written by Ken Hissner:
“In 1979 I was about 13, with about 3 months in the gym when I was sparring with Kenny Bogner, who was older (18). I was doing fine for 3 rounds, but in the 4th I was dead tired when his father yelled out, 30 seconds, open up,” said Vinnie Burgese. “He broke my nose. I was more embarrassed than anything crying outside the ring,” he added. “About a year later I got a call from Eddie Aliano (Philly’s finest cut man) on a Friday asking if I wanted to spar with Bogner Saturday,” said Burgese. “I got to bed early that night,” he added. “Next day in the gym, I beat the shit out of him,” said Burgese. “He started crying while he was skipping rope afterwards, and as I was walking passed him I said, good work out Ken,” he added. Bogner’s pro record was 25-2-1.
Burgese was one of the hottest amateurs in the country in 1982. He was a junior Olympic champion that year along with Mike Tyson. One of his wins was over future world champion Michael Moorer. He had lost the previous year for the first time in the semi-finals of the Sports Festival to Tony Smith and got a bronze medal.
A year later he beat Smith for the Gold in the finals. “In 1984 I was in the Olympic trials and lost to Henry Hughes from Ohio. I thought I won but they said he lost a close fight the previous year and this probably made up for it,” said Burgese. “I remember Tyson had lost too and we shared a cab together. Years later on the Atlantic City boardwalk I hear, hey Vinnie, and it was Tyson. He was always a regular guy with me,” added Burgese.
After the 1984 trials were over, Burgese lost to future world champion Frankie Randall 3-2 in a tournament getting knocked down in the 2nd. He won the 1985 Pennsylvania Golden Gloves and would turn pro in February of 1986 at age 21. He had compiled an 89-6 record. He was fighting for Russell Peltz (Peltz Boxing) at the Blue Horizon and Ron Katz (HBA East) in Atlantic City. “After I won my 5th straight by knockout my dad (and Pat Duff were managers) was approached by Duva and Top Rank, too.
Of the 4 he signed me with HBA with a 13k signing bonus. If I lost the contract was over,” said Burgese. “I fought Rasheed Ali, 5-1-2, in my 8th fight. At the weigh-in he was saying, you might think I’m crazy, but I’m going to stop Burgese,” said Burgese. “I’m walking past him at dinner and I told him, better enjoy your meal its going to be your last one, Black guys always got up for me,” added Burgese.
After winning the decision in 8 rounds he scored a pair of knockouts. In June of 1987, he fought Victor Davis, 11-5, whom he had beaten in the amateurs. He won a split decision in 8 rounds in Atlantic City. “We are still friends. There were only 2 fighters I fought I didn’t like,” said Burgese.
Burgese would have 4 bus loads heading to Atlantic City to see him fight. Locally, at the Blue Horizon he would pack them in. He fought 22 times in Atlantic City and 5 times in Philly. Two months after the Davis fight, he was matched with Eddie Van Kirk, 14-4, who had won 10 of his last 11 fights. Burgese scored a knockdown in the 5th round. “He kept coming, no matter how hard I hit him,” said Burgese. He won the decision in 10, upping his record to 12-0, with 8 knockouts.
“I fought D.J. Turner (had won 4 of his last 5 fights) after that and he was a tough guy,” said Burgese. He won 8 out of the 10 rounds in this one, but suffered a flash knockdown in the 6th, first time as a pro. Then he fought back to back fights with John Rafuse, 15-7.
“I don’t know why we were matched up again 3 months later (Rafuse had 2 knockout wins in between that time), but I had hurt my nose and thought it was broken,” said Burgese. Katz had told him not to worry about it he would never pass his physical anyway. “The doctor hardly touched my nose, though they usually check it out more thoroughly. His head hit my nose in the 1st round and I never quite recovered from that,” he added. Rafuse would win by technical stoppage in the 6th round.
This would break his contract with HBA, and Katz was moving on to join Top Rank. “Even though I didn’t have a contract with them, I wanted to fight for Katz and did,” said Burgese.
Burgese was off for 6 months until the end of 1988 winning a shutout over David Silva over 10 rounds. In early 1989 he would meet Billy Young, 27-2-1, from Michigan. “This was one of the few guys I didn’t like. He talked too much,” said Burgese. He would stop Young in the 8th round. “Jimmy Arthur took over as trainer and I felt bad because Wesley (Mouzon) did all the work up to the fight and didn’t make anything,” said Burgese. Next he would be matched with former IBF lightweight champion Vinny Pazienza. “I came in at 138 and he was 141.
Vinny would tell me sometime later he was about 165 at fight time. You could dry out the night before and put on a lot of water weight. He was just too big for me and the hardest puncher I ever fought,” said Burgese. He would come off the canvas 4 times before it was stopped in the 10th and final round.
After a 6 month lay-off he came back to fight Owen McGeachy, 14-3, who had a 7 fight win streak on the line. “This was a friend and former sparring partner of mine, and I may have taken it too lightly,” said Burgese. The bout ended in a 10 round draw. “I fought Willie Ford, from South Philly after that one and was knocked down in the 2nd round. I came back to my corner and asked if I was really knocked down because I knew he was a light puncher,” added Burgese. He stopped Ford in the 7th round. This was the first time since 1986 he had fought at the Blue Horizon, some 4 years ago. Within a month he stopped Juan Torres in 4 at the same Blue Horizon.
In June of 1990 he was back in Atlantic City scoring another knockout before being matched in August with Franco DiOrio, 21-2-1, who was unbeaten in his last 11 fights. “This was the other guy I didn’t like. Vinny (Pazienza) called me and said I better be in good shape, because this was his sparring partner and he could really punch. I thought I won easily but it ended up a majority decision win for me,” said Burgese. “I never got enough time off between fights to give my body a break. Even the sparring was tough in Philly,” he added.
Just 3 months later in November, he was in with Chuck Sturm, 22-2-1, who had won 17 straight. “This was a tough kid. I should have taken some time off after this fight,” said Burgese. He won the decision and was matched with Ildemar Jose Paisan, 26-11-2, the champion of Venezuela, who had lost a 12 round decision to Roger Mayweather in his last bout. This fight was for the vacant IBC Light Welterweight title the end of December of 1990. “I felt I had this fight won going into the 12th and last round. I got hurt and was begging the referee (Steve Smoger) not to stop it,” said Burgese.
Burgese was back in Philly 6 months later in an 8 round bout with Roland Commings, 16-5-2, and won a split decision. “Why I was re-matched with Commings 4 months later I don’t know. It makes no sense if you already beat someone. I had been having whip lash problems with my neck and it happened again in this fight, in Atlantic City. Commings won the decision in 10. This was October of 1991 and Burgese would not fight for until October of 1992, having torn in his rotor cuff.
He fought New Jersey’s Paul Denard, at the Cedar Gardens, in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. It would be the first time Burgese was fighting in the state outside of Atlantic City. He was down twice in the opening round and once in the 5th round, losing by technical stoppage in the 6th round. It would be his last fight ending his career with a 22-5-1 record, with 12 knockouts. He had been ranked as high as 7th.
“I still didn’t think my career was over until I ran into two former world champions, one being Joey Giardello, and shortly after, the other former champion, Meldrick Taylor. I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying. I thought it’s time to hang it up. I was only 26, but had a body of an older person after all those Philly gym wars,” said Burgese. He had been trained by Monty Carter through most of the amateurs until Mouzon took over. “He (Mouzon) was the best,” said Burgese. I told him how Anthony Boyle, had said the same thing after having about a half dozen different trainers. “Anthony and I grew up together and were in Colorado for the 1982 nationals. Many times we would be the only white fighter(s) on a team. They made you fight harder to gain their respect and I think I did,” said Burgese. That he did.
Burgese was known for his toughness fighting for 14 years before retiring, and one of the most popular fighters to come out of South Philly. He was with his 2 sons the day I saw him at Joe Hand’s Gym in South Philly. He was teaching them how to box. “I trained Vince Calio, and told him the 2 times I didn’t get butterflies, I lost,” said Burgese. “I promoted at what is now the New Alhambra. Then it was called the Viking Hall, here in South Philly, with Diane Fischer (now of Dee Lee promotions, Inc.). “Today, boxing is not the same. There is much more control. They don’t have the gym wars we went through that shortened our careers,” said Burgese. “Every time I went into someone’s gym it was a war,” he added. We ended our conversation both saying “I’ll see you at the fights Friday!” Boy, do I miss the days when Vinnie was fighting!
Go to www.phillykeith.com for up to the minute info on the Philly boxing scene