experienced profound loss.

A decade ago, before his bouts with legal problems and alcohol and drug addiction saw the former IBF world lightweight champion's life spiral out of control, Spadafora said he had $700,000, owned three houses and six automobiles.

“All them toys are gone,” Spadafora said. “It makes me sick. I can't lie about that because I didn't really lose it. I gave it away. I never thought that the money would stop, that well would dry up. Whatever I'm making is what I've got.”

Now Spadafora is on the brink of becoming a world champion again.

Spadafora (48-0-1, 19 knockouts) fights Johan Perez (17-1-1, 12 KOs) of Caracas, Venezuela, for the interim WBA world light welterweight belt Saturday night at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.

The fighter known as the modern-day Pittsburgh Kid, a nod to Billy Conn, is 38 years old and knows his career window is closing.

When he retires, Spadafora says, he wants to open a boxing gym and train fighters to become world champions.

“I look at everything,” Spadafora said. “Before, I had tunnel vision. Now, there's different options. When I decide to hang the gloves up, then I have to go open a gym and do what I do best. I'm no doctor or lawyer.”

No, but he has needed both.

After winning the world title at 23 and making eight defenses, his prime was spent going in and out of jail and rehabilitation centers.

Arrested for shooting his ex-girlfriend, he slipped into a cycle of abusing alcohol and drugs and violating parole.

“I was on a fast track,'' Spadafora said. “When you're living like that, your time is on the clock. It's any second. I was on a shelf.

“It took a long time for me to get back to normal. I'm obviously not getting crazy money, but this is going to lead to some. I'm in the position I'm in, and I have to take advantage of it.”

Trainer Tom Yankello, who has known Spadafora for 24 years, always believed he could return to form — if he got his mind right.

“I watched him develop as a fighter, got to know him as a person and to see him develop into a great fighter and world champion,” Yankello said. “To see him throw it away, not only in the boxing ring but his maturation as a person, was hard to watch.

“It's great to see him fighting for a world title again. I think he's rationalized what's happened in the past and doesn't want to go down that road again. If he gets that opportunity again, he'll have a much better grasp and understanding and not just throw it away.”

Spadafora knows a victory over Perez would be a stepping stone to greater things: a shot at signing with Oscar de la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, perhaps a fight against WBC light welterweight champion Danny Garcia and, hopefully, a long-awaited shot at pound-for-pound No. 1 Floyd Mayweather.

“The goal has always been Floyd Mayweather,” Spadafora said. “It's just Floyd. I tell everybody the only person that can change my life financially is Floyd.”

So, Spadafora knows what remains of his boxing career is riding on this fight. If he wins, he is a champion. If he loses, he's just an opponent.

Spadafora is leaving nothing to chance. That's why he added Buddy McGirt, who has trained a dozen world champions, to his corner.

In Spadafora, McGirt sees a “naturally gifted” fighter “who has had many fights and is still willing to learn.”

McGirt watched Spadafora fight only once as a world champion, when he recovered from a third-round knockdown to defeat Victoriano Sosa.

“He showed me a lot when he got back up and handled his business,” McGirt said. “That's what champions do. Champions come back from adversity. You've got to respect a guy like that.”

Yankello said he believes Spadafora has the same hunger he had in 1999, when he defeated Israel Cardona for the vacant IBF title, and “plays well in an underdog role.”

Spadafora doesn't want to play any role — underdog, comeback, redemption — except for that of champion.

“I feel like I came a long way from where I was,” Spadafora said. “That's what it is, proof that I came back and did it, proof that I came back from the dead. When I look in the mirror, I can't even believe that I'm healthy.

“To me, I won, regardless.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.