Friday, February 9, 2007


Not since the days of Vinny Pazienza and Greg Haugen had Rhode Island boxing fans cheered so loudly. Over 8,000 fans trudged through knee deep snow and a frigid New England evening to see Peter Manfredo, Jr., "The Pride of Providence" bludgeon Scott "The Sandman" Pemberton in three excitingly brutal rounds of action. This was a fight for New England bragging rights and it's clear now that Peter Manfredo can be as boastful as he wants.

Manfredo picked up where the blizzard from the day before left off. Conditions were so bad in Rhode Island with pelting snow, driving winds and biting cold that it caused Governor Dan Carcieri to declare a "state of emergency" on Sunday, thus postponing Scott Pemberton's eventual beating by 24 hours. This was the biggest boxing match the smallest state in the union had seen in nearly 20 years. Not since Vinny "The Pazmanian Devil" Pazienza, another one of Rhode Island's favorite sons, lifted the IBF Lightweight title from Greg Haugen in 1987 had the boxing scene here been so alive and electric. Back then, just over 9,000 fans flocked to the same arena and fired up what was then known as "The Devil's Den" for their hometown hero.

There's only 31 miles of Interstate 95 between Pemberton's hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts and Manfredo's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island - but it might as well have been another country altogether. Pemberton entered the ring first to a rain of boos and jeers. At 39 years old and having been knocked out by Jeff Lacy in his previous bout, the handpicked Pemberton came into this fight with full knowledge that this would be his last legitimate shot at the big time. When Pemberton was asked why he was specifically chosen by Manfredo as the opponent for this fight he replied, "I don't know. Maybe he sees something".

Pemberton, 29-4-1 (24)KO has slogged away in this game for thirteen years and has never been blessed with big money purses or widespread acclaim. Regardless, Scott Pemberton had always been the type of fighter that came to fight every time out and he has given New England boxing fans a lot to remember from past wars with Charles Brewer and Omar Sheika. Despite how he looked tonight there is no mistaking that Pemberton is one tough customer who has seen his share of hard times. In 2001, Pemberton was jailed for several weeks after a sting operation conducted by the FBI revealed he had been muscling in on a notorious New Bedford, Massachusetts crime boss. Only six months ago, Pemberton told a reporter that his utility service has been disconnected for non-payment of his electric bill and that he was literally sitting in a dark place. Tonight was no brighter for Pemberton.

Peter Manfredo, Jr., 24-3 (10)KO emerged from his dressing room to the welcoming sound of a thunderous ovation. The return of a hometown hero is always emotional and tonight was no exception. Vinny Pazienza, who is royalty in Rhode Island, was seated ringside with several members of Manfredo's family and the crowd was on its feet in anticipation well before the first bell rang.

Manfredo, of Italian heritage, says his favorite movie is "The Godfather", his favorite television show is "The Sopranos" and his favorite fighter is Rocky Marciano. From the sound of the first bell it was all Manfredo and he dug into Pemberton like a hungry man at a spaghetti supper. The 25 year-old Manfredo outclassed the shopworn Pemberton in every facet of the game. Pemberton was no match for Manfredo's speed, power or defense. It was evident early on that Manfredo was on his way to an early coronation.

Whether it was in the center of the ring or along the ropes, the first two rounds were all Manfredo as he outfoxed and out punched Pemberton. Pemberton, who scaled 168 pounds, appeared tired, his punches contained no snap, and his reflexes were dull. "What can I say?" Pemberton said. "Maybe I got old tonight. I didn't feel comfortable getting into the ring tonight. I felt very stiff and awkward, and I never got into any mode."

At 167 pounds Manfredo could do no wrong in this, his first fight in the Super Middleweight division. He appeared faster and stronger than in recent bouts and whether it was this new weight, the training with Freddie Roach in California, or a combination of the two he was certainly a much improved fighter over his last bout, a disputed decision loss to Sergio Mora. Manfredo swarmed Pemberton with inside and outside shots, mixed his attack well to the head and body, and eluded the few counter punches that were lobbed his way.

Pemberton went down twice under a blizzard of punches in the third round. Once from a vicious right uppercut dead on the chin and later from an arcing right hand that landed high on the head. After rising on unsteady legs from the second knockdown, Pemberton, showing the same heart that made him a fan favorite, said to Massachusetts referee Dick Flaherty, "Don't you stop this fight." Flaherty obliged Pemberton's request and waved Manfredo in. The attack was back on and Manfredo fired a succession of shots to the head and body. Finally, Flaherty had seen enough and jumped back into the fray to rescue the near helpless Pemberton at 2:06 of the third.

A jubilant Manfredo later remarked, "I wanted to take him out early. I felt extremely strong tonight."

As for both men's future they are clearly going in opposite directions. Any state athletic commission that allows Scott Pemberton back in the ring will need to have a long look at him. Many remarked that Pemberton was slurring his words in pre-fight interviews on ESPN. After a long career and many wars it may be time for Pemberton to hang up the gloves. Pemberton, in his reduced capacity, will be seen now as a stepping stone for fighters on the way up. He will likely be offered bouts with fighters that promoters would never have offered him when he was more dangerous.

With the backers of "The Contender" reality television show supporting him, Manfredo will be moved wisely and cautiously as he plots a course to a future title fight or a lucrative third match with "The Contender" Champion Sergio Mora. Manfredo proved that he is a commodity in Rhode Island and that he will draw a large gate whenever he fights there.

For now, he's "The King of New England".

February 2006

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