Spadafora's son following in father's footsteps
TribLIVE Sports Videos
And, to some extent, he was.
Geno Spadafora, 9, is the son of former IBF lightweight champion Paul Spadafora, who in 1999 became the first Pittsburgh fighter in a half-century to win a world title.
“It feels awesome,” Geno said of being the son of a champ. “All the kids ask me about him. They say my dad's a great boxer.”
That Geno has followed his father into the ring is an old boxing story. So is Paul working his son's corner as trainer.
Yet theirs is a tale with a unique twist.
Geno is the child of Spadafora and Nadine Russo, the ex-girlfriend Paul shot in October 2003 outside a gas station in McKees Rocks.
Spadafora served a seven-month prison sentence and more jail time for subsequent probation violations, spoiling his prime fighting years.
“You know what?” said Spadafora, who has two daughters, Giovanna and Giana, with another woman. “Something great came out of it.”
Something that saved Paul.
Paul was Geno's age when his father, Silvio, died of a drug overdose at age 33.
Paul turned to others as father figures. One was his trainer, P.K. Pecora, whose initials Paul wore on his trunks. Another was his grandfather, Geno Polecritti, for whom Paul's son is named and “R.I.P. Pap” is tattooed on his right hand.
Both men died - Pecora in 1997, Polecritti in 2001 - before Paul's downward spiral.
By 2011, Paul said he was strung out and living in a squat house in Bloomfield when a friend, Mike Monz, prodded him to enter a rehabilitation center.
Getting better for Geno, Paul says, was his motivation.
Paul's family history explains his addiction to alcohol and drugs, along with his fear of abandonment. It's also why he never imagined living to see his 40th birthday.
Paul now envisions a post-boxing career as a trainer. And Geno is giving him the chance at the father-son relationship he never experienced as a child.
“That's nice, to have someone look forward to you coming home,” Paul said. “I never had that, except for my dogs.”
Geno is the spitting image of his mother. Otherwise he's Paul's mini-me. He loves basketball and boxing and mimics his dad's movements, rolling his shoulders and throwing five-punch combinations.
“I'm going to be a pro when I grow up,” Geno said.
“All I want to do is be there for my son,” he said. “I'm trying my hardest to make him a better guy. I don't want him to live like I did.”
To ease Geno into the sport, Paul had him fight several exhibitions this past spring against Jelani Saunders, son of Beltzhoover boxer Rayco Saunders. They agreed in advance that the result would be a draw.
“I always have a raised eyebrow when I see young people boxing, and the other eyebrow raises when I see fathers training their kids,” said Jimmy Cvetic, who runs the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League Golden Gloves. “But the father-son interaction, the communion and bond between those guys and their dads is nice to see. Paul's doing what fathers should do: take the time with your child.”
Still, Paul was worried before Geno's bout June 7 at Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill District. Paul warned Geno that his opponent, Saieed Reed of Cleveland, was older, taller and heavier. Paul instructed Geno to keep up his guard, use his jab and move his feet to stay out of harm's way. Geno appeared unfazed, saying, “I can go like this,” then jumped to swing at an imaginary taller target.
Paul laughed but confided he was a nervous wreck.
“I just want him to be OK, you know what I'm saying?” Paul said. “He likes to fight. But I can't control what he's going to do in there.”
Reed landed a left hook to Geno's face in the first round and wobbled Geno with a hard right in the second round. But Geno withstood the punches and fought back.
“I'm so proud of you,” Paul told Geno, kissing him before the referee announces the verdict, a split-decision defeat that left Geno in tears.
“That's hard, for a little kid to get knocked around like that in front of a crowd of people,” Paul said. “He's a tough kid. He's gritty. If he keeps doing what he does - if he wants to be a fighter - he's going to be pretty good.”
Just like his dad, the father who figures to always be in his son's corner.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Elites, media & character
- Burnett’s stellar start paves way for Pirates’ victory over Diamondbacks
- Pirates’ Cole reinforces status as emerging ace
- Rossi: Penguins’ best bet is on Martin
- Pitt AD Barnes has enjoyed varied career in college sports
- Spirit Airlines lifts fortunes of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
- Employees of Mercer County-based manufacturer among missing in Nepal
- Internal NBC News inquiry finds 11 fibs by anchorman Williams
- From injuries to front office, Penguins’ season didn’t lack drama
- Biertempfel: Observations from a day at the ballpark
- It’s business, but not as usual in Pittsburgh