Trainer takes tack of maddening Maddalone

Vinny Maddalone was chosen by Evander Holyfield's people to show up on March 17, give the 44-year-old Holyfield a stiff battle, give the fans in attendance and watching on pay-per-view a solid effort and then, hopefully, get himself knocked out.

If he doesn't get knocked out, Holyfield's people will be happy if Maddalone, a brawny heavyweight from Queens with a prototypical "dese, dem, dose" style of speech, loses a decision, or is stopped due to excessive bleeding.

In a phone interview on Monday, Maddalone (27-3, 19 KOs) didn't, as one might expect, bristle as he was asked about being brought in as a steppingstone to bring Holyfield (40-8-2, 26 KOs) closer to an improbable title shot.

Instead, the boxer, who turned professional in 1999, promised only to give maximum effort, and provide the fans with an entertaining show.

"I'm an entertaining fighter, a good TV fighter," explained Maddalone when asked why he's getting the shot against Holyfield, who has won two straight since coming back after a two-year hiatus. "I'm the perfect opportunity for Holyfield, and for anybody. I come right at you, I'm not hard to find."

Indeed, opponents haven't had to do much chasing of the 6-2, 230-pound Maddalone. By his count, he's accumulated about 250 stitches on his mug since turning professional. Fifty-three stitches were needed after his 2005 loss to contender Brian Minto, which was televised on ESPN2, and was considered an instant classic. Maddalone shrugs off his leaky epidermis with nonchalance.

"It's nothing unusual for me," he said. "It's like water on my face. I expect it. I tell people, when I walk to the ring I start bleeding."

So Holyfield has Maddalone's predisposition to cutting on his side.

And according to Maddalone's trainer, Al Certo, Holyfield has several other edges coming in to the Saturday night showdown in Corpus Christi, Texas.

In a recent interview with Lisa Scott of Fightnews.com, Certo, a 79-year-old New Jerseyite, gave a surprisingly harsh critique of Maddalone, and his chances against Holyfield.

"If you look at the overall picture -- Vinny is a tough, tough kid," Certo said. "But he's a mediocre puncher. Holyfield is a warrior who's done it all. So, realistically … we're up against a brick wall! It's like going into a war with no bullets! You never see Vinny in a bad fight, and if he goes in there and uses his left hook, that could do it. He's stronger with his left hook than he is with his right hand -- but telling him to use his freakin' left hook goes in one ear and out the other!"

I asked Maddalone about that mediocre assessment of his talents, and the boxer laughed.

"That's a motivational tactic," he explained. "He knew I'd see the interview, and it would fire me up. And I've been working the hardest I've ever worked. Certo's from the old school. That didn't hurt my feelings."

Certo, who's been a fighter, trainer and manager since he delved into the savage science in 1948, copped to the usage of reverse psychology.

"I try to use psychology, I don't know what else I can do," the delightfully frank Certo said. "As much as it sounds terrible, I don't know what else I can do. I wish him all the luck in the world."

Certo knows the limitations of his fighter, and realizes that this aged Holyfield, who won a disputed decision over Fres Oquendo on Nov. 10, is still the more skilled technician. But Certo is hoping that the aging process kicks in to high gear Saturday in Texas.

"Vinny could be the wrong guy for Holyfield's people to have chosen," Certo said. "Holyfield could turn into an old man overnight. But he's still capable, still a tough guy."

Certo thinks Maddalone has one prominent edge going in.

"Vinny's got a youthful chance," said Certo, a tailor by trade who owns his own shop in Secaucus, N.J. "I hope the other guy becomes an old man in between rounds."

"Vinny's got a youthful chance. I hope the other guy becomes an old man in between rounds."
Al Certo, Vinny Maddalone's trainer, on facing 44-year-old Evander Holyfield

The crafty tailor/psyops wiz/trainer went out on a limb with a prediction.

"It'll be a helluva fight," he said. "It'll be a KO on either side. But it's hard to KO Holyfield."

Certo has that right. Holyfield has been stopped only twice since turning pro in 1984. Riddick Bowe stopped him early in their third go-round, in 1995, and James Toney forced Holyfield's corner to toss in the towel in 2003.

For Maddalone, a win means a surge in his profile, and a title shot would be within the realm of possibility, with the multitude of belts floating about. He told ESPN.com he's making "six figures" for the Saturday beef, and a win would up his earning power another notch, for sure.

But the game battler, one has to think, will be mightily pleased, win or lose. As long as he gives the fans what they want -- a rough and tumble tussle -- Vinny Maddalone will exit the ring a content man Saturday night.

Michael Woods, the news editor for TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and the New York Observer.