"My neck was on fire" - Vinny Pazienza on his comeback from a car accident to reclaim world boxing glory

The former boxer is the subject of a new movie

BY Raf Diallo 21:36 Tuesday 29 November 2016, 21:36 29 Nov 2016

Image: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

On November 18th in the United States, a new movie called Bleed For This was released in cinemas.

It tells the story of former world boxing champion Vinny Pazienza.

The 53-year-old made a comeback in 1992, just over a year after he sustained a broken neck suffered in a car accident that had seemingly ended his career.

Pazienza joined Off The Ball to talk about his career and the moment that could have ended it.

"In a car, speed kills. Without a doubt. If we were going 25 miles per hour, that wouldn't never have happened," he said, adding that the vehicle was going 50 miles an hour in a 30mph zone on the fateful day that the accident happened.

"He jammed up on the brakes and we were sliding down the road and I held onto the door panel. And I just thought 'Oh, my God, I'm never going to defend my world title' and then boom, we got hit right after. That was my last thought before we got hit."

He remembers the police arriving on the scene immediately and trying to open the baldy damaged car.

"Everybody started yelling my name out. 'Vinny Paz is in the car, Vinny Paz is in the car!' The next thing they tried to take me out and pain shot through my body. My neck was on fire and I said 'stop don't touch me, my neck is broke,'" he recalled.

Former boxer Vinny Pazienza, left, poses with Miles Teller, who portrays Pazienza in the film "Bleed for This," at the premiere of the film at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

In one sense, it turned he was somewhat lucky as he fractured a vertebrae that was within an eighth of an inch of his spinal cord, meaning there was some hope.

The next 13 months would be extremely difficult as his boxing career hung in the balance.

He had to wear a device called a Halo which was screwed to his skull in four places for three months to aid his recovery and despite warnings from doctors, resumed his gym work. 

"Only a couple of days later, I was down in my cellar trying to lift weights. A little crazy but very determined," he said.

"When I first picked up the weight - two 25 pound weights - a flash went through my neck, down my body and I screamed and I dropped the weights. Then I had tears in my eyes."

But characteristically, he tried again after 15 minutes, pumping the weights while screaming in pain.

It was the fighting attitude on a daily basis that brought back his strength before he could spar again.

And in December 1992, he was ready for his comeback against Luis Santana, which he would win by unanimous decision in 10 rounds en route to winning the IBO World Super Middleweight Title in 1993 and two more world titles subsequent to that. 

Pazienza also spoke about hoping that the movie proves to be an inspiration and also touched on the atmosphere in the United States in the wake of a bitterly-fought presidential election, with racism as a societal issue that is concerning him.

"I hate this racism crap that's going on especially in the States," he said, "It's just so ugly.

"But I'm a boxer. I grew up with black people. I grew up with Mexican people. I grew up with Spanish people. There weren't many white fighters and I never had problems with anybody. You take people for what they are and who they are, not what colour they are. Take somebody for what's behind the heart and behind the chest on the left side."  

Off The Ball


The very best bits of Off The Ball delivered every week