From The Desk Of Kenny Rice
Sometimes there is something in a name.
Vinny Paz. Long ago he dropped the “ienza” from his surname, which still carried that sound of specialness. Sounds like a fighter. Sounds like someone who has done something of note. There was something he was born to do.
“I started fighting at 5 years years old. I watched Ali fight, I’ll never forget it. I knew that’s what I was going to do. I can’t hang on to ten bucks for the life of me, but I can fight,” Paz smiles, “Like Ali I was never knocked out. Knocked down, but never out.”
He lived up to it all. A 5 time world champion in the ring, who retired from boxing with 50 wins, 30 by way of knockout,. The second man, after Roberto Duran, whom he later beat twice, to win the lightweight and junior middleweight world titles.
That alone is worthy of a story, but it is what happened on what started as a routine day near his home in Cranston, Rhode Island, November 12, 1991 that has become the stuff a legend to the point Hollywood came calling.
Bleed For This is the movie coming out this fall. It stars rising talent Miles Teller, best known for his breakout performance in Whiplash, playing Vinny with the talented Aaron Eckhart as his trainer Kevin Rooney as well as always dependable veterans Kate Sagal and Ted Levine and is written and producer by a man known for turning out a hard hitting film, Ben Younger of Boiler Room fame.
Oh yes, the executive producer is the master of the tough guy movie, Martin Scorsese, who turned out one of the greatest fight films ever, Raging Bull.
Now back to that day in 1991, the reason for the movie. Paz was 29 and already a world champ, flamboyant , good looking and street wise, the quintessential tough guy everybody cheered for, at least most. The world ahead shined brightly but the road ahead on this day would change everything forever. The car he was riding in swerved to avoid an oncoming car, there was a violent crash. Rescue workers had to pry the door open to free the young champ. He remembers as vividly now as then as he talked with me for an upcoming Inside MMA feature from his home in Warwick.
“The pain shot through my body first then my neck, it felt like it was on fire,” Paz says sitting in front of the display case of his 5 championship belts. “I screamed don’t move me, my neck’s broke. I knew something wasn’t right immediately.”
His neck was broken and the doctor said he would never fight again, that even walking could be a challenge.
And now strike up the music, dissolve to a montage: Angry Vinny; Determined Vinny; Vinny wearing a shoulder halo to secure his neck, (turn away if you’re squeamish) as four screw are drilled into his skull; and now full blast soundtrack Vinny, three months later, in the gym, training hard as ever–and still wearing the halo.
“I looked like robotic man. Everyone looked at me. But then I thought ‘I got this, I’m cool.’ And I just kept training harder and harder.”
Thirteen months after the crash, after going through all the pain and yes, blood, including his “most excruciating” pain ever when the screws were removed from his skull, Paz was not only back but won and went on to rack up the world titles for the next decade as one of the most popular fighters of a generation. His fight was on TV, ratings went up.
It was too good to be true if it wasn’t for the fact that almost everything on the screen Paz claims is spot on. Even back in the Providence area gym twenty-five years ago, he thought maybe, someday, somebody will want to retell his story.
“After a month or so (of training), I thought this is unbelievable. One day Tom Cruise is going to playing me,” he laughs. Miles is now and does it perfectly.”
Around the house in addition to trophies, plaques the usual successful athlete fixtures, there are pictures, hundred and hundreds of them. An eclectic range from Vinny with Ali; Jay Leno; Hugh Hefner; Jerry Springer (he once was guest bouncer on his show); Donald Trump, (“I’m not saying I endorse him but I made him a lot of money fighting at his casino”); almost every athlete that’s passed through New England; and dozens of beautiful women, many with very personal autographs to Paz.
This tour gives understanding to a life that can’t be exaggerated. He’s met some people, been there done that, probably shouldn’t have done that, but down never out. Later that evening over dinner by a popular seafood spot on the water near his house, every other person it seems stops by or waves to Vinny. He acknowledges all. Most tell him they are excited about the movie.
He is as well. “It is an inspirational story. I believe everyone who sees it will feel that way. They did such a good job with it all. Miles is so good and he was perfect in the scene where they are taking the screws out and the doctor, such a nice guy but kinda of frail, I pushed out of the way when it first started because it hurt so bad,” he moves slightly back from the table and shakes his head as if amazed by his own life.
There is one thing in the movie that has been embellished according to Paz, and not what you would think. It involves a scene where he was in Atlantic City with an attractive woman, off course, nothing new here, but then he goes down to the casino in the middle of the night with $500 in his pocket assuring his date he would be back with much more. So far all true he says.
“Everything in the movie I did. If anything they under exaggerated, ” he laughs hard. “I came back to the room with $64,000 in chips and dumped them on the bed. In the movie Miles comes in and has only won $20,000. I told (director) Ben., “Hey I won $64,000′. He said “I know, I know Vinny but no one would believe that.’
“My life is so crazy it is under exaggerated.”
One worth seeing, definitely worth seeing.
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