In a sport littered with them, he stands out as a capital C character, a study in behavior and life arc which deserves an extra measure of attention.
Vince Caruso is enjoying his time on the stage as we tick down to the main event tussle Saturday night, which pits his fighter, Frenchman of Algerian descent Nadjib Mohammedi, against a man who is supposed to bash him about like a pinata.
The New Jersey native, now a die-hard left-coaster, has a bit of the pro wrassler in him, you hear it when he’s at the mic at the final presser for the scrap, which runs at Mandalay Bay, and on HBO. There is a brashness, a theatrical stamp of surety in his voice, a comprehension of vocal tension and dynamics, which suggests he’s built for this moment. And indeed, Caruso did a stint in the pro wrestling world, acting as a manager after his run with Marco Antonio Barrera petered out, as the boxer left the arena, and he searched for other things to keep his attention.
Caruso actually manages Mohammedi (34-3) along with another guy not cut from the typical fight manager cloth, Jon Ali.
The Frenchman Ali does this on the side, as he’s a budding pop star in France and grew his fanbase with a stint on a reality show which draws viewers in hordes over there, Les Anges 7. Those guys, along with trainer Abel Sanchez and Sullivan Barrera and Joel Diaz, drove three hours from Cali to Vegas and came to Sin City Tuesday night. The vibe, Caruso told me, was upbeat. This isn’t a boxer put off by the odds, which indicate that the smarts thinks he has very little chance to derail the Kovalev pain train.
They enjoyed the county issuing a proclamation that Saturday will be Nadjib Mohammedi Day, which Caruso and I both found…interesting..and had us wondering if maybe fate wasn’t lining up to throw a curve ball and offer us the upset of the year at Mandalay…
“Mo is in the best shape he’s ever been in, there are no excuses, he’s healthy, Mo is ready to go! Win lose or draw, no excuses,” Caruso told me.
Caruso informed me how he got together with these cats, who he seems to have a true-blue bond with. He was handling Anatoliy Dudchenko, and got Dud a squareoff against Mo, on NBC cable, with Main Events, last June. Ali got to know Caruso during that fight week, and Caruso said he was actually more impressed with how Ali and Mo acted that week than his own guy. And the fight, same thing, Dud was just that, and Mo wanted it more, and got the W.
Caruso dumped Dudchenko immediately, disgusted with his attitude and then was pleasantly surprised when Ali reached out to him weeks later.
I saw what you did with Dud, he said, maybe you can help us with Mo? Caruso has music contacts, being that he got into showbusiness with Eazy-E, of NWA fame. He liked Vinces’ mettle when he went on his college radio show and offered him entry into that world when the kid said he wanted to learn some ropes. Caruso traveled to LA with $80 and a bag, and climbed his way upward, getting a toehold into the music and then boxing worlds. “Nadjib and me have been friends since we were kids, he wanted to be Muhammad Ali, I wanted to be Sam Cooke,” Ali told Caruso. They hooked on together and targeted Kovalev, and the top slot in the IBF rankings. Caruso would sometimes thunder and kvetch about the lack of speed in the upward ascent, get pissed off because that IBF top slot wasn’t resulting in a faceoff as quick as he’d like. Then, he had to jostle and harangue to get the sort of payday he deemed acceptable. Feathers were ruffled, as he sometimes brought that wrassler manager sort of intensity, which by the way is not a put on, into negotiations. Kathy Duva and Caruso have gone back and forth a few times, not always using sweetest voices…
“Ali is a great singer, Nadjib is a hungry fighter, and I’ve always wanted to be manager of the year in boxing,” said Caruso, who helped advise Marco Antonio Barrera, and was knee deep when he shocked the world against Naseem Hamed.”So Ali asked me, and you ain’t gotta ask me twice,” Caruso recalls. “Dudchenko didn’t have the mental strength to be champion but Nadjib does. Now, he was fighting in France, and couldn’t sell out a room with a capacity of 150. So so far, I think we have done a good job. Now last year, Nadjib would not have been ready for this, but I don’t think any fighter has progressed the way he has! See, I didn’t want him to become Karo Murat.”
Anyway, we came to town, these guys are smiling, they are in awe of nobody and I love the fact that nobody gives this guy a chance. Nadjib, he’s like guys like Nigel Benn, Davey Hilton, they show up and fight, no BS. They’d do it in a parking lot.”
I have the utmost respect for these teams, no trash talking…And people should know, those who say this is “just” a mandatory, Nadjib can fight! Now, he might not win, but I bet you this…win, lose or draw Nadjib will be on TV again, and not as an opponent! Arturo Gatti made a career out of losing, Gabe Rosado hasn’t won since George HW Bush was in office. The kid is not a punching bag, it will be competitive, I’m not worried at all! We are not taking the sacrificial lamb route, like this is a nice Vegas vacation for us. Nadjib carries himself like a champion! He’s got a quality like Gennady Golovkin, and him and Gennady have spent time together, hung out, this has helped him, to see how Triple G carries himself. Nadjib thinks, I can do that. Him and “Honest Abe” Abel Sanchez, it’s been a blessing, they have shown him how to be a professional.”
Now, people point to Nadjib’s losses…Caruso asked him about those. The Cleverly fight, he took it five days before the bout, Tony Bellew was supposed to have it. And the loss to Dmitriy Sukhotsky, there was a flash knockdown, he got up, was defending himself, and the Russian ref in the fight in Russia gave him a quick hook, he explained to Caruso.
Nadjib’s will to climb came about from a humble start. He grew up in a French ghetto, and could have made bucks hooking on with OC there. He spurned it, though his dad jetted when he was an infant, and his mom and three siblings had it hard. Nadjib learned to cook, worked in the garment industry there, and didn’t take the easy money, possible if he’d traded his principles. “Talk about willpower!” Caruso marveled. “I think he is the second coming of Fabrice Tiozzo. My guy, he’s not scared. So many of the guys who fought Kovalev were beat before they started because they were scared. Nadjib is not!”
Photo Credit : David Spagnolo/Main Events