Patrizio Oliva, The Only Italian Boxer Who Did It All
In Italy, there’s only one boxer who can claim to have been involved in every aspect of the sport at the highest level: Patrizio Oliva. He was Olympic gold medalist, professional world champion, coach of the national team and now works as promoter and referee. His first major success came during the European Junior Championships, held in Dublin (Ireland) in 1978, where he won the gold medal in the 132 pounds division. The following year, he participated at the European Senior Championships in Koeln (Federal Republic of Germany) and got the silver medal in the 139 pounds division. In 1980, Patrizio Oliva became a star by winning the Olympic gold medal at 139 lbs. His professional career was also spectacular. Between 1980 and 1992, he compiled a record of 57 wins (20 KOs) and just 2 losses. As a light welterweight, he became Italian, European and WBA world champion. Among welterweights, he won the European title.
Who was your toughest opponent?
Among amateurs, Serik Konakbajew. He was one of the best Russians of his era. The judges gave him the victory in the final of the 1979 European championships, but I don’t think he won. One year later, I beat him in the Olympic final in Moscow right in front of his own fans. By the way, I received the cup of Best Boxer of the Olympics. Among prizefighters, nobody ever gave me many problems. Juan Martin Coggi and James McGirt defeated me because I wasn’t giving 100%, for different reasons. I shouldn’t have faced Coggi in the first place. I was scheduled to defend my WBA light welterweight title against Hector Camacho for a big purse. My manager, Rocco Agostino, flied to the United States to speak with Camacho’s people. When Rocco came back to Italy said that he couldn’t get the fight because my style was too similar to Hector’s and that wasn’t good for the Puerto Rican. A few days later, Agostino told me that Juan Martin Coggi was willing to fight me in three weeks. I never heard of the Argentinean and I was too angry for having missed the opportunity of a big payday. On the other hand, Coggi was at his best. That’s why he KOed me in three rounds. When I faced WBC welterweight champion James McGirt, I had already decided to hang up the gloves. After 12 rounds, McGirt got a well deserved unanimous decision.
You said that you and Camacho had similar styles, but it didn’t look like that.
Hector Camacho was very difficult to hit because he always moved while throwing his punches, he kept away from his opponent and never accepted the brawl. That was also my style. If you don’t have the KO punch, you must prepare a strategy to frustrate your opponent and win on points. Of course, I never made any show-bizzing like The Macho Man. Nobody ever asked me to be an entertainer because I fought mostly in Italy, but I never had the intention of turning myself into a showman anyway.
Why didn’t you fight often abroad?
Because I didn’t need it. My name was big enough to sell out Italian venues and make money. My only major fight abroad was in Monte Carlo, against WBA light welterweight champion Ubaldo Sacco who I defeated by split decision. It was one of the toughest matches of my career. Sacco was a legitimate warrior. Two scorecards were 147-144 and 145-141 for me, the third one was 145-140 in his favor. Nobody can say that it was a partisan virdict because I’m Italian and he was Argentinean.
Was that your best performance?
Maybe, but I performed well also against Juan Josè Gimenez. He was born in Argentina and spent most of his career there, but he was also booked to fight in Uruguay, Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany and the United States, where he lost by unanimous decision to WBC light welterweight champion Leroy Haley in 1982. Gimenez settled in my country and became very famous, that’s why I defended my European light welterweight belt against him in 1983. He had a record of 88-8-5, while mine was just 29-0. We fought a spectacular battle which I won on points. Later, Gimenez became Italian champion, defended the belt, lost it and retired. He was a great fighter.
Who turned out to be different than expected?
Kirkland Laing. I took the European welterweight title from him, in 1990. He was a Jamaican with a record of 38-7-1. He had been British welterweight champion and had won the Euro belt, destroying the respected French southpaw Antoine Fernandez (who I beat on points, in 1992) in two rounds. I assumed that Laing was a good boxer. He turned out to be a dirty fighter, who didn’t want to put up a decent performance. I won on points, but the match was ugly.
Let’s talk about your career as trainer of the Italian national team.
I coached the Italian team from 1996 to 2001. I’m proud to say that my boxers won medals in every tournament but one. That’s why I was voted Best Trainer in Europe in 1999 and 2000 by the European Amateur Boxing Association. I was very happy when Giacobbe Fragomeni won the 1998 European championship in the heavyweight division in Minsk (Belarus). The first time I saw him, I recognized his talent. I also understood that he had to change his style: he used to move a lot without throwing many punches, I turned him into a punching machine. I’m absolutely convinced that he can become world cruiserweight champion. He could beat WBO champion Johnny Nelson.
I was in Paolo Vidoz’s corner when he won the Goodwill Games and got the Olympic bronze medal. By the way, I’m convinced that every boxer should have a long amateur career because it allows him to get experience on five continents against fighters with different styles. Amateur competition is also useful to learn that major results don’t come fast (like we hear too many times on television). Before the European and Olympic titles, I won five Italian championships: three of them in the featherweight division, two as a lightweight.
Are you happy with your job as a promoter?
Partially, because I’m promoting from 8 to 10 shows a year. These numbers may look good in Italy, but my business partner Elio Cotena once promoted 25 shows in twelve months. The Italian market is on its way down. I’m also not fully satisfied with my boxers. The most famous are welterweights Sven Paris (18-1), Cristian De Martinis (15-0) and Gianmario Grassellini (13-0-1). I know Sven Paris since he was amateur. He is very talented and could make it big. He already won the Italian and WBA intercontinental titles. The problem is that his last performances were disappointing; this diminished commitment to the sport led to his first loss, against Tobia Loriga on February 17. Right now, I’m exploring a new side of the boxing business: I became an international referee and will soon officiate my first match in Ukraine. It will be sanctioned by the IBF.
Born on January 28, 1959 in Naples (Italy)
Manager: Rocco Agostino
Trainer: Geppino Silvestri
Italian champion (125 lbs. and 132 lbs.)
1978 European Junior Championships: gold medal (132 lbs.)
1979 European Senior Championships: silver medal (139 lbs.)
1980 Olympics: gold medal (139 lbs.) Voted “Best boxer of the Olympics”
Professional debut in 1980
Record: 57 wins (20 KOs) and 2 losses
Light welterweight titles
Italian champion (1981-1982)
European champion (1983-1985)
WBA world champion (1986-1987)
European champion (1990-1992)