Name: Paul Poirier
Nationality: US American
Hometown: New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA
Height: 5′ 11″
Paul Poirier: Autobiography
Many friends, colleagues, and family members have asked me to write how and why I became a boxer. And, more importantly, what led me to leave the ring so young when I had so much potential this is my story.
I, Paul Poirier, was born, raised, and still live in New Bedford, Massachusetts, with my wife Jill. I also have two children - a daughter, Melissa and a son, Bradford and, my daughter have just made me a grandfather of a beautiful baby boy Ethan, Many people, over the years have asked why I became a boxer and why I didn,t remain a boxer. The following is a recounting of my initiation and rise in the sport of boxing.
My early years were uneventful and spent living with my brother, sisters and parents in New Bedford. Although, quite young and unaware of my ability at the time, I began to show early athletic potential. My first victory occurred when I was ten years old. I completed an 18.6 mile marathon sponsored by the New Bedford Fraternal Order of Eagles. Ronald Vanasse, Eagle President, presented me with a Medal for this victory because my age prevented me from being sanctioned for this event. To the present day, I am still considered to be the youngest person ever to run this length of a marathon in Massachusetts.
However, in 1967, a tragic turn of events occurred which would change my life forever. My father accidentally died in a house fire caused by a lit cigarette. My mother, unable to overcome the tragedy, died three years later of a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving me and a young sister, Jacqueline, orphans. In order to save us from becoming state wards, my oldest sister, Lillian (Pike), brought us into her home and began to raise us with and as her children.
Left to much my own demise, I became involved in street fighting. Being slim, tall and without any training, I was usually beat-up on a regular basis.
Noting my inclination to fight, and my propensity to lose - my brother-in-law and legal guardian, Russell Pike, took me to a neighborhood gym. A local trainer, Sassy Leite, saw my potential and began to teach me how to box properly. Sassy told Russell that I was progressing too quickly for him to keep up. Mr. Leite advised that with my strength speed and potential, I would need someone to spar with on a regular basis. Sassy advised that I start to train in Brockton.
So, thats where my boxing career really began - in the gyms of Brockton. This is where I really learned how to box. I sparred regularly with MARVIN HAGLER a young middleweight who eventually went on to be coming the World Middle Weight Champion . I then started to go to other Brockton gyms to spar with other men.
I met Vinnie Vecchonnie at the Ward 5 Club in Brockton. He would become my main trainer and manager. Vinnie trained me to the height of my career. Under his tutelage, I trained and sparred with the best of fighters: Jackie Smith, Donnell Wigfall, Joey Benoit, Renaldo Oliveira, Stanley Santos and many others. I even trained and fought some light heavyweights like Dan OMalley, who was a heavy puncher.
I began to box in junior competitions before I was even sixteen years old. In 1972, at fifteen I won the 125-lb Silver Mittens Championship held in Lowell, Massachusetts. Later that year I won a bronze medal at the Junior Olympics.
Participating in the May 3, 1973 New England Golden Glove Tournament, I became a semi-finalist. Spurred by the spirit of the Golden Glove Tournament, I became a professional shortly thereafter, at age 15, using a fake birth certificate.
I quickly became a fan favorite. I exhibited a good jab, plenty of speed and a lot of moxie. The late Hall of Fame, Boston boxing promoter, Sam Silverman, likened me to former welterweight great, Billy Graham. Regarding my ability, Silverman said, "You know a stand-up boxer, really classy, but much more aggressive. Paul's never been in a dull fight in his life!" Coming from him that was a great compliment.
My natural skills and my innate desire to succeed and be the best, quickly elevated me from six round preliminary fights to eight and ten round bouts. Shortly after my seventh consecutive victory, which was an eight-round decision over 63-fight veteran Beau Jaynes, the Massachusetts State Boxing Commission discovered that I had turned professional just shy of my 16th birthday. If I had to take a leave from boxing for two years until I reached my 18th birthday, the legal age for boxing professional in Massachusetts, would definitely prove to be detrimental to my promising career.
By a special bill of the Massachusetts Legislature introduced by Senator William Biff Mac Clean, New Bedford,s home town boy was allowed to continue to fight. And, in December of 1974, at 17 - 1/2 years old, I didn,t disappoint my promoters. I became the youngest fighter in history to box at Boston Garden. I blitzed undefeated middle weight, Jesse Bender, in two rounds. It was my 25th Professional ring victory.
Tommy Rawson of the Massachusetts Boxing Commission said that I " was a rugged kid and a pretty fair boxer so we decided to change the rules." Rawson further stated, "We changed the law so that anybody 16 and over could fight, providing they had the ability to do so. So, because of my love of the sport and my ability to box, Massachusetts State Boxing laws changed for the future.
My career was rising rapidly. I was winning every fight and I was becoming very well known in the boxing world. At seventeen, I was offered a $75.000.00 contract by Gus D Amato. Gus D Amato was famous for making Floyd Patterson the light heavyweight champion of the world twice. All that I had to do was win two bouts one, over the high ranking Sullivan, who had just lost to "Sugar" Ray Seals - and the other bout, over high ranking Vito Antuofermo.
Instead of feeling on top of the game something in my life just didn,t seem right and, abruptly - I decided to retire from the ring after winning an eight-round decision over John L. Sullivan in the Boston Garden on January 18, 1975. My career statistics were 26 to 0. I was exhausted and tired of the boxing life!!
I was only 18 years old and I wanted to live like a normal teen-ager, like all of my friends. Most of all, I wanted to finish high school. My plan was to take a short hiatus from the ring and return in two years. At that time, I would only be 20 years old - still young enough to pick up the sport again.
Life interfered with my plans. My family converted to the Jehovah Witness religion, and according to religious standards, my boxing career was over. One dream I managed to accomplish - I did return to New Bedford High School, and I did graduate. That event was one of my proudest achievements!
Soon after high school graduation, while attending Church meetings, I met a beautiful, young woman name Gilda. I fell in love and she soon became my wife. Following in the natural order, in a few years - I became the father of my daughter, Melissa Joy and, the father of my son, Bradford. I was very happy with my domestic life. I loved being a husband and a father and my dreams to reenter the ring were forgotten. I was too busy working to support my family - being a good husband and father. There was no time to exercise or box, I was working at the fishing docks and for the New Bedford Public School System. I still dreamt about a boxing career, but time passed and I thought I was getting too old to consider reentering the ring.
My inspiration to return to boxing happened when I witnessed George Foreman's successful return to the ring. I decided if George could change his life I could, too. I decided to return to the ring in 1990 after an absence of 15 years. Now, at the age of 33 and a heavyweight, this was not going to be an easy task. I soon found out, my decision to box again was going to be the challenge of a lifetime. I was no longer a youngster full of energy and no responsibilities. I was a father and a husband and I had to make sure my family was well provided for before I made any life changing decisions. At the time I was working on the fishing docks and I was spreading the news that I was looking for a sponsor for me so I could return to my boxing , Eric Orman happened to ask me if I would be interested in him giving me some financial backing, Eric was the owner of Tempest seafoods Corp. I told him yes and from there I introduced him to my manager Vinnie Vecchione, so with the help of Eric I was abel to get my career back off the ground, but Vinnie and Eric didn,t see eye to eye and I had to choose between staying with Vinnie or staying with Eric and his financial backing , I couldn,t leave Vinnie again after locating him almost 16 yrs later so I left with Vinnie and went free on our own. Having to survive on my boxing matches was my only source of money ,So I returned back to the school system for employment While I was still in Boxing.
I wanted to re-enter my career were I had left off with my long time mentor, Vinnie Vecchonnie. I didn,t know if Vinnie would even work with me since I had left him broken hearted when I retired from the ring as a teenager. Vinnie had put a lot of effort into promoting me as a kid and there was no other trainer that I wanted more than Vinnie. I wanted to make up for lost time and I knew that only Vinnie could help me do this.
I had a difficult time locating Vinnie because I had not kept in touch with him after I retired from boxing. After months of phone calls, I finally found him. When I called him, Vinnie said to me, Is this the Champ I said, It sure is
I asked Vinnie to retrain me I wanted to box again. He told me it would be a long and hard challenge, but I was ready to give it my all. My first sparring partner was a guy called Kippy. I exercised at the Whitman Gym and, as time progressed, I needed a more challenging sparring partner than Kippy. Soon, Peter McNeely became my principal sparring partner. Boy, did Peter and I have some dog wars in the gym. Some of the boxing sessions were worst than the real fight, because you know each others weakness. I practiced long and hard and Vinnie decided that I was ready to enter the ring again.
Over the next three years, I achieved 10 wins and 3 losses boasting my total fight career record with 39 wins and 3 losses. Two of the losses were to Alex Stewart, rated #1 by the IBF, WBC, WBA RATINGS and Tony Tucker, former heavyweight champ. I ended my career losing to Larry Holmes, the 44 year old former Heavyweight Champion of the World when I didn,t answer the bell for Round 7 because Larry had broken my rib cartilage. I have been asked many times to describe what I think are my greatest achievement. If I had to list two of the greatest achievements, they would include winning and defending the New England Heavyweight Title for three consecutive times, after my come back and, meeting Muhammed Ali at a benefit held at Harvard College, Boston, Massachusetts.
I clearly remember meeting Ali. It seems as if it happened only yesterday and not twenty years ago. I was at Harvard that night to watch Peter McNealy fight. When Peter finished his bout, I began to walk over to congratulate him on his win. As I approached Peter, I saw Ali waving his hand at me, calling me over to see him. Ali was there, at the Harvard College Gym, to watch his daughter, Layla Ali, fight. I walked over to Ali and since his speech was weak, he gestured for me to come closer. I thought he wanted to whisper something to me because he was having a hard time speaking - as I got closer, he put his arm around me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. In his way, he was saying, I know who you are and I remember you Paul. because years before, I had visited his gym and observed his work out. It was very intensive! He remembered me on that visit - what a compliment! Although Ali could hardly speak, his mind was sharp and he knew what was going on that was truly a memorable experience.
So, when people ask me what stands out in my career, I always say winning the belt three times and meeting Ali.
Another life time achievement happened during November 2005. I was inducted into the RING FOUR BOXING HALL OF FAME. Vinnie, my career manager, attended. When Vinnie went up to the podium, he paused for a moment, and then with tearful eyes - he recalled some of the times we shared in our early days together. A boxing old timer who was in the audience that night and said, These two guys were like jam and peanut butter - they were meant to be together!
Even to this day, I have to admit that I have deep rooted feelings for Vinnie. I still feel guilty for the pain that I caused him when I was Vinnie,s ?Number One Prize Fighter and I left him.
I now close this chapter of my life the chapter entitled, Paul,s Boxing Career, by saying thank you, Vinnie, for the confidence you gave me, the courage you instilled in me; and, the really good times. Vinnie you introduced me to the wonders of the boxing world and the great champions of past. We shared some moments in our life that no one could ever phantom.
My boxing story is devoted to the most important people in my life: first, to my close friend and manager, Vinnie Vecchonnie, and, Most importantly, to my wife and children, and brother-in-law Russell Pike , who raised me as his son .
Also my two sisters who have since passed away for enduring and supporting my passion and my adventure to achieve my avocation.
One can only wonder "What if" - IF I had returned to the ring at age 20, rather than age 33 what story would I be writing now? ------- NOW MY RETIREMENT STORY -----------
MY memory remains as sharp as the punches I took on MAY 18th in 1993 in a place called Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
It was a scheduled 10-round professional heavyweight fight in the floating Casino Magic, and I was ready to take a chance. my opponent was former heavyweight champion of the world Larry Holmes and it was supposed to be one of the biggest paydays of my resurrected professional boxing career.
I was 33 and had nearly 16 years to think about what could have been before I decided to give boxing another chance. That was two years before his fight with Holmes. Long before that -- at the tender age of 16 -- the New Bedford High School student was allegedly the youngest professional boxer in the country. I was in the ring magazine prospect of the month. two years later I was 26-0 and moving up the ladder in both weight class and stature , but before my 18th birthday my boxing career was over, Or so it appeared, Just like that I walked away from the sport of boxing to become one of the "Jehovahs Witnesses" I had chosen religion over boxing . Even though I believed in my religion I couldn.t stop thinking about my boxing on what could have been. I didn't know what I gave up (at the time)," he admitted in an interview several years ago. What did i know as a kid at 17 yrs old all I knew is I gave up boxing, I didn,t realize that I gave up all the dreams that went with it . He said no one pushed him into giving up boxing once he joined the faith. It was a personal choice, one he freely admits making, and later regretting.
So, in 1990, Poirier made another decision that began with a telephone call to an old buddy. Twenty years earlier, Vinnie Vecchione and Poirier were the best of friends. Vecchione was a boxing trainer from Brockton, eager to share his knowledge of the sport with those willing to listen. Poirier was a high-school teenager anxious to learn everything he could about the fight game. It was the perfect marriage -- while it lasted. Twenty-six professional fights later, the marriage ended in divorce. Vecchione was devastated when Poirier decided to walk away from boxing. So when the telephone rang, he was somewhat reluctant to take the call. But he did and, soon after, Vecchione was back in the gym, helping Poirier work off the rust from 15 years of inactivity.
In November of 1990, Poirier was primed and ready when he stepped into the ring to take on Hector Merced in a scheduled four-round heavyweight bout in the New Bedford High School gym. A little more than two minutes into the second round, Poirier dropped his opponent with a flurry of punches and the fight was stopped. After two minutes and four seconds, Poirier was back.
He would win his first six fights on his comeback trail to run his career record to 32-0 before losing to Tony Tucker, on HBO - with Don King promotions at Caesars Palace to a talented young fighter who would go on to battle Lennox Lewis for the WBC Heavyweight championship. Poirier would later lose to Alex Stewart, another top contender who would eventually trade punches with Evander Holyfield.
Paul was 36-2 when he got the phone call from Vecchione. "I remember it like it was yesterday," Poirier said. "Vinnie said, 'You're in good shape, aren't you,' and I said, 'Of course, I am, why' 'Because I got a fight with the former champ Larry Holmes,' he said. "My first response was ... 'Yeah, right,' but when I found out he was serious, I was psyched." Poirier had about four weeks to get ready. In addition to his normal training in the gym, he ran a 10k road race and finished fourth. "When I told Vinnie about that, he laughed and said, 'You're in shape.'" i,ll see you in the gym on MONDAY. The closest he remembers coming to being nervous was a few days before the fight when he was in the pool outside his motel room in Bay St. Louis.
"I was just relaxing when I looked up and saw him (Holmes) staring at me. He looked down and said, 'Don't exert yourself too much, I need you to save that energy for me.'" The fight was nationally televised over the USA network, but Poirier remembers being calm as he stepped into the ring. Maybe a little too calm.
"When we were called to the center of the ring for our instructions, I remember trying to stare him down," he said. "Actually, I was looking up at him because he was 6-4 and I was just 6-foot. Me and Vinnie had this thing where he'd always have his hand on the back of my neck when we went out for those instructions. If there was something he didn't like me doing, he'd give me a gentle squeeze, and he was squeezing a little harder than normal this time so I got the message and trained my eyes on the floor."
The fight was stopped after six rounds when Poirier was not allowed to answer the bell for the seventh round. "We just sort of felt each other out in the first round and, in the second round, he really slowed down," said Poirier of the former heavyweight champion. "I was being very aggressive and he was hardly throwing a punch. In fact, it got so bad the fans started booing him and he turned to them and pointed to the ring as if to say, "Do you want to come in here?'" But in the third round, the old Larry Holmes formally introduced himself.
"He opened up and hit me with a barrage of punches, including some big right hands and body shots, " Poirier said. In round four, Holmes connected with a body shot that, according to Poirier, broke cartilage near my ribs and "made the skin in that area bulge out." "That was the hardest I've ever been hit by anyone and, for the next two rounds, he just kept hitting me in that area," said Poirier who spent the rest of the fight trying to catch his breath. "Vinnie knew I was in trouble and when the referee said he'd stop the fight if I wasn't more aggressive, Vinnie told him to stop it. I was very disappointed because I at least wanted to finish but I was hurting, believe me. In fact, I have the DVD of that fight and still watch it from time to time. And I wince every time I see those body shots landing."
That fight also sent Poirier a message. He wasn't a young Lad any more, and bouncing back took a little longer than it used to. Poirier had a chance for another big fight a few months later against Butterbean -- the rotund crowd-pleaser who had fought his share of top fighters in the heavyweight class. He even remembers a promise of a $50,000 purse. But Paul walked away and, this time, he didn't regret his decision. "It was time to give it up," he said. I knew that I was going to have a problem in the heavyweight division, so I left when I had my senses together, because believe me there are fighters out there that have the punch drunk syndrome talk , I was not even close to that point so it was time to leave And I did. Today, the 55-year-old Poirier is a custodian for the New Bedford School department. He lives with his wife of 36 years in New Bedford's South End and they are the parents of two grown children and 2 grandchildren,my grandson ethan and grandaughter ava .