Maurizio Stecca is one of the few Italian boxers who won it all. Among amateurs, he competed in the bantamweight division and won the Italian, European and Olympic titles. He also won the gold medal during the 1983 World Cup held in Rome. While serving in the Italian Army, he became world military champion. As a professional, Maurizio compiled a record of 49 wins (22 KOs) and 4 losses. He fought in Italy, France, England and the United States winning the European and WBO world featherweight titles. In his last match, he added the Italian super featherweight belt to his collection. Today, Maurizio Stecca is one of the coaches of the Italian national team. His success in both the amateurs and the pros makes his advice precious for young fighters and interesting for anyone who loves boxing.
After you won the Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles, why didn’t you decide to start your professional career in the United States?
I left those decisions to my manager Umberto Branchini. He thought that my best interest was to start my pro career in Italy, but he also wanted me to make some experience in American rings. Umberto got me booked in Reno (Nevada), Totowa (New Jersey) and New York City where I trained at Gleason’s Gym and fought at Madison Square Garden. I won all my matches on American soil. Later, I became a big attraction in Italy, drawing thousands of paying customers and Umberto decided that the best thing for me was to keep fighting in Italy. On January 28, 1989 I faced Pedro Nolasco for the first WBO world featerweight title in Milan. In the Olympic semi-final, I had beaten Nolasco on points. In the final, I had defeated tough Mexican Hector Lopez. Going back to the WBO title fight, I stopped Nolasco in six rounds. My first defense was against a real tough guy: Angel Levi Mayor. He had compiled a record of 23 wins, 3 losses and 2 draws. He had been Venezuelan super bantamweight champion, WBC Continental Americas featherweight champion and had lost on points to WBA featherweight king Eusebio Pedroza. I TKOed Angel Levi Mayor in nine rounds, always in Milan.
Your route to the world title was quite strange, since you didn’t fight for the National and European belts first.
Right after I won the gold medal in Los Angeles, Umberto Branchini told me that I had to aim directly to the top. I fought 34 times against foreign boxers to adapt to every kind of style and I always won. That granted me the status of number one in the WBO rankings, so I went for it.
You lost the WBO belt against Louie Espinoza. Tell us about that.
I was training for another opponent and 45 days before the fight Umberto told me that I had to face Louie Espinoza. I knew he was a real champion because I saw him in action many times. I also knew that Espinoza had been North American and WBA world super bantamweight champion. His previous two fights were a draw with IBF featherweight titlist Jorge Paez and a split decision win over Alfred Rangel. I didn’t take into consideration that I only a month and half enough to prepare for such a tough customer; and I was right: on November 11, 1989 in Rimini, Espinoza beat me by 7th round TKO. His next fight was a split decision loss to Jorge Paez. Later, Espinoza became USBA featherweight champion, got other shots at the NABF, WBC, WBU and IBO featherweight belts and closed his career with a record of 52 wins, 12 losses and 2 draws. I’m sure he made a lot of money. I want to say something about the training issue. Many boxers don’t understand the importance of watching their opponent’s fights; it is essential because a prizefighter can change his training methods, his diet, he can learn some new tricks, but he will always fight the same way. He spent too many years developing his style and it is unlikely that he will be able to modify it after 20 or 30 pro fights. That’s why a boxer must study the tapes to understand how to beat his opponent. When they tell you to face another guy, all the work you did becomes useless.
Was Louie Espinoza your toughest opponent?
Other guys were as tough as him. Tim Driscoll had a record of 16-3 and I stopped him in nine rounds. Colin McMillan was 22-1 and beat me for the WBO title in England. Fabrice Benichou was 33-12 and a big idol in France, where our battle took place. He used to train in Rimini, so I knew him well and didn’t expect to be knocked down by him. That happened during the first round; then I took control of the fight and got an unanimous decision. I think I won every round but the first. Herve Jacob was 30-2 and headbutted me making my face a bloody mess. After the 11th round, the doctor came to my corner and stopped the fight. Umberto Branchini officially protested with the European Boxing Union and they ordered a rematch. I won it via 10th round KO. Stephane Haccoun was 26-1-1 and a very dirty boxer who used his elbows like they were legal techniques. The referee didn’t do anything. I understood that I could do nothing to stop the blood coming from my eyebrows and retired at the end of the ninth stanza.
Why did you agree to fight four times in France and twice in England against dangerous opponents?
Because the purses were much bigger than in Italy. I knew that I was risking my WBO and European titles, but a champion must fight the best. In France, my record is 2-2. In England, 1-1. I got my revenge against Herve Jacob, so I cannot complain.
Why did you come back after a two year retirement?
Because they offered me to fight for the Italian super featherweight championship. I never did it before and I considered an honor to wear the national belt. Besides, the purse was right: 10,000,000 Lire. Today it would be 5,164 Euros ($6,196). In 1995, it was a decent amount of money. They wanted me to defend the belt and I asked an higher purse. They said no and I told them I wouldn’t get back in the ring for peanuts. I must give credit to Umberto Branchini that I never had to find a job to make a living during my professional career.
Tell us about your gold medal in the military championships.
The World Military Boxing Championships are organized every year. In 2005, a record of 33 countries participated in the 49th edition. I was asked to compete in 1982, while I was serving the Italian Army. Back then, I was training with Elio Ghelfi in Rimini and with the coaches of the national amateur team Nazareno Mela and Franco Falcinelli (current president of the Italian boxing commission). The Army people wanted me to prepare with two of their coaches, so I had a total of five trainers! Anyway, the tournament was held in Algeria and I was surprised to see long rows in front of the box office at 1.00 pm (the fights started in the evening). I discovered that the Algerians considered the World Military Boxing Championships a major event and didn’t want to miss it. In fact, more than 50,000 people attended the tournament. In such an evironnement, it was a huge thrill to win the gold medal.
How did you get the idea of working with the Italian national team?
I was in a Rimini gym and talked to the youngsters. I noticed that they listened very carefully to me and I understood that my experience could be useful to the guys who wanted to become boxers. So, I went to the Italian boxing commission (FPI), paid my dues like everybody else and became a certified coach. Later, they asked me to join the national team. Right now, I’m working with the seniors (over 19 years old) and with the best boxers ages 17 to 19. We let them train with the seniors to get them used to the athmosphere of the big time. Most likely, these teenagers will qualify for the Olympics so it’s better that they learn fast what they need to.
Who was your toughest opponent as an amateur?
All my opponents at the 1984 Olympics were tough. Some of them, like Pedro Nolasco, didn’t make it as professionals, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t good boxers. You know, in the last few years we have had the opposite problem: guys who didn’t win anything as amateurs and who became champions as pros. I think that’s caused by the use of the scoring machines. Knowing that ten consecutive punches will hardly be scored (all the judges should press the button at the same time), amateurs train to hit with one-two combinations and then make a step backward. Cubans and Eastern Europeans easily adapted to the new rules, because it was their tradition to emphasize strategy. In other countries, I’m thinking about Argentina and South America in general, a fighter is supposed to brawl for the entire fight and that cannot work in amateur competitions. Also, too many power punchers aim to score a one-punch knockout. They can find the right moment to throw their conclusive shot in a fight of 12 rounds of 3 minutes each, but it is much more difficult to find an opening in 4 four rounds of 2 minutes each.
Do you have any regrets about your amateur or pro career?
Yes. When I turned professional I should have competed only in the super featherweight division. My manager wanted me to stay among featherweights. Since I became European and WBO champion, I shouldn’t complain. The point is that making the weight was a nightmare for me.
Born in Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna on March 9, 1963
Height: 169 cm.
Trainer: Elio Ghelfi
Manager: Umberto Branchini
Amateur Career – Bantamweight
1979/1980/1981 Italian Champion (3 times)
1982 Schwerin (German Democratic Republic)- European Junior Champion
1982 Algeria – World Military Championships Gold Medal
1983 Rome (Italy) – World Cup Gold Medal
1984 Los Angeles (USA) – Olympic Gold Medal
Professional Record: 49 wins (22 KOs) and 4 losses
Pro debut in 1984
WBO world featherweight champion (2 times)
1st reign from January 28, 1989 to November 11, 1989
2nd reign from January 26, 1991 May 16, 1992
European featherweight champion (2 times)
1st reign from December 18, 1992 to March 27, 1993
2nd reign from May 28, 1993 to September 24, 1993
Italian super featherweight champion on March 22, 1995