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HE'S GOT MOXIE: Plainview's Rainone is unbeaten- and sells tickets to his own fights

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

was little."

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

8-0 record and a growing fan base on Long Island and New York City. A good

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,

Tara Nieminski, works at Belmont Park and knows a lot of jockeys at Saratoga

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

off work at 7 a.m., flew to Myrtle Beach, drove two hours to Charleston, slept

two hours on a hotel couch before knocking out Ronny Glover at about 7:15 p.m.

that night.

"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

p.m.

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."

New York Sports