Paolo Vidoz is one of the best Italian boxers of the last ten years. As an amateur, he competed in the super heavyweight division, winning the bronze medal in two editions of the world championships: 1997 (Budapest, Hungary) and 1999 (Houston, Texas). He also won the broze medal during the 2000 Olympics in Sidney, Australia. More importantly, Paolo made it big in New York winning the gold medal during the 1998 Goodwill Games at Madison Square Garden. In the final he defeated outstanding Cuban Alexis Rubalcaba. That impressive showing gave Vidoz a lot of credibility and an exposure that he never received in Italy. The Goodwill Games were covered by American TV networks and newspapers. I was there and can guarantee you that dozens of journalists followed the fights and attended the press conferences. While the Italians wrote just a few lines, the Americans wrote long articles and published many photos. In Italy, the Goodwill Games were considered a minor event. In the United States, they were put on the same level as the world championships.
Before the super heavyweight final, the Goodwill Games people asked Paolo to talk with the press and I was asked to translate. Paolo put up a show that was welcomed by American journalists: he complained about the money he was receiving for his victories in tournaments around the world, joked about not turning professional (“I’m a country boy, I’ll work on my farm!”) and said that Rubalcaba was the overhelming favorite to win the gold medal.
Paolo’s colorful attitude was perfect for the American audience and he received many offers to start his professional career in the United States. He signed with Lou DiBella and fought nine times on American soil compiling a record of 8-1. His unexpected loss to Zuri Lawrence (who recently defeated Jameel McCline) convinced Vidoz to move to Italy where he got back on the right track by becoming Italian and European heavyweight champion. Today, his record is 20 wins (12 KOs) and just 2 losses. The second defeat was at the hands of Nicolay Valuev in Germany. On October 9, 2004 the Russian giant broke Paolo’s jaw en route to a 9th round TKO victory. After that, Vidoz changed his nickname from Gladiator to Titanium Jaw. Next January 28, Paolo will defend the Euro belt against Cengiz Koc. The fight will take place at Tempodrom Arena in Friedrichshain, Berlin.
Paolo, most people assume that you will easily defeat Cengiz Koc.
Not me. I never underrate anybody. Besides, I’m not training properly because of my legal problems. I’m trying to become a free agent and spend most of my time with my lawyer. Cengiz Koc is a good boxer. I can say that because I faced him when we were amateurs. With the European champonship at stake, he will be motivated and enter the ring at 100%. Besides, he is the local favorite and that is more important in Germany than in other countries. I say that the outcome of the fight is uncertain.
Let’s be optimistic and say that you will win against Cengiz Koc. Would you like to keep defending the Euro belt or go after the world title?
Of course I would like to fight for the world championship. I respect all the champions of the major sanctioning bodies, but my dream would be a rematch against Nicolay Valuev. They asked me to face him 17 days before the fight and I accepted. I almost knocked him down in the second round, then he broke my jaw and that ended my possibilities of winning. It was the first time in my career that such a thing happened. With the proper training I’m sure I will beat the Russian giant. Especially with the WBA title on the line, that will give me an extra motivation to come out on top. I’d like to fight for the heavyweight title on the day of the celebration for Primo Carnera’s 100 birthday. He was born in my same region (Friuli Venezia Giulia) on October 26, 1906, so I grew up with his legend.
Was Primo Carnera your idol?
He was one of my idols. I also liked Muhammad Ali and Nino Benvenuti. I consider Nino the greatest Italian fighter in history. I’m not surprised that he is still famous in the United States.
Many stories surround the legend of Primo Carnera. What’s your opinion about them?
I’m sure that his managers involved him in some shady situations, but I’m also sure that his victory over Jack Sharkey for the world championship was a legitimate one. If you look at the tapes of that fight, you’ll see that Carnera hit Sharkey with a perfect uppercut to the chin. When a 260 pound man hits you in the face at full power, you get KOed. If they wanted to fix the fight, they wouldn’t have allowed Sharkey to get hit that way. It was a risk for Sharkey’s health.
Let’s talk about your American experience.
It started the right way, with my victory at the Goodwill Games. After that I was contacted by many people. I knew that Lou DiBella didn’t miss my fights at the Olympics and liked my style. I signed with him, certain I was about to make it big. I debuted as a professional in New York, then I fought in Las Vegas, Cincinnati, San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Chester (West Virginia) and Atlantic City. My lifestyle wasn’t as I expected (I lived in the house of an Italian who rented me his attic) and I wasn’t making so much money. After my loss to Zuri Lawrence, I decided to move back to Italy. Since then, I kept improving. In fact, I accepted to fight European champion Timo Hoffman with a five day notice, knocked him down and beat him on points.
The German promoters always book you on a short notice.
Yes, but they pay good purses. I got 20,000 Euros ($24,000) to fight Nicolay Valuev, 42,000 Euros ($50,400) to face Timo Hoffman and 60,000 Euros ($72,000) to defend the Euro crown against Micheal Sprott. I know that many people didn’t like my match with Sprott, but I consider him a good boxer. I hit him hard twice in the third round; that’s why he became more cautious and the fight turned boring. But you know, in boxing you need two people to create excitement. Going back to the money issue, I made more in Germany than in Italy or America, but I think I deserve better purses. I’m sure that Audley Harrison is making more money than me.
What do you think about him?
Audley Harrison is the best fighter that I ever faced. He was much tougher than Nicolay Valuev. I know that he is going through hard criticism after his loss to Danny Williams, but you cannot underrate a man who won the gold medal at the Olympics.
Would you like to go back to America?
I would love to do it. The first time, I was coming from 15 years of amateur activity and it was hard for me to adapt to the world of professional boxing. Being outside of my country made it even tougher. Today, I have a lot of experience, in the United States, Italy and Germany. I became Italian and European champion. I think that those titles make me more maketable in America, especially on the East Coast. For the record, when I beat Timo Hoffman I also won the IBF intercontinental title. They stripped me of the belt because I didn’t defend it within six months. My win was on June 11, 2005. The German promoters staged a match for the vacant title on December 10 in Leipzig: Henry Akinwande got an unanimous decision against Ed Mahone. The Germans didn’t ask me to defend the IBF crown. That’s why I say that I’m not welcome when I fight in Germany.
Before your match with Micheal Sprott, your promised to give a Vietnamese pork to your trainer Sumbu Kalambay. Did you keep your word?
Sure that I did! I live in a farm and I have pork coming from all over the world. If I beat Cengiz Koc, I will give Sumbu two Philippine pork.
Working in the family’s farm is still your dream?
I have a new goal: I want to open a trattoria in the small town where I live. In Italy, a trattoria is a restaurant where you can have genuine, traditional cuisine. No junk food or fancy stuff.
Born: August 21, 1970 in Gorizia, a town in Northeastern Italy, close to the Slovenian border
Nickname: Titanium Jaw
Height: 191 cm.
Trainer: Sumbu Kalambay
Amateur titles in the super heavyweight division:
1997 World championships – bronze medal
1998 Goodwill games – gold medal
1999 World championships – bronze medal
2000 Olympics – bronze medal
Professional record: 20 wins (12 KOs) and 2 losses
On April 19, 2002 he beat Alessandro Guni for the Italian championship
On June 11, 2005, he defeated Timo Hoffman for the European and IBF intercontinental titles
On October 1, 2005, he defended the European belt against Micheal Sprott on points