Just a few short weeks ago heavyweight Brian “The Beast” Minto of Butler, Pennsylvania, believed that his quickest route to a world title would be by moving down to the cruiserweight division. At 5’11” and about 210 pounds, he is small by today’s heavyweight standards and could have easily shed 15 pounds.

Fate intervened, however, when he was offered a rematch with fellow prospect Vinny Maddalone on the HBO Pay-Per-View-televised undercard of Antonio Tarver-Roy Jones III in Tampa on Saturday night. Their first bout, which occurred in July 2004, was an ebb and flow battle that was a prime candidate for Fight of the Year. In a real old-fashioned donnybrook, Minto stopped his nemesis with a thunderous left hook in the tenth round.

Not only does Minto figure the rematch to be easier than their first go-round, he is thrilled to be fighting on such a high-profile show. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said the 30-year-old Minto whose record is 20-1 (11 KOs). “I feel like a little kid anticipating Christmas morning. This is the big opportunity I’ve been waiting and fighting for.”

The way Minto sees things he has improved immensely since their first fight, while Maddalone has remained stagnant. Much of his improvement, he says, came from a decision loss he incurred at the hands of aging veteran Tony Tubbs in December 2004.

“I thought I did enough to beat Tubbs, but he was very cagey,” said Minto. “I was working with a new trainer who tried to change me up, to make me fight like Mike Tyson. I was off balance and wasn’t comfortable with the style. If nothing else, I learned to be comfortable with my own style.”

Minto is now back with his longtime trainer Tommy Yankello, who also works with former lightweight champion Paul Spadafora and heavyweight contender Calvin Brock. As a result he is more confident for this fight than he’s been in his entire professional career, which he began in 2002 at the age of 27.

“Tommy has me going with my strengths and doesn’t try to change me,” said Minto. “The person we study most is James Toney, because he’s such a complete fighter. He has slick movement, is a great counterpuncher, and uses his upper body and shoulders very well. Tommy will get in the ring with me and be sweating as much as I am at the end of a workout. Working with him and Calvin has been a really good fit.”

Under Yankello’s stewardship, Minto feels he has improved 100 percent since the first Maddalone fight. He believes that Maddalone is the same slam-bang, face-first fighter who will bring nothing new to his game.

“I don’t plan on getting hit so much this time around,” he said. “In my last couple of fights, I’ve fought better opposition than him. He almost got knocked out by Shannon Miller, who can punch but can’t fight. The way I’ve been working, I don’t see how I can lose.”

Minto, who is 30 credits shy of a bachelor’s degree from Slippery Rock University in his home state, is taking boxing so seriously he recently took a hiatus from his membership in the mason tender’s labor union because he wanted to erase from his mind the perpetual thoughts that he had another career to fall back on. While he realizes that he is playing mental games with himself, he says it is all part of a much grander scheme.

Having grown up relatively poor with his single mother and one brother, he said he lived for a long time with a chip on his shoulder. That chip has now been replaced by a burning desire to become a world champion. He and his wife Heidi have two children, Megan and Matthew, who are five and three respectively, and it is important to Minto that his children not endure the hardships that he did as a youngster.

“Boxing is my craft and I’m determined to learn all I can,” he said. “I’ve taken all of the negative thinking of the past and turned them into positives. In the last few years I’ve become very goal oriented. Boxing has given me the direction I need in life. There are a lot of naysayers out there, but as long as they keep saying it (negative things), the harder I’ll work. I’ll never give myself an excuse to fail.”

If ever Minto feels his boxing desire waning, all he has to do is think back to his days climbing poles as a cable installer or lugging tons of bricks for eight to ten hours a day. While Minto has great respect for all blue-collar workers, he is thrilled to be able to use his athletic ability to work toward a different life.

“Training to be a boxer is easy compared to some of the jobs I’ve had,” he said. “Carrying all those bricks, I could feel my body breaking down. Nothing is harder than that.”

With his past as much at the forefront of his mind as his future, Minto soldiers on toward a title belt and all of the wealth and idolatry that will come with it. A standout athlete who was an All-Conference linebacker in high school, he actually enjoys the rigors of boxing training.

He is not exactly certain what lies ahead, but he knows that the only thing currently between him and what he hopes to be a glorious future is Maddalone. Because Minto believes he has learned so much from the mistakes he made in their first fight, he is certain that the highly anticipated rematch won’t be nearly as competitive.

“If Vinny tries to box me, he’s going to get out-hustled and outclassed,” he vowed when told that Maddalone said he was going to fight more sensibly. “But I know him. The first time he gets hit, he’s going to go ape—-. I’m not going to burn my legs up like I did the last time. I’ve had a great training camp (in California, Pennsylvania), and I’ve had great sparring with Jeremy Bates and Abraham Okine. I understand why Vinny accepted this rematch, but I think he’s making a big mistake. There is no way I’m losing this fight.”