LaPAGLIA struts into the Nor-Claire Pharmacy owned by his manager, Bob Fusello, in Chicago's far West Side. It's a tough,
predominately Mexican neighborhood, and LaPaglia, known by the boxing cognoscenti as "The Rage," looks tougher than anyone or anything the littered, glass-strewn streets surrounding the store could produce on a sweltering 90 degree afternoon
LaPaglia apologizes for being late and shakes the hands of elderly customers who approach him as they wait to have their prescriptions filled. These are LaPaglia's people and the West Side is his home turf. He feels a strong attachment and devotion to the individuals who enter and leave the store.
"I've let a lot of these people down," says LaPaglia with a sigh as a little white-haired man comes forward and proudly leans back in the small white chair across from a makeshift table where neighborhood folks receive free blood pressure checks.
LaPaglia was responsible for the rise in blood pressure of more than 1,400 irate fight fans on the night of August 22 at the DiVinci Manor. It was an evening that will haunt the promising fighter for the next few months and probably the rest of his career.
LaPaglia had a record of 1~1 when he entered the fight against little-known Danny Blake, a Milwaukee boxer who, at 4~1, seemed like a safe opponent. .
- After a five-month layoff from LaPaglia's first professional defeat, on network 1V, to highly regarded cross-town rival John Collins, Chicago's fight fans were hungry for The Rage's return.
Despite losing to top 10 ranked Collins, LaPaglia fought valiantly and looked impressive in defeat. ~
"The Collins fight made Lenny one of the most popular bright young prospects, across the country," said promoter Cedric Kushner. "In my short recollection of being in the business, I've never come across somebody that gained so much popularity in defeat. Many people feel he gained more popularity than Collins, even though Collins won."
But, on that infamous August night, LaPaglia's popularity reached a low never believed possible. -
An incessant and relentless puncher, LaPaglia dominated the first two rounds of his comeback. But, 1:04 of the third round, he quit. The knockout artist threw up his hands and walked to his corner 1C minutes after the opening bell.
Chicago's largest fight crowd of the summer was stunned as LaPaglia had his gloves removed while a jubilant Blake pa faded about the canvas. The Rage had left the crowd raging mad. He was booed as he left the ring and had to be escorted to the dressing room by security guards.
As Blake was awarded the victory by TKO, ring announcer Ben Bentley in formed the crowd that LaPaglia's purse would be held up, pending an investigation by the Illinois State Commission.
Rumors as to why LaPaglia said no mas whipped through the lobby like a twister across the Great Plains.
LaPaglia would not meet with reporters afterward, but his manager answerer questions.
"He got hit low and was hurtin' in the stomach," said Fusello. "He just wasn't able to breathe."
Fusello said LaPaglia's problems mat have been the result of a stomach virus he experienced the week before the fight or possibly a nose operation performer after the Collins loss.
"It came as a complete shock to me,' Fusello added. "He was winning the fight."
A despondent ~~ Kushner wandered mindlessly about the DiVinci Manor, disinterested in the other fights that continued in the ballroom.
"What I'm supposed to have is an excuse, but I have nothing," said Kushner, who has been largely responsible for boxing's resurgence in Chicago.
Some said LaPaglia had spent too many nights on Rush Street, Chicago's answer to Los Angeles' Sunset Strip. Others said that following the bloody loss to Collins, he was afraid to get hit.
The Rage didn't stay to answer questions. Several days later, however, LaPaglia shook his head and snickered.
"People will say what they're going to say," said LaPaglia. "But-l wasn't partying. I don't party. It's not part of the game."
LaPaglia has no excuses as to why he stopped fighting on August 22, other than an inability to breathe. The Collins fight impaired his progress physically, he says, but psychologically he experienced no aftereffects.
"I was injured," says LaPaglia. "If I hadn't been, I would have been fighting the next month. I think the [loss to Collins] helped me. It showed that I have an awful lot of heart. I couldn't see at all coming out for the 10th round, but there was no way I wanted the fight stopped."
Following the Collins fight, LaPaglia had to have his nose restructured and took shots to relieve pressure surrounding his left eye caused by pinched nerves. The fighter gently touched the area below his left eye and said, "Any type of pressure, even slight, sends pain through my face."
LaPaglia's comeback was originally scheduled for July 9. It was postponed after he received the shots. He said he felt as if he disappointed his fans that night and was not about to let them down again August 22, despite suffering from the flu a week before the fight.
"I was sick and didn't tell anybody," LaPaglia said. "I didn't want to cancel the fight. They had hundreds of tickets sold and it was being televised live on SportsVision. If I didn't get sick I could have beat him. I thought I could take him out in two or three rounds and I was wrong."
Fusello said he would have called the fight off had he known LaPaglia wasn't feeling right, but the fighter never told him i he was ill. "I think it's ego," said Fusello. "He refused to say 'I can't. I won't.'"
it was not the first time LaPaglia entered a fight at less than 100 percent Before the Collins fight, LaPaglia suffered a hairline fracture of the cheekbone while sparring with light heavyweight James Salerno in Florida. The Rage never die closed this information, fearing the fight would be cancelled. The injury took place -10 days before the bout.
"l don't want to back down, you know," said LaPaglia. "Nobody knew about the injury at all." ^'
Following the Blake fight, LaPaglia le for New York to meet with Kushner. The promoter said he still has big plans for hi fighter and he had to get across to hit what a drastic mistake he had made o August 22.
"I told him if you do the job in boxing and the public takes to you," Kushner~ said, "you can earn a phenomena amount of money. He had to know the that was there and he had to be advise that the pot of gold was there but he ha to go out and make certain sacrifices.'
Kushner brought LaPaglia t .Grossingers Hotel in Upstate New York where Ray Mancini was in training Kushner said he wanted Lenny to talk t Mancini because Boom Boom is a world champion, had a reputation as a ban worker, and is from a similar background and upbringing.
"We witnessed a man who was totally dedicated, and that's one of the reason why ~ Mancini's so successful," said, Kushner. "I wanted to illustrate that if you do the same thing, nobody's sayin^! you're going to be world champion, but you're certainly going to perpetuate you career."
LaPaglia returned from his trip to New York and appeared before the Illinois Athletic Commission the next afternoon.
The seven-man- board unanimously voted to provide him with the $1 0,000 payday that was withheld after the Blake loss.
Commissioner Harry Volkmah spoke on behalf of the board.
"It's been a long road for Lenny in hit career," he said. "We feel he's been penalized enough. He suffered mentally ant we feel because of the situation that Lenny should get a second chance, like many other people do in life. I feel that knowing Lenny like I do, there is nil doubt that it was not premeditated. It hap happened in a hurry."
LaPaglia said he is thankful the boars acted in his favor and that he is anxious to redeem himself in the ring.
"I've got a lot of training to do," he said. "If I'm in top condition, Blake shouldn't even be in the same ring with me." The rematch has already beer signed
Most young fighters lose their promising tag after losing two fights in a row LaPaglia, white, Italian, and marketable is getting a rare third chance. Non LaPaglia has to prove he is a real con tender. He can't afford to ever leave the fans in a rage again.