Reported by:S. L. Compton
Paul Spadafora burst on the scene in 1999 with an upset win over Isreal Cardona for the IBF lightweight championship vacated by Shane Mosley. Since then Spadafora has prove to be one of bxings busiest fighters tallying six title defenses and two non title fights.
Paul hails from Pittsburgh, PA., that coupled with his uncanny resemblance to Billy Conn has garnered him the nickname, The Pittsburgh Kid.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Paul Spadafora by phone at his training camp in Erie, PA.
What struck me about Paul was his absolute passion for the sport of boxing and more importantly his desire to prove that he is a great fighter not only to the fans but also to himself. He is one of the most personable celebrities I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with and he genuinely comes across as incredibly approachable and down to earth.
His honesty and willingness to praise fighters who are considered possible opponents (in an age where trashing the opponent is the norm) was nothing short of a breath of fresh air. Paul Spadafora, to put it simply, personifies how a champion should conduct himself in and out of the ring.
Here is what he had to say:
SC- What part of Pittsburgh are you from?
PS- McKees Rocks, its not too far from where Harry Greb is from.
SC- When did you start boxing?
PS- 1992, I had 85 amateur fights and only lost 5.
SC- How has being a fighter from Pittsburgh helped you? Or hindered you?
PS- I think it helped my career. I think everything about being from Pittsburgh helped my career. I think when I bring it back to Pittsburgh I get energy; believe it or not I get energy from the crowd. Like when I walk into the stadium, ninety percent of the people are there for me. It makes you want to, look, when I’m training like right now, when I get into the deeps of training I think about that a whole bunch and think about walking down that aisle and I think about not letting those people down, not letting anyone in that crowd down. Those people haven’t really had anyone come out of there (Pittsburgh) since those guys like Harry Greb and Billy Conn and I’m trying to put that back in there and let everyone know that we can fight like that, people from Pittsburgh can fight its just that the opportunity hasn’t been coming around too much.
SC- You had to pull out of your most recent scheduled fight due to health concerns. Tell our readers what was wrong and tell them how you are doing now.
PS- I just had ulcers, I’m all good now. I’m back in training right now.
SC- Do you have any immediate plans as far as your career is concerned.
PS- I’m going to fight a kind of tune-up bout in October and then the plan is to have one last fight at 135 against Floyd Mayweather and move up to 140 because I cant make this weight like I used to.
SC- You were initially considering fighting WBO lightweight champ Artur Grigorian but that deal was reportedly cancelled because HBO balked at Grigorians asking price, then you were scheduled to fight Stephano Zoff. Grigorian criticized you for fighting Zoff instead of him and stated that Zoff wasn’t much of an opponent, how does it make you feel now that he (Grigorian) is fighting Stefano Zoff after his criticism of you?
PS- I’ll tell you what I think, I think its bull. That guy Grigorian just wanted to get his name in the papers and get a little publicity and it really makes me mad that he disrespected me like that. He doesn’t even know me and I sure don’t know him so he should treat me with the respect that a champion deserves and not saying all that stuff about me in the papers.
SC- Who do you think wins the Grigorian-Zoff fight?
PS- To be honest with you I’ve never seen any of those guys fight. I will say this: Grigorian is undefeated and you don’t stay undefeated by being a bum. He obviously has talent because everybody has a bad night you know? Even great fighters have a bad night and lose so for a guy to be undefeated no matter if he?s fightin in Europe or here in the USA then you cant call him no bum.
SC- Is Grigorian still in your plans?
PS- Not really, I want Mayweather and then I’m leaving 135, if I don?t get Mayweather I’m leaving 135.
SC- Grigorian fought Raul Balbi and gave him a pretty good beating and Balbi recently fought two pretty good fights against Leonard Dorrin (I felt Balbi won the first fight with Dorrin) what are your impressions of Dorrin who is now the WBA champion?
PS- I know Dorrin is a good fighter because I used him in sparring for Cardona. I know he can fight. He’s a tough guy but I’ve got all the sparring sessions on tape and I handled him real well.
SC- Leonard Dorrin is one of those guys you love to fight. A guy who comes straight at you, someone you don’t have to look for. How do you see a fight between you and him shaping up?
PS- That’s exactly what I like (laughs). He had problems with me in the gym, real bad problems, but you know that’s the gym. It’s just like Mayweather and me when we fought in the gym. It’s a totally different thing. The gym and the ring aint nothin, the gym and the ring aren’t even the same they are two different things because I’ve had bad days in the gym when guys took it out on me but I know that in the ring if we fought it would be a totally different story.
SC- Do your people consider Dorrin a viable opponent?
PS- My promoter Mike (Acri)always talks about stuff like that. Like what could we do? and he always brings up guys like that, guys like Leonard Dorrin, even guys like Stevie Johnston. I’m just waiting you know what I’m sayin, I’m just ready to go. The main guy to me is Mayweather because I can’t stay around this weight any more. I want to fight Mayweather SO bad. Just to see for myself if I could win.
SC- So you want to test yourself?
PS- I might as well. If I’m getting out of this weight class and they say he’s the best I would like to fight the best and then move up.
SC- I admire that you’re willing to admit that you’re not the best in your division until you’ve fought and beaten the best.
PS- Everything else would be a lie. I would be lying to you if I said I was the best, I don’t lie to nobody.
SC- Lets talk about Floyd Mayweather and Jose Luis Castillo. I personally thought Castillo won their first fight who do you think won that fight?
PS- I think it was a good fight, but here’s what I think; Castillo was the champion, you shouldn’t beat the champion and take his belt like that, it could have been a draw. It could have gone either way. I was very, very surprised. EXTREMELY surprised.
SC- You were surprised by Castillo’s performance or Mayweathers?
PS- No, I was surprised by the decision. I was at the fight, I couldn’t believe what was going on.
SC- So you thought Castillo won?
PS- I thought Castillo won because he was the champion but if Castillo hadn’t been the champion then I would say if anyone won Mayweather won by about 1 point.
SC- Based on the old unwritten rule in boxing that says if a champion isn’t KO’d or convincingly beaten that his title shouldn’t change hands. That’s what your basing your opinion on correct?
PS- Exactly, exactly.
SC- Who do you think will win the rematch?
PS- I think Mayweather is going to beat him. Mayweather can change but Castillo cant. So Mayweather can change his whole game. I’ve seen too many skills when I watch him fight. It seems to me that Castillo’s got one dimension. Guys can be beat like that I’m tellin you. People like him because he’s a hard puncher and he keeps coming and the crowd loves that but a guy like that can be beat. If you box a guy there’s no tellin what that kid can do. If a guys ploddin? forward all he’s tryin to do is sit down and land one big punch and those guys can be beat.
SC- You and Floyd have been hyping up a match between the two of you and you have some nice history for promotion concerning the now famous sparring session between you two. If Floyd loses will that affect a possible match between you two in any way or would you forget that all together and go for Castillo?
PS- Id rather fight Mayweather. Style wise Mayweather will give me a much harder time. I think Castillo is an easier fight for me. I want to fight Mayweather because I don’t like the way he disrespected me in my face when I was down in Vegas. I don’t like the way he talks about me. I take that stuff personal. There’s no reason why he should disrespect me and call me what he does and act like that when he’s supposed to be a champion and he’s already makin all that money. He should have a little bit more respect for a real champion. I just want to fight him person against person I don?t care if it’s in my yard.
SC- Who or what else is on the agenda of Paul Spadafora?
PS- I’m going up to 140 immediately.
SC- Are you after Kostya Tszyu?
PS- That would be something right there.
SC- You sound like your really excited about that.
PS- I cant even really put his name in my mouth you know what I’m sayin? I’m not going to sit here and even talk about the guy but that would be a dream come true if I could put his name in my mouth.
SC- How do you feel about him as a fighter?
PS- He’s a great fighter.
SC- If you get this fight with Mayweather or even if you don’t, when do you anticipate going up to 140?
PS- I’m going right up. I’m going to make 135 for this next fight, Floyd Mayweather after that, then I’m leavin this weight class to try and start a new career at 140. It aint fun for me no more to fight at this weight, I don’t have no fun, I don’t look forward to training, I don’t look forward to camp, I hate it. Its also ruining my performances, I fought Manfredy and I was so weak. I sat in a steam room for three hours before the weigh in and it took away from my performance I was all defense for that and that’s not the fighter I am.
SC- What do you walk around at in terms of weight?
SC- Your kidding
PS- Not at all.
SC- That’s not healthy.
PS- No it’s not healthy at all. Right now I’ve been doing good for this next fight. I’ve been walking around at about 150 and that’s real good for me. Right now I’m 147 pounds.
SC- You’ve been fighting for seven years now and your only 27 how much longer do you anticipate staying in the game?
PS- I just had a little girl I want to make sure I have my brains. I would like to fight until I don’t love it anymore. When I get sick of it, when I get tired of walking out in front of crowds in Pittsburgh, that’s when I want to quit. You know what I want to do? I want to be a REAL fighter like Harry Greb, like those guys. Those guys are great fighters, they fought everybody and I want everybody to know that Ill fight anybody, any place, any time, just tell me when and Ill be there to fight. That’s what I want to do I want to fight everybody that’s good and then Ill hang it up. I already won a world title. I want to get a little more money to put in my bank and I want to fight everyone of those guys that people say are great fighters. I want to see for MYSELF if I’m that good. That’s all I want to do. It wouldn’t let me down to fight these guys and lose. I wouldn’t be hurt because I gave it my best.
SC- Lets move away from boxing now. What kind of stuff interests you in your free time when you’re not in the gym?
PS- I like to be back at home with all my friends.
SC- Are you interested in other sports
PS- I used to love basketball and football but I don’t really watch it all that often anymore. I’m not that big of a fan anymore because I’m concentrating on boxing. Once you’re in a sport, after you’ve come from nothin and your making money off it, it’s your job, and it’s like you don’t really care to watch sports all the time. You don’t really feel like watching those guys anymore.
SC- So you’re saying it’s sort of like watching someone go to work and sit at his desk all day?
SC- Are you married?
PS- I have a girl and a baby. I’m not married but I’ve got a girl and a baby.
SC- How has that affected your career having to manage a boxing career and a baby?
PS- I just had her a month and a half ago.
PS- I love it. It’s going to keep me out of trouble when boxing is all over.
SC- So you’re the family man type?
PS- Yes, I love my little girl. Where I live at, I’m still where I’ve always lived. I’m right where I used to live. I just bought a nicer house here and I’ve remodeled it the way I like it and that’s where my home is.
SC- You’ve stayed close to your people?
PS- Exactly, but what I’m saying is I haven’t had a baby to keep me as a man of the people and to stay with my family. Now I have something to think about when boxing is all over. When boxing is over you’ve got all this time on your hands and what are you going to do? So what I’m going to do is try to get enough money now for my daughter every day to help pay for her school and stuff like that.
SC- Has having a new daughter affected your boxing career in any way or your focus?
PS- It makes me stronger. Not with my skills or anything like that but it will give me a reason to get off the canvas whenever you’re down.
SC- One of the most poignant things I’ve seen on TV was an interview on ESPN with your grandfather who was terminally ill at the time and he talked about just enjoying life and being glad that he was given that time to enjoy watching his grandson fight. He passed away shortly after that fight, what kind of an impact did he have on your life and what kind of an impact has his passing had on your career?
PS- Me and my grandpa were so close. It hurt me for a while. When he passed away it did some real damage. I was messed up because I loved him. I loved him so much.
SC- Was he one of your main supporters when you decided to go into boxing?
PS- He used to wake me up at six in the morning everyday to go running when I was an amateur. EVERYDAY. You know what he used to tell me? He used to make me so mad, he used to say I wasn’t going to be a good amateur but I was going to be a good pro. My brother Harry was a GREAT amateur. He was rated about number three in the country.
SC- Why didn’t he ever turn pro?
PS- He was going to turn pro but he ended up having a kid and when you have a kid that early in your career the money isn’t all that good so he ended up having to do other things.
SC- You won your championship after Shane Mosley vacated the title. What are your thoughts on Mosley moving up and losing to Forrest who was the biggest guy he has ever faced and now saying he will move up to 154, do you feel Shane should have stayed in the lower weight classes such as 140 or do you think he has the ability to compete with men who walk around at 175-180 pounds?
PS- No doubt he should have stayed in the lower classes. If he moves up to 154 he will be in serious trouble. Vernon Forrest limited everything Mosley did because he was physically stronger and Shane couldn’t do anything because of that difference. If he moves up to 154 he will run into bigger guys like Vargas. When you fight guys like that, they may not be as skilled as Vernon Forrest or De La Hoya who Mosley beat but it’s a whole different level when you put on that weight.
SC- Paul I want to thank you for giving the fans and myself this time and I want to wish you luck in the future.
PS- It was nice talkin to you Steve. Thanks a lot.
I wish Paul all the luck in the future; he deserves every bit of it. I would also like to think Mike Acri and Greg Thompson for making this interview possible.