Vinny Paz struts into the charity fundraiser for the special olympics at the Rhode Island Convention Center in a slick, gray pinstripe suit, with gold hoop earrings in his ears. He wears a big silver cross around his neck and an outrageously oversize watch on his arm. Fans greet him immediately, forming a circle, asking for autographs and a photo with Rhode Island’s own, the skinny kid from Cranston who became a five-time world-boxing champion.
Paz flashes a big grin and begins signing. It seems like the old days, when he was the first prince of Providence, before Buddy Cianci beautified the capital and before Peter Manfredo Jr. became the toast of the town. Paz was the drawing card of the nation’s smallest state, the center of attention far and wide.
It’s been nearly two years since Paz, now 42, won his fifth and last fight, and while the adulation endures, it masks a bout with perhaps his greatest foe: himself. Last fall, Paz declared personal bankruptcy, citing $2.2 million in debts. The creditors include the federal government, the State of Rhode Island, credit-card companies, two Las Vegas casinos, and some of his closest friends.
Paz says he has no regrets.
“What can you do?” he says. “That was then, this is now — you know what I mean? I don’t cry about shit. You can’t. Life goes on, no matter what.”
The Chapter 7–bankruptcy papers show Paz’s assets totaling $383,000, most of it the value of his ranch house in Warwick. His earnings for the year to that point were $12,000. “That’s one of my biggest problems,” he says. “I don’t give a fuck about money.”
For 21 years the Pazmanian Devil boxed, and he got rich from it. He grossed about $6 million (about 40 percent went to his promoter and trainer). It was money that came in such magnificent bunches it seemed almost unreal. And he spent it in epic fashion, on girls, booze, casino gambling, and cherished friends whom he took along for the ride.
It’s nothing novel, the rise and fall of boxers — whether consumed by their own success and excess, or victimized by others who crash the party and leave. But Paz seemed to recognize all along that he was on one super-size ride, and it didn’t matter too much how it ended. “If I could’ve taken every penny he earned,” says his long-time promoter, Jimmy Burchfield Sr., “he would never have to work another day in his life. You know, he lived to have a good time, and to make his friends happy. It was reckless. It was just as reckless as he fought in the ring.”
A ticket to the high life
Vincent Edward Pazienza first put on gloves at age six. At 14, he saw the movie Rocky and decided that boxing would be his ambition. He was a bull in the ring, getting bloodied but remaining unbowed. The 5’ 8” Paz amassed a 50-10 record and won titles in three weight classes, from 135 to 168 pounds. He fought some of the best boxers of the day, including Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier Jr., Hector Camacho, and Roy Jones Jr.
Greg Vartanian was 20 — six years older than Paz — when he became Paz’s first sparring partner, but he remembers how the “skinny little kid” would persevere. Within a few years, Paz was a big local draw. “He was like a superstar. Nobody could touch him,” recalls Vartanian. The young right-handed pug quickly rose through the ranks, winning the national amateurs in 1981, going pro in 1983, and bagging his first title four years later. The stout-hearted slugger who refused to lose went on to fight in Atlantic City, Vegas, Puerto Rico, London, and Milan, endearing himself to the masses.
At Paz’s peak, from the late 1980s through the early 1990s, he was like a sports franchise in a state that had no professional teams. “He was probably the hottest person in Rhode Island,” says Burchfield.
Out of the ring, Paz haunted the casinos and the strip clubs, soaking up the booze and the broads.
Tyler Faith is a porn star in Los Angeles who dated Paz for three years. She met him in 1996, when she was a 21-year-old dancer at the Paradise Club, in Vegas, and she was persuaded by his persistence to go on a date. Faith says she and Paz found that they had much in common, including a fiendish passion for sex. “I totally grew up with him,” says Faith, who was briefly engaged to Paz. “He totally opened my eyes to so many things. He took me to London. He totally showed me so many things.”