The champ has message to deliver

November 29, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

When Vincent Pettway began his professional career 10 years ago, he knew he needed a manager and trainer to handle his boxing affairs.

But it was not until September when the Baltimore junior middleweight knocked out Gianfranco Rosi to win the International Boxing Federation title that he realized he also needed a social secretary.

Since bringing his championship belt home, Pettway, 29, has been in constant demand to make public appearances at city schools, churches and sporting events. And, he was grand marshal of the annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

He has spoken at Walbrook and Southwestern high schools, urging students to stay in school, reject drugs and set career goals.

"Some of the message still falls on deaf ears, but I believe that my words carry more meaning since I became world champion," said Pettway, who was accompanied by his veteran manager-trainer, Mack Lewis.

"A lot of these kids see me wearing a fancy championship belt and think it came easy. They don't know that I was in Mr. Mack's gym almost every night since I was 8. It's been a long, hard journey."

Pettway remembers being a "fair" student at Northern High School. "I was into football back then. I weighed only 135 pounds, but I played quarterback for part of a year," he said. "I got some feelers from Mount St. Joe, but by that time, I was caught up with boxing."

In his speech at Southwestern, Pettway said fighters without a high school education leave themselves open to the predators in professional boxing.

"If you get to be a name fighter, you want to be able to read contracts and manage your money," he said.

"I admire George Foreman for winning a title at 45, but when I'm that age, I want to kick back my heels and spend time with my grandchildren, not fighting in a ring."

Pettway is anything but one-dimensional. He works full-time as a recreation supervisor and part-time as a model for the Merry-Go-Round clothing chain. Recently, he also took on the management of a gospel inging group named Pure Harmony.

He is exploring ways to cash in on his new-found celebrity and met recently with sports agent Ron Shapiro to discuss his commercial potential.

"I don't want to spread myself too thin," he said. "Right now, I want to concentrate on fighting and defending my title. I'd like to be back in the ring by early next year."

Pettway appears to have three options for his first championship defense.

Don King is negotiating with Rosi's financial backers for a rematch in Italy. A boxing source said King asked for $1 million to stage the fight and handle Pettway's guarantee, with the Italian group obligated to pay Rosi's purse.

If that fails to materialize, Pettway likely would fight in Baltimore this winter. Contender Alain Bonnamie of Canada is considered as a possible opponent.

A less likely scenario for Pettway is a unifying title match with Luis Santana, who won the World Boxing Council title earlier this month, when Terry Norris was disqualified for a foul blow. But King already is working toward a Norris-Santana rematch.

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