Wednesday, May 31, 2023  |


Spadafora: New chapter

Fighters Network

You could be forgiven for forgetting that Paul Spadadfora, the one-time IBF lightweight belt holder, has never lost a prize fight. He’s come close a couple times.

Bomb-throwing Victoriano Sosa had him down twice in one of the greatest fights ever aired on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights series, in 2000. Three years later Leo Dorin held him to a draw in a bloody, back-and-forth unification match on HBO.

But when he enters the ring in May in the latest leg of a comeback that has been characterized primarily by fits and starts, Spadafora, 41-0-1 (16 knockouts) will still be unbeaten.

Outside the ring? Another story. There he’s suffered myriad losses, virtually all of them self-inflicted.

You know the story by now. Spadafora was an inveterate drunk and partier when he shot his girlfriend, Nadine Russo, in the chest in a gas station parking lot in McKees Rocks, Penn. in October 2003.

She’d driven his Hummer over a median, flattening two of his tires. Wasted after a night of bar-hopping, he freaked out on her and she took his gun out of her purse “just to scare him,” she later testified. They struggled and she took a bullet in the chest.

It wasn’t the first incident caused in the main by Spadafora’s binge drinking and other addictions. It wasn’t even the last. But it was the most serious.

Goodbye IBF title. Goodbye freedom. Goodbye fans, big purses and good times. He was lucky the bullet didn’t kill Russo, or you wouldn’t be reading about him and his comeback.

When he was in prison afterward, he didn’t feel lucky.

“The hardest thing was not being able to fight anymore,” Spadafora told recently. ” It hurt me so bad. It was all I could think about when I walked around the yard or tried to exercise and stay busy.”

Spadafora is a free man today, more or less. He did time at Camp Hill Penitentiary and then Quehanna Boot Camp in Karthaus, Pa, then a halfway house. He’ll be on parole until Sept. 9 of this year.

Russo, Spadafora says, is out of his life for good; his choice. He’s moved out of his old neighborhood, away from his old friends and bad habits, out to Erie, Penn., near his long-time promoter Mike Acri.

Acri gave him the ultimatum when Spadafora was released: If he wanted to keep fighting, he had to move. Spadafora did it. He says it helps keep him clean.

“I was living life around a bunch of people who were always in trouble,” he said. “I’m not interested in being out there anymore. I’ve got help out here (in Erie). I go to meetings, and to church. The friends I have out here are ones I know from meetings. I went through such a tragedy in 2003 that nothing can bring me back to that kind of life.”

“I’m sober as hell. It’s been a long time and I’m ready to go. Being sober makes me want to fight.”

Spadafora’s 33 years old now, no longer a kid, and three fights into a comeback that has been delayed repeatedly by injuries. The latest one, a sprained ankle, knocked him out of a bout scheduled for the end of the month in Pittsburgh.

Some would interpret this spate of injuries — a knee injury requiring surgery, a post surgical infection, a cut lip, now the ankle — as nature’s way of saying it’s too late, kid, go find another trade and, while you’re at it, try to stay straight.

Spadafora doesn’t see it that way. They never do.

“I think the ankle injury would have happened if I was 20 or 30,” he said. “I just tripped on some steps. Accidents happen.” They do, but it was yet another delay in a long line of delays and fighters don’t have forever. Especially ones who have baggage.

“It’s been a very frustrating year with the injuries,” Acri said. “But we’re going to do this the right way. It would be very easy for us to get one or two fights and then tell everyone we’re ready. But Paul is a technician. He’s been able to keep his skills, his speed and his reflexes, but a technician needs fine tuning and you get that by fighting a lot.”

Spadadfora thinks he has five good years left; Acri tells him three. However long he has, his goals are clear.

“I just want to get out there and fight, and fight, and fight,” he said. “I want to make some money and give it to my kids so they have it someday when they need it. That’s all I care about. I’m not the guy I was before.”

He should hope that in the ring, he is the guy he was before. While never a pound-for-pound candidate, he was one of the brighter lights in American boxing.

“At his best, he was a thoroughbred. He could really box,” said HBO’s Max Kellerman. “He wasn’t a big puncher, and he wasn’t the fastest guy out there; he had OK speed. And he had good reflexes, but not great.

“To fight as he fought, right in front of his guy, using superior resolve and skill was really something. To me, that’s the highest level of boxing, requiring the most skill and courage.”

Finding the courage to do what it took to win in the ring was never a problem for Spadadfora. We’ll see if over the long term he has the courage to do what it takes to win outside the ring, too.

Some random observations from last week:

Congratulations to Roy Jones on his victory over Omar Sheika Saturday night. His business partners are already lining up venues they want to reserve for future press conferences, so if you have a Piggly Wiggly’s, Walmart or Laundromat franchise opening near you, give Square Ring Promotions a call. ÔǪ

I can’t imagine what Juan Carlos Gomez’s corner was waiting for when they let Vitali Klitschko tee off on him for the last three rounds of their fight in Germany on Saturday. Where will they be in 10 years when Gomez thinks his toaster is talking to him?ÔǪ

We’ve got to face it: We’ll never know for certain how much the Klitschkos’ dominance is due to their ability and how much is due to the pitiable state of heavyweight boxing. ÔǪ

When you consider Natasha Richardson died from a bump on the head she got during a skiing lesson, it becomes truly mind boggling that prizefighters aren’t dropping dead by the hundreds. ÔǪ

Looking through the schedule and finding Sam Peter-Eddie Chambers on ESPN2 is like walking into a “legitimate” massage parlor and finding out that, no, it’s the good kind. …

Kudos to ESPN too for picking up Klitschko-Gomez. But how important can boxing be to the network’s programming when Friday Night Fights is delayed 30 minutes by the NCAA Wrestling Championship? Which, for the uninitiated, is MMA with the cauliflower ears but without the punching and the bikini girls. …

Brian Kenny’s shadow boxing demonstration in the studio with Teddy Atlas was the funniest thing I’ve seen on ESPN since that Romanian power lifter snapped his elbow in half during the Olympics. The last guy I saw bust a move like that was Ed Norton. Kudos, Brian.

Bill Dettloff can be reached at [email protected]

Homepage photo courtesy of RJ Fiorenzo Photography</b<