A humbled Pettway seeks to regain glory Fights Norris tonight in Richmond for title

February 24, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. -- A week after referee Richard Steele had thrown a protective arm around him in the 12th and final round of his junior middleweight championship bout with Paul Vaden at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas last August, Vincent Pettway found himself outside the same ring.

This time, he was watching Terry Norris regain his piece of the 154-pound title by knocking out Luis Santana.

"It was a real strange feeling," said the Baltimore fighter, now an ex-champion. "I couldn't believe I had lost my title in that same ring. It was very hard for me to accept."

Pettway, 30, spent the week after his loss in a hotel off the Las Vegas strip with his wife, Kathy, trying to understand how it had happened.

"It was a very humbling experience," he said yesterday, on the eve of his title match with Norris at the Richmond Coliseum.

"I didn't want to run and hide. Kathy and I did a lot of talking and praying. I had to search my mind and soul for answers," said

Pettway, a deeply religious man.

"The answer I kept getting was that I had lost my humbleness and hunger after knocking out Simon Brown last April.

"I got a lot of praise for winning that fight the way I did. I enjoyed the celebrity and lost my focus. I didn't know how to say no. I was running all over town, making speeches, signing autographs.

"But God has shown me that I have to work hard to stay on the right path, and He has blessed me with another opportunity."

In preparing for Norris, who now owns the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles he easily wrested from Vaden last December, Pettway vowed "to go back to the old days. First one in the gym, last one to leave."

As veteran manager-trainer Mack Lewis recalls, that was hardly the way the fighter conditioned himself for Vaden last summer.

"We were usually ready to close the gym when Vincent would show up," said Lewis, who has been tutoring Pettway since he was a 9-year-old. "Half the time, I didn't know where he was. Everyone wanted a piece of him. He forgot his main job was fighting."

But Lewis, who has devoted more than 50 years to boxing, senses a rededication in Pettway.

"With Vaden, I think he believed what everyone was saying, that it would be easy," Lewis said. "And that's the way he trained. But the way he's worked and sparred the last month, I can see a major change in his attitude.

"He's decided he really wants his title back and to prove to everyone that wasn't the real Vincent Pettway who lost to Vaden."

Although ringside observers agreed that Vaden dominated the fight after the fifth round, Pettway somehow found himself leading by a point on all three judges' cards. Had he lost the last round by a 10-9 count, he would have retained his title by virtue of a draw.

That became a moot point when he was trapped in a corner and failed to respond to Vaden's barrage of punches, forcing the referee to intervene.

Starting over is not new for Pettway. In his earlier days as a welterweight, he rebounded from knockout losses to George Leach, Javier Suazo, Victor Davis and Stephan Johnson to move up in weight and win the junior-middleweight crown in September 1994, stopping Gianfranco Rosi in four rounds.

He followed up with his sensational title defense against Brown, getting off the floor twice in the sixth round and landing a classic left hook to leave Brown twitching on the canvas.

But Norris is considered a tougher proposition. A combination boxer-puncher, the Californian boasts victories over Sugar Ray Leonard, Donald Curry, John Mugabi and Brown. He thoroughly outclassed Vaden.

When someone suggests this could be his last title shot, Pettway said, "That's the way I'm treating it. Not winning has never crossed my mind. With God's will, all things are possible."

Fight facts

Who: Terry Norris (42-6, 26 KOs), Alpine, Calif., vs. Vincent Pettway (38-5-1, 31 KOs), Baltimore, 12 rounds.

What: For Norris' WBC and IBF junior-middleweight titles

Where: Richmond (Va.) Coliseum

When: Tonight

TV: Fox, 11 p.m.

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