Can “The Pittsburgh Kid” Afford to Stay in Pittsburgh?

by Damon Ealy (AKA PghWindmill on the Boxing Times Blue Corner)

“The Pittsburgh Kid” Paul Spadafora is in jail. His girlfriend, Nadine Russo, drove north from Pittsburgh about 100 miles to meet him last week, despite having obtained a protection-from-abuse (PFA) order against him last June. The car in which she made the trip was reported stolen by its owner. (Apparently an annoyed relative or friend of Russo’s who didn’t end up pressing charges.) Police checked it out, found the two together (no contact allowed until 2010, says the court order), and Spadafora was arrested. Again.

Why is it that two of the most clichéd tragic figures, the woman who can’t quit the abusive guy and the bad-luck case who can never get it together, always seem to team up?

Spadafora’s not being charged on the violation of the PFA (And how can he be? It takes two to meet in an Erie County motel in violation of a court order.) But he’s still being held on a parole issue.

Paul Spadafora is a fighter that boxing people seem to like. To get it out of the way first: Sure, the complexion helps. I know that. But intelligent boxing fans recognize that Spadafora knows what he’s talking about when HE talks boxing. And they’ll tell you about the Whitaker-esque clinic an underdog Spadafora put on against Israel Cardona to win the vacated IBF title in 1999. They cite the heart he showed getting up (twice), staying cool and boxing to decision Victoriano Sosa in 2000. And to a lot of boxing fans in Pittsburgh, despite the mistakes, various and sundry he’s made outside the ring he’ll always be one of ours. (The best-known “mistake” being shooting Russo in the stomach in 2003. That she’s still with him eases my conscience, troubled a bit at still championing the guy.)

I live in Pittsburgh. After this recent scrape, someone asked me why Spadafora hasn’t left, gotten away from the distractions and bad influences and finally, at 32, done what he needs to do to have a boxing career. “He did leave,” I said. “He went to Erie.”

I was also asked about how the local media covered the story and what they had to say. Not much. And it’s hard to fault them for falling out of love with Spadafora. They were talking about his getting away from the bad influences when he was 22 years old. And when he was 24. And 26. Along the way, he’s gotten breaks the rest of us probably wouldn’t have. And at 32 and having fought five times over the last five years before last weekend, the general population isn’t interested anymore.

He went to Erie. Not far away enough, apparently. I looked up an article by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Chuck Finder. It’s from five years ago:

“Where are these so-called handlers and people in his corner? … Are they still deaf to the pleas of a young man who for four years has talked about wanting to live in Las Vegas, in boxing’s capital, and escaping the lure of his demons here? That shows how dizzily his world has spun — to think Sin City could have been Spadafora’s salvation.”

Seems some combination of personal connections, pressure from management, insecurity, and bad fortune keeps Spadafora around. When will he get out of here? I don’t know. When will his boxing career take off for real? I hope soon, but I’d guess never. Will he ever just settle down and be normal? That’s the one I’m probably most sure about- I can’t see it. Some people just don’t assimilate. There was probably a time people thought Johnny Tapia would slow down and become like everyone else, too.

I hope all parties here are as all right as can be. I hope for Spadafora that this most recent thing is an instance of overzealous law enforcement, and that he can move the hell on, figuratively and, if necessary, literally.

The original Pittsburgh Kid, Billy Conn, lived out some soap-opera drama, too. And he went to Vegas, but had trouble staying away. Then he came back, and we love him for that.


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