When it was finally over, Tommy Rainone, the kid from the suburbs, was smiling and talking, talking almost as fast as he was throwing punches. It wasn’t just that the fight was over. The ordeal was over. He was now a professional boxer and he had the $600 check to prove it.
It was done. He survived and conquered. He is 1-0. Who’s next?
Meet 26-year-old Tommy Rainone. He grew up in Elmont, Long Island and loved boxing more than any other sport. His friends could go play Little League or touch football or pick-up games of basketball. He wanted to fight. On September 15, at the Hilton Hotel in Huntington, Long Island, he entered the sometimes lavish and often cruel world of pro boxing. And after four rounds, he was smiling.
“I’m glad it’s over with,” he said.
He wasn’t talking about the fight. He will relive that fight in his mind 1,000 more times before the next one. He will relive that fight for the rest of his life. He was talking about everything else that led up to the fight.
“They changed my opponent four times,” he was saying, his body still dripping with sweat. There was some redness around his eyes and he gently ran his fingers over the swollen knuckle on his left hand.
“Bottom line is, I wanted the fight,” he said. “I sold all these tickets. This guy (Marquis McConnell) was a natural middleweight and he had 10 pro fights. That’s a lot for a guy making his pro debut. We found five more fights that weren’t listed on Boxrec.com and he won three of them. But it makes it sweeter, beating a guy who had 10 pro fights. What was I going to do? I sold the tickets, I wasn’t going to back out.”
For the record, he sold $4,000 worth of tickets, which had to make promoter Sal Musumeci smile. But heck, Musumeci was having his own problems. Other opponents were falling out too, including Zakeem Graham, the opponent for the main event, a 10-1 heavyweight who was poised to challenge Derrick Rossy, the crown jewel of Musumeci’s stable.
Musumeci set out to showcase Long Island’s young fighters and that’s what he did. Six of the seven Long Island kids won, including Rossy, who knocked out Joe Stofle, who took the fight on three days notice. Say this for Stofle, he took his beating like a man.
Musumeci found Rainone’s opponent because another local kid fell off the card with a broken hand. He offered that opponent to Tommy and he accepted.
“I knew that as long as I stayed focused I would beat this guy,” he said. “I knew I was in shape.”
Stay focused? How?
Relive the 28 hours that led up to Tommy Rainone’s pro debut and try to stay focused just on the story – no less the fight.
Let’s start at the 5 p.m. weigh-in in Manhattan. Rainone weighs 149½ and from there he went out to dinner in Little Italy with another fighter. But not for long. He made it back to Long Island in time to work as a night auditor from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. at another Hilton hotel. All the while, Rainone’s cell phone is ringing, vibrating and beeping. It won’t stop because friends and relatives want to buy tickets and he’s still looking for any bit of information he can find on his opponent.
Oh yeah, and another local promoter was calling about a possible fight in October.
At 7 a.m., when most people are rising for their day at work, Rainone heads home, showers and goes to bed. He sleeps until 4 p.m., the day of the fight. He awakes up to this: 17 new voice messages on his cell phone.
He ignores it, figuring, there is nothing he can do at this point. He showers again and heads to La Piazza in Plainview and orders two regular slices of pizza and one marinara slice. Then it’s off to the arena. He attempts to return some of the phone messages but once he arrives in the dressing room and starts talking with trainer Jorge Gallardo and cutman George Mitchell, the cell phone gets turned off.
“It’s time,” said New York State boxing inspector George Ward, summoning Rainone to the ring slightly after 8 p.m.
Rainone is a sting-and-slide southpaw. He stings you with the left and then slides away from your return punch. He was quite efficient in executing this strategy, although McConnell muffled his movement on occasion. When watching Rainone, who boxed behind a busy right jab, think Pernell Whitaker with less polish.
McConnell was of the holding and hitting school of pugilism. The best punches he landed were when he had Rainone tied up with his other hand. Except for that one haymaker in the third round. It was Rainone’s welcome to pro boxing moment. McConnell allowed himself to be backed into a neutral corner. He drew the eager Rainone in. Rainone proceeded cautiously, but was egged on by the chants of “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.” He threw a left hand and thus entered the trap. McConnell let fly with a counter right that caught Tommy Rainone with the first meaningful punch of his pro career. He took it. He stepped back, weathered the storm and fought on.
There’s a lot to like about Rainone. Well, okay, he did drop his hands a few times and wiggled his shoulders a little too much. And in attempt at bravado he would nod his head when hit flush. That may be an indication to his opponent that he wasn’t hurt, but it was also a clear indication to the judges that a clean punch had just landed.
But all that comes with experience and spending more hours with your trainer. Here’s what to like. The kid lives boxing. He trains like a Spartan warrior, he studies fights, he researches opponents. Rainone has embraced the life of a fighter. With so many things out there for a kid to embrace – so many wrong turns they can take – Tommy Rainone made the right turn. If you had never met Tommy Rainone before his pro debut, this is what you immediately knew about the young man who was about to embark on the very tough, very dangerous career that is prizefighting. He was ready.
He was ready even after working the graveyard shift the night before. If he was going to lose it was not because he was going to run out of gas in a four-round fight. He went to war every day at the Westbury PAL gym with Kevin Collins, a tough and tenacious retired welterweight. He was ready for war on fight night and he carried the action to McConnell for nearly every second of the bout. He could have fought eight rounds. Easy.
The decision was unanimous. Rainone won by two scores of 40-36 and 39-37.
So it was finally over. Once back in the dressing room, Ward returned and handed him the blue boxing gloves from his pro debut, a gift from the promoter. The cell phone went back on – briefly – and the inbox already had messages. He smiled. He couldn’t help but smile on a night like this.
“There were nights when I was fighting as an amateur, I’d be in the dressing room looking for the exit,” he said. “I’d be thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ Not tonight. I just want to do it again. I can’t wait to fight again.”
Spoken like a true pro.