The Italian fighters who won the Olympic gold medal, won a legitimate professional world championship, attracted thousands of paying customers at the sports complex and drew big TV ratings can be counted on one hand. One of them is Giovanni Parisi. In 1988, he won the Olympic gold medal in the featherweight division. Professionally, he fought 45 times compiling a record of 40 wins (28 by KO), 4 losses and 1 draw. He became WBO lightweight and super lightweight champion, facing quality opponents like the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez. In Milan, probably the most difficult Italian city for a promoter, he packed the Palalido twice (back then it had a capacity of 4,000 people; since then it seats 3,000) and attracted over 5,000 fans at the Forum. His fights also drew big ratings on television. On February 11, 2003 his victory over Miguel Angel Pena scored 1,741,000 spectators (a share of 14.38%) on Italia 1 (one of the networks owned by Mediaset, the company of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). It has to be noticed that Italia 1 broadcasted four major events promoted by Salvatore Cherchi in 2003. After that, boxing disappeared from Italia 1. It came back on March 12, 2005: when Giovanni Parisi defeated Louis Mimoune in Milan. When a popular champion fights, boxing gets on major channels even in a soccer-addicted country like Italy. On December 20, Giovanni Parisi will be back in the ring for an eight round fight to be held in Bergamo, north of Milan. His opponent has yet to be announced. Let’s discover why, at the age of 38, he choose to put on the gloves again.
Giovanni, will this be your final match?
No way. It will be the first of a series of fights. I already have a fight planned with the Opi 2000 promotional company, another fight for January 2006, and a European title match for May or June 2006. I will fight only in the welterweight division. It’s the best one for me. You know, since I turned professional I had problems with my weight. In the early years, I could make the lightweight limit. My first major title was the Italian lightweight title. I know that many boxers don’t consider the national championship a major one, but it’s just their opinion. Personally, I think that those intercontinental and international belts are just trophies. I never wanted to fight for them, because I considered it a waste of time. As a matter of fact, I directly aimed to the WBO lightweight title. On September 25, 1992 I defeated Javier Altamirano (whose record was 39-3-3) by 10th round TKO. Going back to the weight issue, as the years progressed it became impossible to make the lightweight limit and I choose to compete in the upper division. In the last few years, I had problems even with the super lightweight limit.
Talking about the WBO lightweight title, why did you abandon it?
I never did. I was stripped of the belt. Anyway, I’m proud of my title reign. I have an interesting story about my defense against Micheal Ayers, who I beat by unanimous decision on April 16, 1993. The original idea was to put me in the ring with Eusebio Pedroza, who had lost to Mauro Gutierrez on November 1992 (it turned out to be Pedroza’s last match). I told the promoter that Pedroza was 40 years old and beating him wouldn’t have been such a good publicity. So, the promoter found Micheal Ayers who was 28 years old, had a record of 13-0 and was considered a future star. About 8,000 fans packed the Palaeur in Rome. I won easily: 118-109, 118-110 and 119-108. In the following years Micheal Ayers became British and IBO lightweight champion. He retired in 2003 with a record of 31-5-1. My final defense of the WBO belt was against former IBF featherweight champion Antonio Rivera. It was September 24, 2003. I got another unanimous decision win. After that, I signed with Don King. I stayed with him until 1995.
How do you judge your American experience?
It started the right way. In 1994, I fought three times in Las Vegas getting three wins against journeyman Mike Bryan (1st round TKO), good prospect Richie Hess (2nd round KO), and former IBF lightweight champion Freddie Pendleton (on points). The last victory, maybe, harmed me because some people in the business started considering me dangerous and didn’t want to put their fighters against me. Anyway, I didn’t want to fight anybody but the best. That’s the main reason why I signed with Don King. In a situation where four men can claim to be world champions, the only way to be the undisputed one is to defeat the best of them. In my division, that man was Julio Cesar Chavez. I was told many times that my fight with Chavez was close, but never happened. So, I went to Don King’s office in Florida and spoke with Carl King. We had a discussion and I was so angry that I called my lawyer. Sometime later, Don King called me and said that my fight against Chavez was almost made. I flew back to Florida, talked to Don and we signed the contract. I had 40 days to train. I spent the first 20 days in Italy, the last ones in Las Vegas. You won’t believe it, but I had a hard time finding good sparring partners. Finally, I got two guys who wanted $500 each and I had to pay them with my own money. I’m not looking for excuses, but I was used to prepare my major fights within 90 days.
What about the fight?
We fought on April 8, 1995 for the WBC super lightweight title. Julio Cesar Chavez turned out to be a good opponent, but not as tough as I expected. I must recognize that he won clearly, but the scorecards were outrageous: 120-107 and 118-109 (twice). He won, but with a three or four point margin. We were in Las Vegas, in front of a pro-Chavez crowd, so I understand the reasons for those ridiculous scorecards. You know, my experience in the United States made me grow up professionally. Before signing with Don King, I was focused on fighting. When Don King started talking to me about promotional activity, sponsors, television networks, I understood how much money centers around boxing and how I could take advantage of it. For example, Don told me that he wasn’t getting any money from Italian television and sponsors, so I was not profitable for him (he had to pay me anyway). When I came back to Italy, I wanted to be part of the team which decided my career. I wanted to have a word on the opponent, the venue, the networks involved and every other aspect of the business. It’s the same thing today. I don’t have money problems; I fight only for the pleasure of it and I want to do it at the highest level. So, it’s just a natural that I participate in the decision process.
Was Don King the most important person in your career?
No way. I had three managers. From 1989 to 1993 I fought for Renzo Spagnoli. From 1993 to 1995 I was managed by Don King. Since 1995 I’ve been with the Opi 2000 company. The most important persons for my career have been Salvatore Cherchi and his partner Andrea Locatelli.
Are you aiming to the world welterweight title?
The welterweight title always attracted me because I would like to be the first Italian to win the world championship in three divisions. That’s why I accepted to face WBO welterweight champion Daniel Santos, on July 29, 2000. We battled in Reggio Calabria, a coin toss from Sicily, and he KOed me during the 4th round. I have no excuses. I didn’t train properly.
What about Carlos “Bolillo” Gonzalez? According to many journalists, he was your toughest opponent.
They think so because I had a hard time with him, twice. On June 20, 1996 we fought to a draw: 114-112 for me, 114-112 for him and 114-114. On May 29, 1998 I played Roberto Duran with him saying No mas during the 9th round. I just wasn’t motivated anymore. In fact, I announced my retirement. After one year, my love for boxing brought me back to the ring. I fought twice in 1999, once in 2000 and retired again. I got back in action three years later, beating Miguel Angel Pena. That match proved that you don’t need a fake title to excite the crowd: eight action-packed rounds between good fighters are enough. Getting back to Carlos Gonzalez, he is a great fighter. He is still active and his record comprises 55 wins (46 by KO), 8 losses and 1 draw. Before meeting me, he had won the WBO super lightweight title and defended it four times.
One final question: how much has winning the Olympic gold medal helped your pro career?
It depends on your point of view. My win at the Seoul Olympics brought me a total of 80,000,000 Lire from the national Olympic committee (CONI) and the national boxing commission (FPI). Today it would be 41,316 Euros ($48,339). Back in 1988 it was good money, but it cannot be compared to the millions of dollars that the gold medal brought to Oscar De La Hoya. In the United States, boxing can turn a man into a multimillionaire.
Birthplace: Vibo Valentia, Italy. This town is in the Calabria region.
Date: December 2, 1967
Height: 173 cm
As an amateur: Olympic gold medal, in 1998
Professional Record: 40 wins (28 KOs), 4 losses and 1 draw
Italian lightweight champion (1991)
WBO world lightweight champion (from September 25, 1992 to September 24, 1993)
WBO world super lightweight champion (from March 9, 1996 to May 29, 1998)
He won the title against Sammy Fuentes (8th round TKO) and successfully defended it against Carlos Gonzalez (a draw), Sergio Rey Revilla (4th round KO), Harold Miller (8th round TKO), Nigel Wenton (8th round TKO) and Jose Manuel Berdonces (on points). He lost it against Carlos Gonzalez (9th round retirement).