Pettway has foe outside, inside ring Sickle cell research to benefit from bout

September 29, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Baltimore junior middleweight title contender Vincent Pettway is fighting for charity these days.

On Thursday, Pettway (35-4), ranked No. 2 by the International Boxing Federation, will battle Aaron Smith (10-10-1), of Gaithersburg, at the Pikesville Armory, with profits from the six-bout card going to the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for Sickle Cell Disease.

Pettway, 26, gives more than lip service in trying to raise money for the incurable disease that affects mostly African Americans.

One of every 500 African American children born in Baltimore is afflicted with the disease, said Dr. George Dover, who has directed sickle cell research for more than a decade at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where more than 300 children a week are treated.

"There is no cure, but there is treatment to ease the significant pain attached to the disease," said Dover. "Most of the kids I treat are enrolled in school or get tutoring at home. We try to make their lives easier, but we still need money to continue searching for a cure."

Pettway, who visited the Hopkins sickle cell ward for children, became involved in the fund-raising after a conversation last week with his younger sister, Michelle.

"It really hit home when I found out Michelle had [the] sickle cell trait. She had never told me before. Fortunately, having the gene trait is not life-threatening, but seeing the kids suffering in the hospital showed me how devastating the disease can be."

Pettway, awaiting a title shot against the winner of the Gianfranco Rosi-Gilbert Dele rematch this fall, has not fought since winning the U.S. Boxing Association crown last February by outpointing Gilbert Baptist.

In the past seven months, he was offered several matches, including a $75,000 purse to fight World Boxing Council middleweight champion Julian Jackson. But Pettway and his veteran manager-trainer, Mack Lewis, wanted to minimize the risks with a 154-pound title bout on the horizon.

"When you have a title within reach, you don't want to put yourself in jeopardy," he said.

"I'm a natural 154-pounder, and I'd have been giving up too much weight and punching power fighting a guy like Jackson. Sometimes the money just isn't enough.

Pettway believed he would be challenging Rosi, the champion, this fall. But when the Italian won a controversial decision over France's Dele in Paris this summer, the IBF ordered a rematch, putting Pettway on hold.

Pettway, whose past title ambitions were stymied by losses to Victor Davis and Stefan Johnson, believes he is a better fighter.

"I'm a much more relaxed fighter now," he said. "Even in beating Baptist, I felt I tried to force things too much. I felt I had to carry the fight to him or the judges might give him the edge for aggressiveness. But I found out in the late rounds that I was much more successful just boxing him from the outside."

Pettway knows little about Smith and his boxing style, save that he has gone the distance against IBF Intercontinental middleweight champion Percy Harris and promising Washington junior middleweight Michael Ward. Smith also upset former contender Donny Poole.

"At this point, I can't take anyone lightly," said Pettway. "If I lose, I may never get another title shot."

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