By Sean Bastow – It is the 30th October 1974, and the biggest fight of the decade is about to take place in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Meanwhile, in Gary, Indiana the birth of another great warrior had just taken place.
Angel Manfredy was a fighter known for his reckless lifestyle outside the ring and all action style inside the ring, but things did not start out this way “El Diablo”
“I remember the first time I walked into the boxing gym, I put on the gloves and got dropped three times, but I would not stop fighting and I told the guys in the gym that one day I would be a world champion”
“Nothing was going to stop me, not the people putting me down, not my alcoholic father…nothing”
Some of the greatest fighters in history started their careers with a loss, and for Manfredy this was no different.
“Pride came before the fall, I was in my senior year at high school and I felt untouchable so much so that i went out partying with friends prior and then I got stopped in my first pro fight”
Manfredy would go on to compete in four more fights before being involved in a car accident which nearly took his life in eerily the same fashion as Vinny Pazienza’s accident only three years prior.
“At the time of the accident, I was not a stable man and I was very immature going out drinking and taking drugs and the next thing I knew i woke up in the hospital with the doctor standing over me telling me that i may never fight again”
Manfredy would make a speedy recovery and go on to pick up his first major professional title when he stopped Calvin Grove in the seventh round of their WBU super featherweight bout in April 1995. After the victory over Grove, Manfredy would be nicknamed “El Diablo” which is the Spanish word for devil
In 1998 Manfredy would face off against Arturo Gatti in what was an eight round war with Manfredy going in as the underdog against the highly favored Gatti
“I told Gatti what was going to happen before it happened. I told him that he wasn’t going to go the distance. I told him that he wouldn’t be able to beat me. What I said happened. In 1998 I beat the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world at the time”
“Gatti didn’t want to fight me at 130 pounds because he thought I was stronger. So he wanted to fight at 135Ibs at lightweight”.
“He wanted to be bigger than me. He thought that was going to make the difference in the fight because he struggled at 130Ibs. Little did he know I was struggling to make the weight too . When he said lightweight I thought, ‘beautiful, let’s do it!’ We fought in his hometown. The whole world saw it”.
The following year Manfredy would get at shot at the WBC super featherweight title going in against a young Floyd Mayweather, a fight which lasted only two rounds when the fight was stopped abeilt prematurely.
This was also the first time Manfredy had made big money picking up a pay cheque in excess of one million dollars.
“When I was sat in the changing room about to make my entrance I could hear the crowd they were yelling ‘Diablo! Diablo, the whole of Florida was on my side”.
I’m not angry about it but the Mayweather fight was a premature stoppage. I didn’t go down. I was on my feet. I am slipping a lot of punches. He landed three or four but he [referee Frank Santore] should not have stopped the fight.
“This was the first time I had made a million, I had the deal with HBO, and I was the star at this point. When the Mayweather camp realized I was getting more than them they were not happy”
Manfredy would go on to be involved in high profile fights with the likes of Diego Corrales, Ivan Robinson and Paul Spadafora before calling time on his career in 2004 but one of the most notable battles in his career was with his faith
The conversion didn’t happen until after the Steve Johnston fight for the WBC world lightweight title [August 14, 1999]. I had a party at my house on the same day as the [Felix] Trinidad-[Oscar] De La Hoya fight [September 18, 1999].
“When everybody went home, my wife and I stayed to do cocaine for three days. No sleep for three days, no water for three days and no food for three days. I was in my bedroom and my wife was downstairs. I was on my knees and all I heard was a voice coming through the room saying, ‘It’s time’.
I looked at myself and said, ‘Time for what?’ Back came the voice ‘Time to take your life.’ It seemed like the end. I am hearing voices of my dad calling me ‘stupid, dumb, you never going to be anybody and you’re never going to accomplish anything.’ I had a 45 in my closet and I had to make a choice.
“I heard another voice saying, ‘Are you going to give your life or are you going to take your life?’ In that moment I had to make a choice. I was thinking ‘do I take my life with this 45 or do I give my life to Jesus?’ Seconds away from doing it my wife came running through the door. I pointed at her and said, ‘Today we are going to serve the Lord.’ I didn’t have a gun in my hand but she said she heard a gunshot”.
“From that day on, we started to serve the Lord. That’s when I came out with ‘Got Jesus.’ It wasn’t until three-and-a-half years later that I came to the Apostolic Pentecostal church and I found out that baptism washes away sins. God spoke to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, he’s coming to you. Here he comes!’
Since retirement Angel Manfredy is now a trainer at Ricky Carr’s gym (Crown Point) and passes on his knowledge and wisdom from the years of highs and lows from inside and outside of the ring