From Hell to Eternity: Vinnie Curto Lives

By Robert Ecksel on May 19, 2013
From Hell to Eternity: Vinnie Curto Lives
“Your karma’s your karma,” Vinnie Curto said. “I guess I had to burn off some bad karma.”

“Hey lady, hey lady, I’ll go along with this, but look, I just fought ten rounds. You see these stitches? Please don’t smack me…”

“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”—Herodotus

Since 9-11, the drumbeat of terrorism has been unrelenting. Nobody disputes that what happened that day was a nightmare. Those who lost loved ones, and even those who did not, will never be the same. The paradigm shifted that afternoon, in ways that were radical and unforeseen. The age of innocence, such as it was, is at an end. But unanswered questions linger, as does the fact that we’re as likely to be as struck by lightning as killed by terrorists.

Domestic terrorism is another matter. Not the homegrown terrorists taking their marching orders from firebrands on YouTube. I’m referring to the terror in our homes, which often takes the form of a parent, more often than not a father, who gets his jollies terrorizing those around him.

I recently wrote a blog about Vinnie Curto. It had thousands of reads and the comments came fast and furious. Not all of them were on topic, but all of them were simpatico. One comment, in particular, caught my attention. It was by Vinnie himself. He wrote:

If and when this documentary is completed, the boxing world will know the truth. In a sport where you need 100% positive mental condition to go along with the obvious physical, I fought every fight with 10% mental health, and I fought all the baddest fighters the world had to offer in this condition. I was fighting for my very existence, and nobody knew it. I hope this documentary will answer the many unanswered questions that plagued and helped my career. In recent years, I made peace with myself, along with Sylvester Stallone, and I posted a little something on Hagler’s website in the same spirit. A close friend of mine, named Rooshi Kumarpondya, who I met at McGill University in Canada, when I was preparing to fight this young lion named Eddie Melo helped me. Eddie Melo, God rest his soul, did his homework and found out about my child abuse as a kid, and he made snide remarks at the weigh in, that really got to me, about my father. Russ Anber, who I discovered up there when I was training, was attending the school and told me about Rooshi. When I went, Rooshi had the article on his desk, and said he saw all that was said about me and my father. He said, “Do you want to win!” I said, “That’s why I’m here.” He said, “Good, we will get started right away! Are you prepared to love this man?” My eyes got real wide, I took a deep breath, and I said, “Yes I am, Rooshi!” I beat him, after Don King had just signed him, everyone had thought he would win. Now, I am finally winning in the rest of my life. It sounds cliché, but Love IS the answer. It’s strange, over the years, when it seemed like it was me against the world, my two silent admirers, Larry Golin and his wife Patty, never forgot me, and they are the reason why this is coming to fruition. Thanks to all you readers also, so much, for all the contributions and support!!!!! VC

I admit to not knowing much about Vinnie Curto, but after writing the blog and reading the above, about one thing I was certain: He is no palooka.

I contacted Curto, who is living in California, and we spoke at length. There are sensitive issues, some of which are decades old, which inform his life to this day. With that in mind I told him if there is anything he’d like to skip over, he should let me know.

“I’m coming out with both fists flying,” Vinnie told me. “May the cards fall where they may.”

Vinnie Curto was born July 10, 1955, in East Boston. He is 57 years old. His parents were American citizens but were brought up in the old country. His mother was Italian-Cuban. My father was Sicilian, Calabrese.

Wanting to cut to the quick, I asked him about the childhood sexual abuse he suffered when he was a child.

“That started when I was around seven years old,” he said. “I used to ask my father all the time, ‘Aren’t you supposed to do this with Ma?’ He used to be taken aback and have a sharp attitude, but he continued to do what he did. If I ever said something bad about my father, my mother would go nuts. One time he beat me real bad. He pounded my head and I woke up in the hospital. And my mother was telling me, ‘When these people come, you tell them you fell down the steps. If you don’t say that t they’re going to take you away and you’ll never be able to come home.’ And believe me, the only reason I wanted to go home was for my dog Jingles. And so when they came, the cops asked me questions about what my father did? I said I fell down the steps and my mother started screaming, ‘See, I told you.’ They said, ‘Yeah, you must have fell right after him.’ She was all banged up too. He was beating everybody. My father was a bad drunk. When he was drunk, he would do all the bad things.”

Vinnie’s father was a monster when drunk. I wondered if he was a monster when he was sober.

“Yeah, he tried, many, many times. He got sober for twelve years and he still continued doing it, going to my fights and bothering me everywhere I went, taking my things and molesting me. I finally stopped him. I was getting ready to fight Rodrigo Valdez for the middleweight championship of the world at Madison Square Garden, and he kept bothering me. I just gritted my teeth and looked up to God—I looked up to God so many times, I never believed in him, never did me any good anyways—but I grit my teeth and I said I’m not going to take this anymore. My father was pounding on the door of my dressing room to get to me. I opened the door and I picked him up and I threw him in a chair. I stuck my finger in his face, six, seven times. I said, ‘If you ever bother me again I’ll kill you.’ I called him what he always called me—‘asshole, asshole, asshole, asshole.’ That was my name. If he called me Vinnie I wouldn’t answer. If you called me asshole I would answer you. And I drew blood from his face and he was in shock. Never bothered me again. I said to myself, that’s all it took? This monster, this bastard that had this Svengali hold over me all these years, and all I had to do was stand up to him? It was sickening.”

I hoped to control the narrative and asked if he had a normal life outside the home, assuming one can have a semblance of normal life under the circumstances.

Vinnie said, “No. He used to take me everywhere, drinking, and he used to drink up all my money. I was on a bench once in a place called Sharkey’s Bar in Boston and he was telling a guy in the barroom, ‘My son’s the next champ.’ The guy says, ‘Why don’t you take him home and feed him?’ ‘He won’t eat,’ my father says. ‘He’s training.’

“Up on the fourth floor at Sharkey’s was the New Garden Gym. This guy says, ‘Take him up there. They’ll tell you if he’s any good.’ So, there we are, walking up four fights rickety steps, and at each landing my father would take a swig of Seagram’s 7. We got to the fourth floor, this big iron door, big sliding door, there’s a big racket going on behind it. We opened the door. There’s a beehive of activity. There were two white guys hitting the heavy bag, two black fellas boxing, three Puerto Ricans hitting the speed bags. I was so scared ‘cause I thought he was going to match me with those guys that were boxing in the ring. And they were hitting hard, fast, with precision, not like the drunks that beat me up in the street all the time. I got so scared, but my father passed out and I was happy. But I watched those guys, real and close, and when the bell rang to end the round they hugged each other, they kissed each other, they gave each other compliments, and everybody ringside did the same thing. And this black guy, I’ll never forget him, Freddy Small, came up to me and said, ‘Hey kid, you wanna do this?’ I said ‘ I’d love to but I have no money.’ He said, ‘Show up. That’s payment enough.’ And that was the start.”

I asked Vinnie how old he was at the time. He said he was ten.

Every son has a complicated relationship with his father, and those complications are magnified a hundredfold if the son becomes a prizefighter. I asked Vinnie, whose father played such a prominent in role in his life, if he had a background in boxing or was just obsessed with the fights.

“He was in the Marine Corps,” Vinnie said. “He boxed in the Marine Corps. He was a fighter in the Marine Corps.” Rather than elaborate, Curto went with the flow of stream of consciousness.

“My house, he’d be drunk, half-drunk. He’d scream, ‘Asshole, get in here.’ Like that’s my name. And he goes, ‘Come here!’ He puts a .45 on the table—loaded too.” (Vinnie starts to lose it. I can hear him fighting back tears.) “He then goes, ‘Yeah, asshole, pick this gun up.’ I said ‘No, I don’t want to.’ He says, ‘Pick it up!’ I pick it up. ‘Now put it to your head.’ I put it to my head. He says, ‘If you don’t win the title, pick this gun up, put it to your head and pull the trigger. Put a bullet in your brain.’ He says, ‘You’ll save me the embarrassment of calling you my son.’” Vinnie paused. “So I’m on this lifelong journey trying to recover from my father putting that fucking gun to my head. After he said that he would laugh, and I would too, but I wasn’t laughing inside.”

Boxing changed Vinnie Curto’s life. I wanted to know if he saw it as a way out of the life he had into another way of life, or if it was something he did in order to please his dad.

“To be perfectly honest with you, it was my first experience with love, because every time I did something good I got complimented. Freddie Small, every time I threw a left hook it was great: ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s it Vin, you’re great man. Look at this left hook he’s making! Look at this white boy! Look at this white boy!’ And I lived off the adulation, became narcissistic. And there was no way I wasn’t going to get a piece of that. It was something I never had, I never experienced, and I wanted to take a piece of it every day.”

Curto is smart, but more street smart than book smart. I was curious about his education and if he ever finished high school.

“I dropped out of school,” said Vinnie as he started to choke up. “School was rough for me. My father would have a bunch of drunks over the house. He would be having a card game. He drank up all my money outside, and the money I had left he’d have a card game with his friends, losing, punching the table. And we’d be under the bed in our room, scared to death what was going to happen. When he was losing, he used to get this look, like a shark in the night, and lurking, lurking, and it would be horrible. When something real bad would happen I would just blackout and wake up the next day.” Vinnie suddenly shifted from first to third person and back again. “And the next day at a distance—he was a little kid—there was this big, big smile on his face coming down the street, but when he got close, the smile was really a grimace. When he turned the corner it was in front of a school called James Otis Elementary School in Boston. The yard is empty. He’s late. He runs up the steps, goes to class. Teacher looks at him. ‘Late again?’ And I would sit down and look out to the Boston Harbor and see the ships leaving. I used to put myself on one of them and have a whole new life and whole new family and boom!—the bell would ring and the teacher said, ‘Mr. Curto, run off to your next class. I hope you learn something there.’ I go to get up, but from the corner of my eye, I see my seat is filled with blood. ‘Mr. Curto, run along to your next class.’ And I wipe my pants and I never went back.”

Vinnie began to cry, caught himself, and continued.

“My father was a real great guy,” he said. “You have no idea the type of man he was. My father was my hero. My father was my everything. He meant more to me than anything. And I blocked out all that bad, and all I did was look at the good. It stopped working about the time that he stopped doing what he was doing. I loved my father, but I recognized there was something gravely wrong. I looked into it years later. My father had a disability in the Marine Corps and he told me it was from Guadalcanal. What it really was is that he was gay, and in the Marines if they find out you’re gay you had a problem, and they fractured his skull. He married my mother, who was a lesbian, to appease normal societal practices. And my grandfather, let me tell you man, was unbelievable. He was real sharp, but he would have put a bullet in his son’s head and start over again if he found that out, and my father knew that. But there was good in him.”

I kept trying to steer the conversation back to boxing. It wasn’t easy. I asked Vinnie if the satisfaction he felt when he started fighting continued when he turned pro.

“When I turned pro,” he replied, “and I was fighting and I was making some money, not a lot of money, but I was making real good money, my father was taking all my money. I was living like an animal. He used to come down to Miami Beach—every fight I had—you can look at all the fights I had in Miami Beach— he’d come down and grab the check, saying, ‘I’m investing the money for you, I’m investing the money for you.’ I’d be living in this one-room shack that half the hookers lived in in Miami Beach. Angelo Dundee and Ferdie Pacheco couldn’t understand why I lived there. Either I’m real cheap and trying to save money, or ‘what the hell’s wrong with you?’ I just couldn’t tell them that my father was taking all my money. He bought properties though. He bought a lot of property. He did. When my mother and father died, they had a lot of properties that I didn’t get nothing of. I told my mother before she died, ‘ I’m going to expose you and dad.’ And they signed my name to sell some property. I said, ‘You signed my name. A guy called me up. You signed my name on some property that I inherited from my grandfather.’ I said, ‘ I’m going to put you in jail.’ She goes, ‘I’m too old to go to jail.’ ‘So you think you’re above the law?’ But she died like two months later, and in her will I got left two hundred dollars. It was a shame.”

If anybody can screw up a kid it’s a screwed up parent. And when two screwed up parents are in cahoots, it’s a double-barrel shotgun working overtime. I knew I’d hear more about Vinnie’s parents, whether I wanted to or not. But I wasn’t sure he’d mention Angelo Dundee again, so I asked about the Hall of Fame trainer.

Vinnie’s demeanor suddenly changed. His rapid-fire delivery was the same, but there was a buoyancy, an unbearable lightness of being, that was unfamiliar.

“Angelo was the consummate performer in the corner,” he said. “He was a motivational that the guys who get big bucks from to do that stuff couldn’t touch him with a handful of rice. The guy was amazing. He could make you do things, he could get unbelievable things in the ring by just the way he talked to you, just by the way he befriended you. You would never want to let him down first of all—especially me. He was actually my new dad. He was the dad I never had. He used to call me ‘son’ in that corner. ‘ You’re blowin’ it son, you’re blowin’ it son.’ He said it to me a couple of times when I was fighting a guy named Bennie Briscoe in Philly, and I came on like gangbusters down the stretch. He got the best of me nobody could get. He could train fighters, but he was the cornerman. He got the best out of your performance. He got two million percent out of you. Look what he did for Ali! And Ali never denied that. Ali always said, ‘I owe what I’ve done to this man here, Angelo Dundee.’ He proved it time and again, and over and over again, with the cutting of the gloves, pushing him up with Liston… What a psychiatrist, what a psychologist in that corner. He’d make things real simple, easy to understand. I was fighting Bennie Briscoe—my father died the week before, I dedicated the fight to him—and Bennie Briscoe hit me with a left hook in my temple and was blurred, I was seeing three. I went back to the corner and said to Angelo, ‘ I’m seeing three Bennie Briscoes. There’s three of them in front of me.’ He says, ‘Hit the one in the middle.’ I went back and was popping the one in the middle and I went down the stretch and got a draw. It was like a win in Philly. Amazing.

“Now the fight with Antuofermo, that fight there if I could get the film, Angelo and me, we turned to tables on him. He thought I was going to box. I did for the first couple rounds, and then we went into our fight plan. I took it right to him and backed him up most of night and finished real strong in the tenth round and nearly dropped him in the tenth. He left the ring, but when they announced the decision that he won, he ran back in the ring and took the win. Angelo said he was going to protest. He tried. It was terrible, a horrible decision. It was in Las Vegas. That is the City of Sin.”

There are as many highlights as there are lowlights in Curto’s career, and one of the highlights, or perhaps lowlights, was the time he was managed by Sylvester Stallone. The creator and star of Rocky is a bona fide boxing icon. Whatever one thinks of the Rocky films or of Stallone himself, there was a time when he was The Man.

“I was in Miami. I just got out of the hospital,” Vinnie said with a laugh. “I had a little mishap. I got shot in my back, my lower back, in Colombia, and was in the gym training. Lee Canalito, a teddy bear of a heavyweight from Houston, Texas, was in there training. He was a buddy of mine, and he was with Sylvester Stallone. He got a broken nose in the gym and wanted somebody to fill in for him. So Richie Giachetti, who knew my career and who I was, said, ‘You want to fill in for him?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah, you kidding?’ So we went to Lake Tahoe, at the Harrah Tahoe. I’m getting ready to fight this kid. I forget his name. I never met him and he says to me, ‘I’m going to pray for you.’ I said, ‘Buddy, don’t pray for me. You better pray for you. Because I’m prepared, I’m ready, and let me tell you something. You’re standing in my way.’ What a war I had with him. I beat him in a ten-round decision. That’s where it started.

“Then we go back to Sly’s home in Pacific Palisades and I’m living in Sly’s house and things are going good. Richie Giachetti’s training me and we get a fight at Caesars Palace, the main event on ESPN, and I’m fighting this kid named Jeff McCall, an undefeated kid from Cincinnati. It was a pretty good fight. I won a ten-round decision. I took the kid to school and beat him real good because he didn’t have that much experience like I had. So after the fight, I’m bleeding. I got cut real bad in the last round and I got twelve stitches in my left eye and I said, ‘Richie, I need to get paid.’ He said, ‘I don’t have your money. Sly has it.’ I said, ‘Well, Sly’s gone from what I understand.’ ‘That’s right. Go get the money from him.’ ‘I have no money in my pocket.’ ‘Can’t help ya.’ ‘Oh really?’ I grabbed Richie Giachetti by the throat and dragged him through the casino. We get to the cage and just as we get to the cage, security sweeps down on me. I said, ‘Okay you guys. You’re going to eventually take advantage of me, barbeque me, but not until I take a least two of you with me.’ They were at the fight. I say, ‘I gave you my heart and soul there tonight. Sly took off with my money and I have no money.’ They let me go. They said, ‘Richie, you’re on your own.’ That’s the truth. He said to me, ‘Give me back the $2500.’ I says, ‘Make it $5000,’ and he gave me $5000 and I didn’t bother him again. Sly was only aware of what everyone told him that was around him. Sly wasn’t a hands-on guy. He was getting his information from Richie and certain actors. He just listened to what he heard. But I’m sure after he thought about it—that’s why we’re friends today—Richie wasn’t on the up and up.”

Maybe Richie wasn’t on the up and up. Maybe Sly just listened to what he heard. But Vinnie had concerns above and beyond Giachetti and Stallone. He was a fighter in need of a manager.

“I’m standing in the lobby,” Curto continued, “and some big heavyweight comes up to me. He was stuttering, ‘J-J-J-Joe Conforte wants to see you. Joe Conforte wants to speak with you.’ I say, “Who’s Joe Conforte?’ I had this black fellow with me, a friend of mine. His name’s Gilmore. I said, ‘Gilmore, who’s Joe Conforte?’ He goes, ‘Ain’t that the guy who owns the Mustang Ranch? That’s the whorehouse.’ I said, ‘Whorehouse? What the hell?’ He says, ‘He wants to buy your contract.’ I said, ‘You know what? I’m interested to talk to him. He’s got all the money.’ So this heavyweight comes over with plane tickets—he had them in his pocket. We fly over to Reno, Nevada and I sit down in the room with Sally Conforte. Joe was on the phone. He gets off and says, ‘That there actor can’t handle your boxing career like I can. We have fighters down here all the time. You ever hear of Oscar Bonavena?’ ‘Yeah, didn’t he die here?’ ‘That’s another story.’”

Vinnie began to laugh.

Conforte offered Vinnie $150,000 for a four-year contract. The money sounded good.

“All of a sudden one of the ladies comes, one of the whores, with a suitcase. I don’t know if she was a whore, but she looks like one. Anyways, opens the suitcase up, there’s a money counter, like a machine, and they start putting stacks of money in there. A hundred and fifty grand! And Joe says to me, ‘When you sign the contract, we’re going to give you a 24-hour pass on the ranch.’ I turn to Gilmore and ask, ‘What is he talking about?’ ‘It’s like all you can eat in 24 hours.’ I says, ‘Sure, why not, what the hell?’ These doors open up, the security there, and we walk onto the floor and this big line of girls comes up. This heavyset girl comes to me, ‘Oh, you must be the fighter. We have to take care of you. Are you gay? Do you give—’ I said, ‘Are you nuts? Like gay?’ ‘ We’ll give you everything you want because I’ll get in trouble if you’re not satisfied. Which one do you want?’ I said ‘ I’ll take that one and that one.’ She said, ‘No, give me the next line.’ ‘Oh my God,’ I says, ‘That one’s beautiful. No, I’ll take that one, no, no, that one.’ She says, ‘All three.’ Boom! They escort me into the Jacuzzi room. I became the director. You shoulda seen it. They were playing movies and these girls were…”

The narrative trailed off. I thought to myself, that’s it? He’s going to leave me hanging? But I needn’t have worried. Vinnie was just catching his breath. It seemed like a good time for me to do the same.

“ I’m a sick bastard,” he continued. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t know where it came from. But this big, big girl takes this little, little girl and slaps her around, and the little girl can’t take it no more and she jumps up and knocks the big girl out—and I gotta sleep with the loser. I’m a sick puppy. I don’t know what it is. Anyways, I had them do my fantasy in the room with the Jacuzzi. And then all of a sudden the big girl comes out with whips and chains and smacks me right on my eye that I got cut on. I say, ‘Hey lady, hey lady, I’ll go along with this, but look, I just fought ten rounds.’ I say, ‘You see these stitches? Please don’t smack me.’ She says, ‘Shut up you miserable. You see him?’ I didn’t know there was a guy in there. There was a guy naked, looks like he was playing with himself. I said, ‘Where’s he come from?’ She said, ‘You seen him?’ ‘Yeah, I see the bastard.’ She said, ‘You suck him!’ I said, ‘Run that by me again.’ She said, ‘You suck him.’ I said, ‘That’s what I thought I heard.’ BOOM! And I don’t care. I hit a woman. She went over the projector with the film.”

The Mustang Ranch sounds like a lot of fun. I made a mental note to pay a visit when I’m in Vegas. Having heard Vinnie’s story, or at least part of his story, what better time to make a pilgrimage?

“I’m on the ranch for a week, a month,” recalled Vinnie, “and one day the floor maid comes running in.”

“Oh Vinnie, we got a problem, we got a problem.”

“What’s the problem?”

“There’s a guy here he wants his wife to get serviced and we don’t do that—and he’s one of our biggest customers, oh my God. You gotta help me.”

“What do I look like? I want to be a fighter. I came here to make more money. I want to be a fighter. Do I look like a friggin’ whore?’” Vinnie looked at the couple. “Is that his wife?” Vinnie paused for effect. “No problem.”

“This girl was six-feet tall,” he said, “from Sweden, triple drop dead gorgeous. In the room and she’s on the bed and I went down on top to look at her. And this old guy, he got up behind me and I said, ‘Buddy, whatever you do, whatever you do behind me, if I feel some drops I’m going to get up and give you a vicious beating.’ He says, ‘ Don’t ruin it!’ ‘I’m not going to ruin it. If I feel a drop—you stay far friggin’ from the back of me.’”

Vinnie didn’t get into specifics. Not that it was necessary. I have an active imagination as it is.

“We finished up and I felt so dirty. The guy gives me twenty-five hundred bucks, right? I felt horrible. So this kid Gilmore, I see him, the black kid, and he goes, ‘Hey Curto, I heard you were a whore.’ I says, ‘It’s not funny, Gilmore. I feel terrible. You know something? This money’s so dirty, let’s go spend it. Let’s go over to this other whorehouse.’ So we’re driving over to this place called the Kit Kat. And we’re driving and all of a sudden we’re swerving into traffic. I look at Gilmore. He’s off on drugs. I grab the wheel and I pull over to the breakdown lane of the cars. ‘Woo, woo, woo, woo.’ Gilmore says, ‘ I’ll take care of this, Curto. I’ll get out of the car and make it look like I’m one of Jerry’s kids,’” alluding to Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. “That’s what he said and starts walking. There are two cops. One comes over with a stick and he splits his head wide open. I jump out of the car and go over to the guy and he pulls out a gun. He goes, ‘Make a move and I’m going to blow your fucking brain out. I know who you are. I know who the car is. Take the car back to the ranch. This guy’s going to jail. You’ve got a lot of balls.’ I says, ‘Yes we do.’ So he gives me a ticket, for insubordination in public. It was—I forget the name of the charge.”

I thought it might be a good time to take a break. But Vinnie was on a roll and there was no stopping him.

“So here I am. Gilmore’s in jail. And I’m walking through the metal detectors two weeks later, and who’s standing on the other side of the metal detectors—right, the two cops. They said, ‘Oh, look who it is.’ I say, ‘Look who it is. The guy was drunk, he couldn’t even stand up, and you split his head wide open. All you guys have a lotta balls. Take those guys away—as a matter of fact, I’ll let you use those guns and I’ll stick ‘em right up your ass.’ And the guy hit me in the face with his hand. I hit him a left hook—boom!—he went down. His friend came, his partner—boom!—I hit him a right hand. He went down. I made the cross on the floor.

“Cut to I’m thrown in the cell with Gilmore and Gilmore says to me, ‘Curto, welcome to the Greenlawn Hotel.’ I say, ‘Gilmore, it’s not funny. I’m gonna get two years, minimum two years I’m gonna get.’ So the judge calls Gilmore and he goes, ‘Your Honor, I work for the Mustang Ranch.’ And the judge says, ‘Shut up in my courtroom.’ ‘Joe Conforte can defend me.’ The judge goes, ‘I said shut up in my courtroom. Thirty days contempt of court. Got anything else to say?’ Gilmore goes back and he says, ‘Curto, he was tough.’ I’m waiting and listening to the judge whipping through papers. Then I hear, ‘Bring me the guy who likes to hit police officers in the courtroom.’ I get on my hands and knees, as my life would have it, and I start praying to God: You know what? I can’t afford to do this time. If there is a God, I need help. I walked out there before the judge. And guess who the judge is? That same guy who paid me to bang his wife. I said, ‘How ya doin’ your Honor?’ He says, ‘My, my, my. Will the officers involved in this case please approach the bench?’ The cop says, ‘He broke my nose.’ ‘You listen to me,’ the judge says. ‘The Mustang Ranch provides a valuable service to this community. A guy gets up, wants to kill a cop with a gun, he’s on his way to find a cop, and the next thing you know he sees the needle, lies down, sees a couple of ladies—and a cop lives that day. Get out of my courtroom!’

“As God is my witness,” Vinnie told me. “That’s been the story of my life. I’ve had miracles after miracles after miracles. In Thailand I got killed. They killed me in Thailand and I lived through that to come back here. I must be here for a reason.”

I admit to not knowing the reason Vinnie Curto is here. I don’t even know the reason I’m here. But it was the second time in the course of an hour when Vinnie told me he was killed, or almost killed. The first instance was the “little mishap” in Colombia when he was shot in the back. And now there’s this business in Thailand. I asked him to explain.

“In Colombia these guys I was working for as a bodyguard had a problem with these guys that went to drugs. We went down for a sitdown in this fortress on a hill overlooking the ocean. These guys were real nasty and it got a little out of hand and a guy pulled a gun and blew my friend’s brains out. I grabbed the guy and I got shot, I got sprayed in my lower back with some pellets. I woke up in the American Hospital in Miami.”

That explained what happened in Colombia, more or less. What about what went down in Thailand?

“I was in Thailand and I was training at the best Muay Thai camp in Thailand. Let me tell you, in Thailand the gangsters are the army. That’s the Mafioso, the army. And this guy, the camp I was in, he was one of the head guys in the army. I was staying at the Presidential Hotel. I’m getting seven hundred fifty grand to fight. I’m walking through the streets of Bangkok and there are these little kids with their hands outstretched for some food. I took an advance on my purse and I went to the market and bought all kinds of food. I started giving it to everybody and I almost killed five or six of them, not realizing you can’t feed kids whole foods when their stomachs are swollen like that. And then I saw the queen of Thailand and started voicing my opinion of their queen. I said, ‘That dirty fucking whore over there, buying $70,000 worth of clothes and shoes and everything, while these poor little babies are dying in the street of starvation.’ I said, ‘Shame on her, and shame on your damn government.’

“I’m with a couple of guys, drinking beer at a place after training, and I started sweating. We jump in a car. I was next to the driver. There were these two guys behind us. We’re driving on the street and I’m feeling these hands all over me. I’m sweating a lot—and then I realized someone drugged me; the beer I was drinking in that club we were in tasted real bitter. I feel these hands going through my pockets. I was really out of it, so I hit the guy who was driving with a straight left. I’m not a southpaw, but I hit him with a straight left like Hagler would throw and bam!—we crash through this fence and we hit a statue of Buddha, believe it or not. I get out of the tuk-tuk and a guy comes at me and I threw a punch and I hit him. But I fall down and I see all these faces coming at me. And then I’m way up high and I’m looking down and I’m on a gurney, on a table, and my wife is screaming to these army guys. They’re slapping me in the face, slapping me, and then they pull the sheet and pull it over my head. I say, ‘I’m not dead.’ I’m up there looking, right? And I said, ‘ I’m not dead. What did you do that for?’ All of a sudden she comes back with these other army guys and one guy comes with a needle and sticks it in my heart. And I woke up. I booked two tickets out of the country. I can take a hint.”

There were more stories, heartbreaking stories, some of which caused Vinnie to break down in tears. But I reminded Vinnie, as I reminded myself, that although he is the subject, boxing runs a close second, and suggested we sharpen our focus and get back to the fight game.

“ I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” said Vinnie. “I’m going to unload the bomb with your article. The statute of limitations from 1977 ran. If somebody forced me to take a dive in 1977 and I ratted on him now, the statute of limitations have run. That’s why I’m outing this guy. The statute of limitation can’t touch him. He can’t get in trouble. I’m no rat. If I was a rat I would have done it in 1977 and made him pay back then. But I’m not a rat. I wasn’t brought up that way. Anyway, in 1976 I left Angelo and went with this guy, this prick up there, this guy up there who thinks he’s God but he’s not, John Gagliardi. I was getting ready to fight. Monzon fought Rodrigo Valdez and beat him, but then he retired. The title was vacant and they made me and Bennie Briscoe for the vacant undisputed middleweight championship of the world. I’ve already got a draw with him and I knew I could beat this guy on neutral ground.”

That fight didn’t happen. But it was a given that Vinnie would beat Briscoe (as he proved when they fought in 1980), and his first defense of his new middleweight title would be against Marvin Hagler.

“I had a contract to fight Hagler,” said Curto. “Nobody in the world really knew Hagler at the time. I was the number two in the world, and he was just getting ready to get rated. But Gagliardi was having so many problems up there with his business. He was a wiseguy and he was in debt up to his ass. I wasn’t getting good training. I lived in New Jersey, sparred with a southpaw there one day. Because of his gambling and everything else—I came last. And I was going to pull out of the fight. I told him, ‘ I’m not going to fight this fight. I’m not ready. I don’t have any sparring, nothing.’ Back then I was the hot ticket. Back then I was the Marvin Hagler, not him. He was just a southpaw who was tough. He went to Philadelphia and got beat twice in a row. I went to Philadelphia and won, actually won with a draw against Briscoe. Hagler got beat by Boogaloo Watts. He got beat by Willie Monroe. Two second-class citizens compared to a Bennie Briscoe. He came back and beat both of them, but still, I was the big shot.

“Gagliardi says to me, ‘Not only are you going to fight Hagler, you’re going to go in one. When he hits you with a good shot you’re going to lay down. The second fight, we’re going to talk to him. The third fight’s on the up and up.’ I said, ‘Oh really. Are you through?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I’m through.’ I says, “Okay, fuck you.’” Vinnie paused. “He was like a father to me. I looked at it that way back when. With fathers like that, he makes Satan look like fucking Santa Claus. I don’t know why I hooked up with this guy. I guess I had some karma. Your karma’s your karma. I guess I had to burn off some bad karma.

“Then something bad happened. I’m not going to discuss what happened because I don’t want to stir up a lot of crap, but something bad happened and I got the message. I went to Seattle. A friend of mine owned a steakhouse and I hid out on his ranch. I waited and tried to get in touch with certain guys so I can go back and fight the fight. When the coast was clear they sent a guy out to me so I can fight the fight again—and the same bad stuff was happening so I had to leave again. I was deemed yellow, a piece of garbage. And the funny thing about it, if Goody and Pat Petronelli would have let me out of the contract to fight Bennie Briscoe for the vacant undisputed middleweight championship of the world, they had a guaranteed signed contract that they had the first defense, if I won the fight, if I won the title. They were guaranteed. Goody, I have to be honest, Goody was thinking about it. But Pat says, ‘No friggin’ way. He’s not getting the shot. He fucked me where I sat. He ruined me that fucking bastard. And I finally said, ‘You wanna know what? Fuck this, fuck ‘em all, and I left.’”

The Telegraph wrote in an article titled, “Curto Pulls Out of Bout,” dated Sept. 23, 1977:

BOSTON (AP)—The much ballyhooed fight between Vinnie Curto and Marvin Hagler is off, apparently because Curto split a week before the scheduled bout and reportedly is in Seattle looking for another match.

Boxing promoter Rip Valenti said Curto, who exchanged angry words with Hagler at a recent signing, left the New Garden Gym on Saturday and hasn’t been seen since.

Valenti said he heard from another boxing promoter than Curto was in Seattle, looking for another fight…

Vinnie’s reaction in response to getting dicked around, while perhaps extreme, led to his being blackballed. That sort of thing had happened before, and no doubt it will happen again.

“I got banned all over the world except Canada,” Vinnie said. “Frank Sinatra saved my ass and sent me to meet this guy, his friend up there in Montreal. He knew what was happening and he said he would look into it. Sinatra wasn’t a gangster. But when one of those main guy’s daughters gets married, he sings two hours at the wedding and greets everybody, what’s that worth? He liked me. He helped me. God bless his soul. After I fought this kid Eddie Melo, I got this call in my dressing room from Frank. He goes, ‘Vinnie, you’ve just been reinstated in the United States.’”

Vinnie had one more fight in Canada before returning to the States to resume his career. It was 1980 and he won his next fourteen fights, including the rematch with Briscoe who he decisioned. A loss to Chong-Pal Park in 1985 in Seoul, South Korea, ended the win streak. But Curto kept fighting. He had 14 fights in the next decade, winning some, losing others. And in his last fight, disproving that justice delayed is justice denied, he won the WBF super cruiserweight title.

Vinnie retired in 1996. His record was 62-10.

“Boxing is a great sport,” former heavyweight champion Ken Norton observed, “and a dirty business.”

Vinnie Curto agrees.

“To be honest with you, that was like one day in the life and times of Vinnie Curto. But boxing was nothing but a helper. Boxing was my best friend. Boxing saved my life and it’s going to save millions of others. Make no mistake. Boxing is an all around good guy. Even if you don’t become champion, it gives you discipline. It makes you believe in yourself when nobody else does.

“Time and truth,” concluded Vinnie, “no matter how far apart, always comes together.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles

Comments

This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Gale Valliere 10:00am, 08/09/2013

    As I read this It seems so surreal to me. I lived next door to Vinnie Curto for about 10 years. Our families were very close. Vinnie was the first boy I kissed as a child. It is so crazy when these things were going on and how kids are don’t see anything that happening in front of their eyes. Our lives have always been intertwined. My mother’s brother was like a stepdad to Vinnie. I really hope the movie gets made. If there is one thing I did know about first hand Jimmy his dad was a very bad drinker. My dad was also an alcoholic. My dad lucky was very mellow never hurt us. But I know spend many nights there with all four kids. His sister was my best friend growing up. It sounds like Vinnie has a lot of anger. Well he should have. My best goes out to him hope he can let go of the anger. I know I had a lot of problems with my mother mental illness. Vinnie God Bless my thoughts are with you.

  2. Patty 10:37am, 05/28/2013

    Hi All,
    This is an amazing story.  There have been over 13,000 reads!  We are really trying to get Vinnie’s story made into a documentary.  We have not raised enough funds on Kickstarter and we only have a few days left.  Please pass this article around, ask people to go to CURTO on Kickstarter and donate what they can.  We will keep punching and we won’t stop til the bell rings!

  3. Bobby Bower 05:54am, 05/28/2013

    Amazing article. I trained with Vinnie briefly in the1980’s.I could not stop reading and the movie would be fantastic.

  4. S. Howard Seretan 10:44pm, 05/27/2013

    Vinnie is quite a unique individual in that he could overcome all the violence and evil done to him and still come out swinging….and helping kids.  To say he is a survivor is an understatement.

  5. Stephen Peters 10:40pm, 05/27/2013

    Yes, Vinnie’s life must have been spared for some reason.  I have been hearing about his boxing gym and the kids coming out of it are amazing.  Keep up the good work, Vinnie, you are just beginning to get the recognition you deserved a long time ago!

  6. Gisela 07:22pm, 05/26/2013

    Painfully straight into the heart, thank you for sharing. Vinnie is truly an amaizingly strong men . I hope the movie will be made soon.  It is fascinating how the pain can be channelled into a sport activity . Boxers are very colorful people! Got to love them ! Gisela

  7. John J. Raspanti 01:06am, 05/22/2013

    Robert,

    Great piece…

    Vinnie…you are the man…amazing honesty.

    John

  8. Elysse Parker 01:06am, 05/22/2013

    Wow, Curto’s life was something else.  Talk about the highs and the lows….he went from subterranean hell to the top of Mt. Everest.  He must have got one or two nosebleeds in the process.  either Everest or his dad one or the other..and still has a sense of humor.

    God bless him. Thanks, Robert for a great story.

    Elysee Parker

  9. Lorenzo Don 05:36pm, 05/21/2013

    Incredible story.  Incredible Estoria!  Been around the world 3 x., have encountered many, many amazing individuals.  But this one is definitely the absolute story of the century.  Thanks Robert for sharing.

  10. VinnieCurto 05:16pm, 05/21/2013

    Rich, thanks so much for your comment.  I did actually get a break when I went for my World Title shot in 1996.  Jose Sulaiman, the president of the WBC, told me there was a new world body from the WBC called the WBF, and if I got 6 or 7 wins in a row, I would get a shot at that title.  I won all but one, and that one was actually a win…there was a prejudiced judge whose son I had given a lesson to when he beat up a novice kid in the gym. But the break I got was that some kid I had given $100 to after one of the fights had bought a camera with the money.  He said, “Vinnie, take this tape and show it to the WBC.  I’ll bet they tell you you won.”  I drove all night to the WBC convention in New Orleans, and sure enough, when they viewed the tape, they were enraged.  I got my shot, and won the WBF Super Cruiserweight Title that night in Nebraska, and ended my boxing career with a win.

  11. Ken Hissner 07:37am, 05/21/2013

    Couldn’t stop reading the above.  Vinnie was like a cat with 9 lives.

  12. JOHN SCULLY 06:46am, 05/21/2013

    Hey, Rich Torsney, what’s happening???? Can I call you…message me ur number? This article is amazing…I know Vinnie a bit…VERY underrated boxer!

    ICE

  13. Clarence George 06:52pm, 05/20/2013

    A word on Sinatra.  Whatever his faults, and he had no shortage, he was usually a loyal and generous friend.  He helped a lot of boxers, in addition to Vinnie—Tami Mauriello, for instance, who was his favorite fighter.  And not just boxers—he did his best to save Toots Shor’s restaurant…but nobody had that kind of money!

  14. Rich Torsney 06:07pm, 05/20/2013

    Robert, like everyone else who’s commented I want to thank you for a great article but most of all I want to congratulate Vinnie for telling his story. It’s one of those you couldn’t make up a narrative like that tale. 

    My days in Greater Boston’s fight gyms coincided with Vinnie’s. Goody, Pat, Rip, Sam, Johnny Gag, they were all wild stories in of themselves. From a guy who was around the Boston fight game when all the stuff went down with the Vinnie/Marvin fight, I can tell you Vinnie, the word on the street from the fighters in the gyms, was you had good reason to get out of town. The guys I knew considered you a world-class fighter who just didn’t get the breaks. It takes all the pieces to come together to be a World Champ. Getting the breaks is one of those pieces. You’ve still got some rounds to go. I hope you get some breaks. Best of luck.

  15. peter 05:26pm, 05/20/2013

    Reporting back…What makes this article fascinating is 1) the unique story of Vinnie Curto and the remarable courage he shows by speaking out, 2) the simple, straight-forward manner in which it is written. Thanks, Robert, for mining another gem.

  16. Patty 04:30pm, 05/20/2013

    If you want to be a part of the VINNIE CURTO documentary, go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1398812776/curto
    It is with your enthusiasm (and donations) that we can get this movie made.  For each donation given, you get a reward/gift in return.  We really could use all the support we can get. It’s really simple.  Just click on the link above! Thanks!

  17. FrankinDallas 04:08pm, 05/20/2013

    Incredible story….needs to be made into a movie for sure.
    My family is from Calabria…yes, some bad tempers come out of Sicily and Calabria.

  18. peter 01:55pm, 05/20/2013

    What a gripping story. This is big screen material. I’m only one-quarter finished and need to step away from the computer—I can’t wait to finish reading it. I’ll report back! Excellent job, Robert Ecksel!

  19. gordon marino 12:59pm, 05/20/2013

    Mind boggling read. Such a brutal history. Seems like he has broken the circle. Amazing Vinnie didn’t end up a killer with the kind of rage that must be broiling in his heart. Great job Robert.

  20. Robert Ecksel 11:56am, 05/20/2013

    Thank you to everyone, but special thanks to Vinnie Curto. Baring one’s soul takes an equal amount of courage to stepping in the ring and Vinnie has both kinds of courage in spades. I’m honored that he trusted me enough to let me get his story into the world.

  21. Larry Golin 11:17am, 05/20/2013

    Hey Robert,  this is Larry Golin. Director of the Vinnie Curto Project.
    Thank you so much for your time, talent, effort, and support in getting Vinnie’s story out there. I am a major boxing fan. Vinnie’s life offers an amazing inside view into the boxing world and life of a fighter (not to mention his personal struggles with abuse).

    Thanks to you and all the boxing fans!

    Larry

  22. Patty 11:14am, 05/20/2013

    WOW!  This is an incredible piece of work from you and Vinnie.  Thank you so much for such an amazing read.  There are only 2 weeks left to get the remainder of fiunds.  Hopefully this will entice fans to go to Kickstarter and donate to CURTO.  Thanks again Robert!  Bravo!

  23. andrew 10:15am, 05/20/2013

    thank you robert you are my new favorite boxing writer

  24. Mike Casey 08:37am, 05/20/2013

    Brutal yet beautiful. If the movie comes off, then I hope Vinnie will be played by an actor with the passion and commitment of the young DeNiro. A director who can see beyond special effects would also do Mr Curto justice.

  25. Bob 08:30am, 05/20/2013

    What an incredible story. Once I started reading, I was mesmerized. I hope the film gets made. It has to get made. GREAT WORK.

  26. Matt McGrain 07:08am, 05/20/2013

    Excellent.

  27. Pete The Sneak 05:57am, 05/20/2013

    OOF! Absolutely riveting stuff Robert. Vinnie’s srory is truly amazing. Though I can certainly relate to a very minute fraction of what he’s lived through, it makes you see that no matter how bad you think you’ve had it, other folks have had it worse but still find ways to overcome. Sly Stallone didn’t know it, but he was managing a real live ‘script’ right before his very eyes. Great Stuff. Now, about that Mustang Ranch visit…Peace.

  28. dollarbond 05:50am, 05/20/2013

    Heck of a read.  Riveting.  Did it while I did my morning latte.

  29. Ted 05:03am, 05/20/2013

    My God Robert, this is a marvelous piece of work that must have involved an enormous amount of effort and heavy lifting. It should be read by every boxing fan, and in that regard,  I intend to email it to as many as I know.

    As if anyone didn’t already realize it, but now we know why you are the EDITOR.

  30. Clarence George 03:05am, 05/20/2013

    Bloody hell, Robert!  Between you and Vinnie…a mini masterpiece.

    Um, this visit to the Mustang Ranch: You’re too valuable to the Organization, er, Boxing.com.  We can’t risk it.  You should send me or one of the other boys…or me.  At least take me along for protection.  I’m qualified—used to do a bit of bouncing.  Just ask Scottie over at the Whiskey Trader.  Come to think of it…don’t ask him.  Still…

Leave a comment