Spadafora knows this championship bout can change his life

Kevin Gorman
| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 8:49 p.m.

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 or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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