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Boxer Who Went AWOL Has Fought to Find Himself

The first look you get at Vinnie Curto’s face tells you two things about him:

--He’s a fighter.

--And not a very good one.

Anytime you see a fighter whose nose is broken but whose hands aren’t, you know you’re not exactly dealing with the new Manassa Mauler.

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It’s not that Curto is a bad fighter. Just careless. Vinnie figured a fight was a contest to see who could bleed the most. The way Vinnie fought, his head was on its own. Vinnie blocked punches with his ears. Vinnie came out of a fight the way most people come out of train wrecks.

Still, he beat Bennie Briscoe. Twice. Only, the first one they called a draw.

“It was in Philadelphia,” Vinnie explains. Philadelphia is Briscoe’s hometown. “I would’ve had to of killed him to win. They’d give him a draw from a stretcher.”

The second fight was in Boston, and that was Vinnie’s territory. “I troo a shutout,” Vinnie says proudly. “Not many guys beat Bennie Briscoe 10 and oh in them days.”

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Not too many people beat Vinnie Curto, either. Six, he likes to think. The trouble is, the record book doesn’t show the biggest fight Vinnie ever lost. It’s not in there because it never happened. That’s just the trouble.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion of the universe, has ruined a lot of fighters in the ring. Vinnie he ruined without laying a glove on him.

Their fight was to have been in Boston on Sept. 24, 1977. It was a natural, although Hagler was only semifamous at the time. He hadn’t killed anybody yet.

No one knows why Curto didn’t go through with that fight. Unless you belong to that growing majority that doesn’t understand why anybody shows up for a scheduled fight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

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The defection of Curto was a matter of complete indifference to Hagler. He knocked out the guy they put in there instead, Ray Phillips. And probably didn’t know the difference.

The identity of his opponents was of small moment to Hagler in those days. They weren’t in there long enough for him to make their acquaintances fully. Joe Louis always had that trouble. He couldn’t, for the life of him, remember names of opponents. They all looked alike to him--horizontal. They’d have to lie down for him to recognize them.

The non-fight made a catastrophic difference to Vinnie. He got as far out of Boston as he could--the Pacific Northwest, where he hooked up with the restaurateur Stuart Andersen. He next surfaced in Canada, where he showed up for fights with such local ferocities as Jean-Yves Fillion, as well as a Tony Daniels and a Bud Ramsey, each of whom he knocked out twice.

In the movie, “On The Waterfront,” the character played by Marlon Brando is a pug betrayed by his own brother. Vinnie Curto’s story is even darker.

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“I never told this to nobody before but I was ruined by my own father,” he said as he sat in a downtown hotel restaurant the other day and relived his career. “I was an abused child. I was sexually abused. My father was an alcoholic and he whacked my life around. That’s what happened before the Hagler fight. I started to get confused. It was like I didn’t know who Vinnie Curto was.”

Vinnie set off in search of himself, correctly divining that being in the ring with Hagler was no place to start.

His search took him to some strange places. He became the resident enforcer--the police had a simpler word for his occupation--at the infamous Mustang Ranch brothel near Reno, where a predecessor, the pug Oscar Bonavena, was shot to death a year or so earlier.

The Vinnie Curto he was looking for was hardly worth finding, so Vinnie returned to the ring. It was during this period that he hooked up with actor Sylvester Stallone.

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“He seen some Rocky in me,” Vinnie explained. “Rocky I, that was me. Rockies II and III, them was some other guys.”

Stallone and Vinnie had a falling-out. “I had to bust up Richie Giachetti, Larry Holmes’ manager. He was yelling at me, giving me a headache,” Vinnie said.

It was about that time that Curto played a part in “Miami Vice,” he said. I assume he meant the TV show, but with Vinnie you can’t be sure.

Vinnie thinks he is finally getting his act together and exorcising the demons of his childhood. He is ready to be a contender again. He worked 21 straight days in the gym with John (The Beast) Mugabi in Miami, getting Mugabi ready for his Hagler fight.

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“I made Hagler look like a picnic,” Vinnie said. Unfortunately, it was for the Hagler fight that had to be postponed. Presumably, Mugabi got rusty for the real one.

Vinnie will fight Chong Pal Park of South Korea at the Sports Arena Friday night for something called the “IBF super-middleweight championship of the world.” It’s a rematch of a bout they held in Seoul last June, which the South Korean won by a decision.

“A hometown decision,” Vinnie sniffed. “I won it going away.”

There’s a certain poetic justice in that. That’s how he lost the Hagler fight. Going away.

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