SARATOGA SPRINGS - Tommy Rainone made his way through the
crowd, found his mother and gave her a hug. He was not bleeding any more, but
his nose looked slightly off-kilter and there were crusty, rust-colored smears
at the corner of his mouth and hairline.
"Look at my baby's face," Jodi Ferone cried. "With this face, he should
have been a figure skater. Or a model. But this is what he's wanted since he
Rainone, 27, has wanted to be a professional boxer since he first saw the
movie "Rocky" at age 6. It is a dream that he hopes one day takes him to
Madison Square Garden, the site of so many fights he watched as a kid. It is a
dream that he has pursued despite some tough obstacles - including a difficult
childhood, an unremarkable amateur stint and his having to hustle to get
promoters to take him seriously.
In less than 11 months since turning pro, the Plainview middleweight has an
chunk of those fans made the trek to the City Center last weekend and watched
him win a four-round, split decision over Jorge Delgado.
"I have a big family and lots of friends who have a lot of friends,"
Rainone explained with a grin.
Rainone also has an incredible amount of moxie, which at this stage of the
game may be just as important as a good left hook. This is not the championship
level of boxing that casual sporting fans are used to watching. There are no
million-dollar purses, no sold-out bouts at Caesars Palace. Rather, unheralded
fighters at the start of their career often find themselves competing for the
minimum, which in New York State is $150 per round. Rainone made more than
$2,000 for a four-rounder against Delgado, which also included a cut of the
approximately 100 tickets that he sold.
That is right. Rainone sells his own tickets. He also manages every other
aspect of his career, from scouting opponents on the Internet to negotiating
his own contracts to choosing the color of his boxing trunks. And he does this
all while working a full-time job as an auditor on the graveyard shift at a
Hilton hotel in Plainview.
Rainone trains at Westbury Boxing Club with Jorge Gallardo, the former
trainer of top Long Island fighters Jake Rodriguez and Willie Wise. A southpaw
like Rodriguez, Rainone is a quick counterpuncher with a decent right jab. With
only two knockouts, both of the same opponent, some promoters have questioned
his power. Yet, Rainone has found other ways to win them over.
"I admire guys like Tommy because he wants something really badly and works
real hard to go after it," promoter Lou DiBella said. "When you're not a big
prospect, a sure way to get noticed is to sell tickets. If you can do that,
promoters will use you."
Rainone has done some crazy things to get the fights he wants. For a fight
in South Carolina, he paid his own airfare and got a practically free room from
Hilton in order to get on the card. When he fights in the New York area, he
gets a percentage of what he sells, and then works the phones relentlessly to
make sure he brings out the fans. He believes the fact that his girlfriend,
helped him get on the undercard of last weekend's fights.
Rainone also has accepted fights at a dizzying pace. At one point last
winter, he fought three times in 20 days, including two fights only five days
apart. He frequently fights on almost no sleep, in order to make it coincide
with his work schedule. The day he fought in South Carolina last April, he got
two hours on a hotel couch before knocking out Ronny Glover at about 7:15 p.m.
"Most fighters wouldn't take that risk," Rainone said. "I was pretty sure I
was going to win that fight, so I did it. The way I see it, if you're a
fighter, you're a fighter. You have to fight."
Rainone has been a fighter all his life. He grew up in Elmont, a block away
from Belmont Park. When he was 3 years old, his parents divorced and his dad
moved to Brooklyn. His mother remarried when he was 10, and life started
getting complicated. "Let's just say that's when my childhood ended," Rainone
said. "I had major issues with this man."
Rainone moved out on his own when he was 17, but managed to graduate from
Kennedy High in Plainview. At about the same time, he read an article in
Newsday about the Westbury Boxing Club, and he began working out there.
"The one thing I was always good at was getting in fights," Rainone said of
his childhood. "I think to a certain extent, it saved my life. Fighting was an
outlet. It gave me a real sense of discipline, a sense of accomplishment."
Rainone said he was too busy partying to fully dedicate himself to an
amateur career. At 23, he took 2 1/2 years off and traveled. He returned to
Long Island a little more than two years ago.
After his stepfather died unexpectedly of a brain aneurism, Rainone moved
in with his mother and three younger brothers. He also has forged a tighter
relationship with his father, Ralph; stepmother, Margaret, and their children.
All were in Saratoga to watch him fight last weekend.
It was Rainone's biggest fight to date, as he was on the undercard of two
10-rounders being televised on ESPN2. Rainone arrived at the Civic Center three
hours before the show so he could test the ring. While workers set up folding
chairs around him, Rainone shadowboxed in the ring, something he always tries
to do to get a feel for the tension of the ropes and the give of the canvas.
Several days before the fight, he was told he would be the swing fight,
meaning if either of the two feature fights went short, he would get to fight
on national television. The big opportunity, however, turned out to be a big
headache as the night wore on. Both fights went past eight rounds, meaning
Rainone, whose hands had been taped since 8 p.m., didn't get on television, had
to warm up three times and looked exhausted by the time he was called at 11:30
Still, a crowd stayed to the end to cheer Rainone as he won a close split
decision. And the judges weren't the only ones he won over. In the wake of the
fight, Rainone is weighing three possibilities for his next fight. No, there
are no offers for a spot on an undercard at the Garden yet, but it is starting
to look less like a pie-in-the-sky dream.
Said DiBella: "If there's enough people out there who want to see him, he
has a shot."