Although I am proud to tell people I won the WBF World Super Cruiserweight Champion in 1986, my story was somewhat of a sad one at one time. It’s also a story of a person who went through hell, several times, and came out on the other side to make something of himself. I was shot, stabbed, poisoned, and had my Cadillac blown up when I was supposed to be in it, but nothing and no one could kill me, or stop me from reaching my goal.
While the World Boxing Federation (WBF) no longer recognizes the Super Cruiserweight division, and Boxrec.com refuses to create a new category just for me, I am happy that 107 pro fights, 94 wins, and KO’s culminated in that title.
Born on July 10, 1955, I grew up in East Boston, Massachusetts. Both my parents were homosexuals, and only married each other to appease normal society practices. And their relationship wasn’t exactly a good foundation on which to build a happy family.
To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t wish my childhood on Hitler. My father was a violent alcoholic, and both physically and sexually abused me and my siblings at times, but mostly me. And my mother didn’t bother to do anything about it. To make matters worse, my father also allowed his gay friends to repeatedly molest me even when young, and the overall horrors of my childhood marked me for life.
But through the adversity, turmoil and abuse, I found a way to triumph, and believe with help, anyone can overcome anything. With a father who could only be called “a monster”, I experienced things that would totally destroy most people, but ironically it was that monster who got me into boxing and paved the way for my first love…Boxing.
My father had this dream about me being a champion, and he would always tell whatever bartender was available to listen, that his son “was going to be a champion one day.”
One time the bartender told him to take me upstairs to the New Garden Gym. There we were climbing three flights of stairs, and on each landing my father took a swig of Seagram’s Seven (whiskey) from a bottle he had in his back pocket.
We got to the fourth floor, in front of a very large aluminum sliding door that had a giant racket going on behind it. We open the door and there were two black fellas boxing, three Puerto Rican fighters hitting heavy-bags, and a couple of white fighters skipping rope. It was a bee hive of activity.
My father sat and passed out on a rubdown table. I was so happy (he passed out), because I thought he was gonna put me in with those black fellas. They were hitting hard, fast and with precision. When the bell rang to end the round, the two black fellas hugged each other and kissed each other on the cheek.
People at ringside gave compliments and encouragement. A strong light glowed within me. It was my first experience with love. It showed on my face, because one of the trainers, a guy named Freddie Small, said: “Hey kid! You want to do this?”
I said, “I would love to but I have no money”. Freddie replied: “Show up, and that’s payment enough.”
And show up I did. I started training, and eventually developed enough skills that after less than twenty amateur bouts I was contacted by none other than the legendary Angelo Dundee. Trainer of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, Dundee knew potential when he saw it, and he saw it when he watched me win a tournament in Florida.
Dundee started sending me letters, believing we could do great things together and asking me to join his camp in Miami. When I left the Navy in 1972, I took Dundee up on his offer and went to Florida to turn professional, still only seventeen years old.
I made my paid debut as a Middleweight on October 10, 1972, promoted by Angelo´s brother Chris Dundee, at the Auditorium in Miami Beach. He stopped a solid journeyman Victor Taco Perez (7-10-1) in five rounds, and before my nineteenth birthday I had raced to a 17-0 (7 KO) record, and had several ten rounders on my record. A lot of this was due to the tutelage of Angelo, but also my cornerman, Chuck Talhami, who had numerous world champions even after I stopped fighting.
Among my victims were respectable foes such as Terry Daniels (31-10-1) and Baby Boy Rolle (33-8-2), but I was thrown in too deep when I was matched in a non-title fight reigning WBC World Middleweight Champion Rodrigo Valdez (53-4-2) in October of 1974.
Knowledgeable boxing followers say for being only nineteen years old, I handled myself pretty well against the much more experienced, harder punching and more technically sound Colombian, showing true grit in losing a ten-round unanimous decision at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York. At the same time, I was upset because Angelo was in Zaire working the Rumble in the Jungle with Ali. The absence was demoralizing, although it also took the heat off of my loss, nobody was paying attention to much more than Africa.
Having lost my unblemished record, the Valdez fight was the start of a two-year rough patch in my boxing career. Not that it was ever going to seriously discourage my, but I only managed to win three of my next eight outings, between November 1974 and August 1976.
After beating Chucho Garcia (95-33-6) in my first fight back, I lost a decision to undefeated Tony Licata (47-0-3), and only got a draw in a fight that many felt I won against “Bad” Bennie Briscoe (50-14-1) at the Spectrum in the perennial contenders hometown of Philadelphia.
I would have had to kill him to win, I told the Los Angeles Times in a 1986 interview.
They’d give him a draw from a stretcher.
In his very next fight I was again wronged, in the opinion of many, when I lost a razor-thin (45-46, 45-46, 45-47) decision over ten rounds to future WBC and WBA World Champion Vito Antuofermo (31-1-1) at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Vito had left the ring when they announced the decision.
In August of 1965 he lost again, this time to Gene Wells (35-10-2), but then he finally got back in the swing of things and went 23-1-1 in the next three years, finally lining up a rematch with Briscoe.
But my manager wouldn’t let me out of a match against a little known fighter (at the time) called Marvin Hagler. I boxed a 1000 rounds against him at the Petronelli’s gym, and never lost one second. Certain individuals wanted me to lay down in the first round, but I refused, asking them to let me fight for the title and let the fight with Hagler be the first defense. They would not let me out of the match with Hagler, so I went into hiding. Other fighters have pulled out on fights, but for some reason, all the boxing commissions across the US suspended my license.
I was at my wits end when I ran into Frank Sinatra, who loved me as well as my fighting style. He took me under his wing, and sent me up to Canada to fight while he straightened matters out in the rest of the world. There is a big discussion online about the video of Sinatra from his “Sinatra and Vegas” DVD, with people wondering how Sinatra, who would hardly shake hands, was alternatively punching at and hugging Vinnie. Few people know Sinatra was also abused as a child, and a large portion of his fortune when he passed went to abused kids. When I was in the dressing room in Montreal, after beating one of Canada’s best, Eddie Melo, I got a wire from Sinatra congratulating me, and telling me I was reinstated in the U.S.
On December 15 1980, in my original hometown of Boston, I put the record straight as I out-boxed Briscoe (64-20-5) at the Hynes Auditorium to win a clear, and well-deserved, unanimous decision after ten rounds. Looking back at the fight, I am totally satisfied. He was by far my toughest opponent. You couldn’t hurt him with a bazooka, so my plan was to box my ass of all night. And I did, and won! But, despite having proved his worth, it would be another three-and-a-half years before I got a title-shot.
After the rematch with Briscoe, I racked up another nine victories to take my professional record to 53-5-3 (21), and was awarded with a shot at the WBC Continental Americas Light Heavyweight title against the capable Mark Frazie (27-4) in Miami on August 25, 1984.
I beat Frazie by a twelve-round decision, and despite being a title-holder, albeit of a minor championship, at Light Heavyweight, I became highly ranked by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) at Super Middleweight and got his first crack at world-glory the following year. After the aforementioned Mark Frazie fight in 1984, I was approached by a spectator, who turned out to be a producer of the hit TV show Miami Vice, starring Don Johnson. The producer asked me to make an appearance on the show. I got my first acting gig, playing the role of bodyguard to the character of Bruce Willis.
This was the start of a new career, and over the years I had several roles in movies and TV shows. I also have written several movie scripts, one of which is my life story.
In June of 1985, Chuck Talhami and I traveled all the way to Seoul, South Korea to challenge reigning IBF world champion Chong-Pal Park (37-3-1), and everything went according to plan. Except for the decision of the judges:
I was the elite contender for the title, but no one wanted to promote the fight for me in the United States, so I had to take the shot (in South Korea). I clearly out-pointed him, but didn’t get the decision in his hometown.
The three judges scored the fifteen-round fight in Park´s favor by 144-142, 146-141 and 146-139. The last two cards suggested a relatively clear win for Park, but the controversy was significant enough to warrant a rematch, which was eventually set for The Sports Arena in Los Angeles in June of 1986.
With three victories in the interim, I entered the second fight with Park confident that in the USA I would not be denied by the judges again, but this time it would not go the distance.
I was still suffering from wanting NOT to win to punish my father. I was ahead on two of the cards, but gave up in the fifteenth round to Park. His name alone gave me a black eye.
The second defeat to Park appeared to be the beginning of the end of my fighting career, especially after two more losses (including one from an undiagnosed broken neck due to a car accident). After a No-Contest my career looked to be over in 1991. But three years later he decided to make a comeback, as a Cruiserweight.
At the same time, I had begun a career as a stand-up comedian. Making fun of myself and helping others to lighten up seemed to lift some of my burden. I was offered a chance to finally have a world championship fight by Jose Sulaimon and his son. I had to win five fights between November 1994 and July 1996, but lost one from a horribly unjust decision against journeyman Ernie Valentine (16-22-1) in Boise, Idaho in July 1995. I won’t blow the surprise, but a small miracle gave me a second chance, and in September of 1996, I got the opportunity to fight for the WBF World Super Cruiserweight title, and took it with both hands.
At 41-year-old, I defeated Jimmy Haynes (8-3-1) for the title, and finally achieved his dream of becoming a world champion. While the Super Cruiserweight division (190 Lbs. – 200 Lbs.) never really “caught fire” and was short-lived, the accomplishment means a lot to me. For the first time as a fighter I got the respect I should have gotten twenty years earlier.
The movie about my life was all set to go into production some years ago, starring Mark Wahlberg as Vinnie, Robert De Niro as Angelo Dundee and Vinnie me playing the part of my father. However, titled “Out On My Feet”, the film fell apart when the financing fell apart. I have had much interest in developing his story for both movies and TV series.
As mentioned earlier, this bio is not close to covering the amazing circumstances of my life and a movie should certainly be made if there is any justice in this world. I just finished writing my autobiography for WildBlue Press, and early readers have told me it is a very interesting read, not only for boxing fans.
I can finally talk about about my relationships with mobsters like Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, among others, and how I was once managed by Sylvester Stallone, later by the owners of the Mustang Ranch in Reno.
Married six times, I have seven kids. If you look up the word divorce in the dictionary, you will see a picture of me holding up two signs, one that says “Will work for birth-control”, and the other saying “Eating is a tough habit to break.”
Since then, I have developed a system for training youth through Sports, Education and Career Guidance, and Emotional Healing that the I implanted out of a funky gym in Sylmar, California. When I started to see that 95% of the kids lives turned completely around for the better, with zero funding, I decided to join forces with boxers and philanthropists around the world who think we have to start to change the world from the kids up. The organization is being completed now, and will be launched in mid 2019. Interest is also being shown for my life story or a series.
I can’t wait to see how the coming years unfold.