Michele Piccirillo, The Italian Gentleman

BY Luca De Franco ON February 19, 2006
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Michele Piccirillo is one of the most dominant Italian fighters of the last 14 years. Since his professional debut in 1992, he has won more belts than you can imagine. I will only mention the major ones. In the light welterweight division, he has been Italian champion. As a welterweight, he has won the European, WBU and IBF world titles. His record comprises 44 wins (28 KOs), 3 losses and 1 no-contest. Among the opponents he defeated, we find top ranked boxers like Alessandro Duran, Sergio Ernesto Acuna, Juan Martin Coggi, Frankie Randall, Andrew Murray, Rafael Pineda and Cory Spinks. Piccirillo’s most recent match was a loss to Ricardo Mayorga for the vacant WBC light middleweight title on August 13, 2005 in Chicago. Michele’s next challenge will be against Lukas Konecny (29-1) for the vacant European light middleweight crown in Bergamo (Italy).

When you beat Frankie Randall in 1999, he was 56-6-1 and had a big reputation. In 1994, he had given Julio Cesar Chavez two tough matches. In the first one, the Mexican was knocked down for the first time in his career, was penalized for low blows in the 7th and 11th rounds and lost a split decision. In the second fight, Chavez won by technical decision when he was ahead on the scorecards for 76-75, 77-74 and 76-75. How did you prepare for Randall?

Randall had a big reputation also because he fought three great battles with Juan Martin Coggi (winning two of them) and had been WBC and WBA light welterweight champion. I prepared for him just like I trained for everybody else: working hard. He turned out to be a very dangerous opponent, was in excellent condition and threw a flurry of punches. I got a unanimous decision, in Padova (Italy) on December 18, 1999. After our match, Randall kept on fighting and lost most of his battles. Today, his record stands at 59-18-1. I think he should have retired many years ago, with a good record.

Juan Martin Coggi was another tough opponent.

When I fought him, Coggi was 75-4-2 and had been WBA light welterweight champion three times. He won the belt by KOing Patrizio Oliva in July 1987 in three rounds and kept it until August 1990 (among others, he easily beat Jose Luis Ramirez). Coggi’s second reign lasted from April 1993 to September 1994. In one year and five months, he defended the belt seven times! His third reign went from January to August 1996; just two fights with Frankie Randall. Like all the Argentineans, Juan Martin Coggi always moved forward throwing one punch after another and never went down (even if he was hit many times to the face). Besides, Coggi was a southpaw and that made him even more difficult to fight. I faced many Argentineans and can guarantee that they are all true warriors, even if most of them are not gifted technically. Sergio Ernesto Acuna, for example, was 20-0 when I met him and gave me a tough time (he was very fast) even if I won largely on points.

You have a no-contest against Elio Ortiz at Madison Square Garden. What happened in that fight?

Elio Ortiz was a tough Venezuelan, with a record of 20-5, who had lost on points to WBA light welterweight champion Sharmba Mitchell. During our fight, Ortiz headbutted me and the doctor said that I couldn’t continue (I required 22 stitches). The referee declared it a no-contest. I won all the four rounds.

Right after Ortiz, you defeated Rafael Pineda at the Garden. Tell us about that match.

Rafael Pineda was 35-3 and had been IBF light welterweight champion. He was very well conditioned, always attacked and hurt with both his hands. He didn’t have great technique, but he was one helluva fighter. He remained competitive until his last fight. On May 15, 2004 he lost a split decision to Zab Judah: the judges scored it 115-112 (for the Colombian), 115-112 and 114-113 (for Judah).

What about the two fights against Cory Spinks?

I was supposed to fight Vernon Forrest, but he left the IBF title to fight Shane Mosley for a big purse (I would have done the same thing). When Cory Spinks was chosen as co challenger for the vacant belt, many people told me that I got lucky because they didn’t think much of the American. I knew they were wrong. Both of our fights generated controversy. The first time, the judges scored 115-112, 116-111 and 115-112 in my favor. In the rematch, he got a unanimous decision: 117-111, 117-112 and 115-113.  Some people think that Cory won both times. My opinion is just the opposite: if the second battle had been declared a draw, they would have done a favor to my opponent. Cory Spinks is additional proof that all southpaws are dangerous.

Tell us about your loss to Ricardo Mayorga.

Twenty days before the fight I damaged my right ankle, one rib, and broke my meniscus. I traveled to Chicago anyway because I wanted to become WBC light middleweight champion. I knew that the only way to beat Mayorga was scoring a KO, because the match was held in his territory. The fight turned out to be more difficult than expected: Mayorga played dirty and the referee did nothing. The Nicaraguan hit me twice on the nape of the neck and I went down. By the rulebook, I shouldn’t have been counted, but I was. The third knockdown was a legitimate one: Mayorga got me right on the temple. I admit that I lost, but not by 7, 9 and 15 points.

During the press conference, Mayorga insulted you many times. Why didn’t you answer back?

Because I’m a gentleman, in and out of the ring. I let the people talk. Who cares what they say? I remember that Mayorga argued with everybody the day of the fight; maybe that’s why he was so angry during the press conference. Some things he said were really stupid. He talked about KOing me fast, coming to my hotel room to help me making the luggage so that I could go back to Italy and have a pizza to get some weight. Give me a break!

Have the American promoters ever asked you to be more cooperative in doing some show business to help selling tickets?

No. If they did, I would have refused. I’m a fighter, not a showman.

The only surprising loss in your record is the one against Soren Sondergaard for the European light welterweight title. Tell us about that.

I just had a bad night, but I must recognize that Soren Sondergaard was a legitimate champion. When I met him, he had a record of 24-1. Not many people know that Denmark has a big tradition in boxing: they never had a big number of fighters, but many of them won major titles. I always knew how good the Danish school was because of my amateur experience. I was in the Italian national team for 8 years and compiled a record of 130 wins and 3 losses. I participated to 17 international tournaments winning 15 gold medals. I also won the bronze medal during the 1991 European championships held in Goeteborg (Sweden) in the 139 pound division. Three years earlier I participated to the European Junior championships in held in Gdask (Poland) and got the silver medal in the 132 pound division. My biggest regret is the 1992 Olympics, where I didn’t go far. I really believe that a long amateur career is very important because it gives you the opportunity to travel the entire world and fight opponents with different styles.

Lukas Konecny has a good record (29-1), but has won only minor titles. The most prestigious of them is the WBO intercontinental light middleweight belt and that says it all... He lacks your experience and should be an easy opponent.

He is a 27-year-old southpaw and competed in the 2000 Olympics, so I don’t take him lightly. I haven’t seen any videos of him in action, but they told me he is a good fighter. I will get a tape soon, to verify that information. Anyway, I’m training as hard as ever and that’s what counts.

Michele Piccirillo

Born in Modugno (Italy) on January 29, 1970
Stance: Orthodox
Pro debut in 1992
Light welterweight titles: Italian and IBF intercontinental champion
Welterweight titles: European and WBU intercontinental champion
WBU world champion from May 4, 1998 to August 5, 2000; he successfully defended the belt eight times
IBF world champion from April 13, 2002 to March 22, 2003; he won and lost the title against Cory Spinks; no defenses between the two fights

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