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Vinny Paz has had a lot of ups and downs in his life. Most of the ups have come within the boxing ring, while many down came outside of it. Paz, formerly Vinny Pazienza, legally changed his name in 2001 because of a lot of those downs. “Pazienza was my slave name,” Paz said. “A lot of bad things happened to me when I had that name.”

Vinny Paz’s early boxing days

In the 80s, Vinny Pazienza was a tough-as-nails boxer out of Cranston, R.I. He became nationally known after his 1987 bout with Greg Haugen for the IBF lightweight title. Known as the ‘Pazmanian Devil,’ Pazienza outlasted Haugen in 15 rounds to capture the title. The two met two more times with Haugen reclaiming the title soon after, and then Pazienza winning the rubber match three years later.

In 1991, Pazienza moved up to the junior middleweight division. In his first junior middleweight fight, Pazienza defeated Ron Amundsen in a 12-round bout. He then went on to defeat WBA junior middleweight champion Gilbert Dele in a 12th-round TKO in front of his hometown fans in Providence, R.I.

The victory over Dele made Pazienza only the second boxer to ever capture both the lightweight and junior middleweight boxing world championships. Pazienza, however, had to relinquish the junior middleweight title soon thereafter because he was involved in a serious car accident that broke his neck and threatened to end his boxing career.

Pazienza suffers broken neck in automobile accident

Vinny Paz is a stubborn guy. He doesn’t listen to what others say. He does his own thing and sometimes that gets him in trouble and sometimes it works to his advantage. In November of 1991, Vinny Pazienza saw his life flash before his eyes as he was involved in a serious car accident in which he suffered a broken neck. Doctors said he would never box again. Pazienza didn’t listen.

Even early in his career, his legendary manager Lou Duva suggested Pazienza find something else to do after he was beaten badly by Roger Mayweather (uncle of Floyd Jr.). “I didn’t listen to people, and it’s a good job I didn’t,” said Paz in 2016.

“If I’d listened to people, I never would have won the world title in the first place. Who knows where I’d be right now. Maybe a bartender someplace. And if I’d quit after losing to Mayweather, I’d never have won a world title again.”

Vinny Paz

The stubbornness carried over to the doctors who told Pazienza his boxing career was over. “Doctor, you’re wrong,” he said. “You don’t understand what kind of man I am. “No-one thought I would fight again but sometimes it’s not as hard as people make it seem. So I was always going to give it one hell of a try. I just wasn’t ready to call it quits.”

The remarkable comeback

After the accident, Vinny Pazienza had a ‘halo’ that consisted of four screws drilled in his skull to help limit the mobility of his neck. That didn’t stop him as he began working out within three months, again against his doctor’s wishes. “I never went against the doctor’s wishes,” he said, “I just didn’t tell him what I was doing.”

Pazienza returned to the ring 13 months after the accident and defeated Luis Santana in a 10-round decision. He went on to win the vacant IBO middleweight world title in 1993 with a knockout-win over Dan Sherry. Pazienza went on to defeat Roberto Duran twice. In 1995, he lost to Roy Jones Jr., but bounced back to hand Dana Rosenblatt his first loss in 1996.

Vinny Paz fought his final fight in 2004, defeating Tocker Pudwell in a 10-round unanimous decision. For his career, Pazienza went 50-10, winning 30 of his bouts by knockout. A 2016 film, Bleed for This, details his comeback from a broken neck.

“The coolest thing is people saying, ‘if Vinny Paz did what he did, I can too,'” he said. “It’s always great when you’re in a coffin, nobody thinks you can get out and you prove everyone wrong. Whatever that thing is – winning that world title, getting that job, learning that language – you’ve got to work to make it happen.”