The Devil Inside: The Life of Angel Manfredy
As a teenager, Manfredy lived and trained against a backdrop of a desolate, gray-toned scene of hard labor in an industrial landscape…
Peter 5:8 orders us to be clear-headed and watchful. The passage warns that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Angel Manfredy had once been that devil – a prowling lion seeking someone to devour. He harbored a pent-up wrath that was ready to explode with the slightest spark, and it did so with a blatantly theatrical flourish.
“That part of my life as the devil was before I found that there was a purpose in my life,” said Manfredy, 39. “I had been going through different phases, a suicide attempt. But, now I’ve got a purpose. I love reaching kids. I am called for a purpose. I have people who are 90 years old, who are coming up to me, ‘Angel, there is something about you, son.’ Everything is going to happen. I’m praying, believing, and thinking that things are going to happen.”
Manfredy was born in Gary, Indiana – the murder capital of the U.S. in the 1990s, and renowned as one of America’s most miserable cities. He grew up in East Chicago, where he was the youngest of four siblings.
“I was born on October 30, 1974, the same day of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle,’” said Manfredy, who still lives in Indiana. “I was born to fight.”
His steelworker father, Juan, and mother, Aida – both Puerto-Rican born – raised their children in a strict household. Their parenting mode worked for the first three, but not with Angel, permanently the problem child – “the baby who walked the wrong walk,” as he said.
“I was the only white kid in the projects, and I was fighting. My parents, they came to America as teenagers. I had no fear. East Chicago is where I started my career at nine years old. At 15, my dad didn’t like me no more.”
Manfredy said that his earliest memories of antisocial rage and perpetuating violence dates back to the third grade.
“In the third grade, I beat up this dude,” said Manfredy. “I came home, and there was blood on my hands. So my dad takes me to a boxing gym. I got knocked down three times. He just laughed at me. He would laugh at me or put me down. That was my dad. He would call me stupid or dumb whenever he was drunk – and that did something to my soul. He was always in hospitals, never knowing how he got there.”
As a teenager, Manfredy lived and trained against a backdrop of a desolate, gray-toned scene of hard labor in an industrial landscape. Bitter recollections: alcohol; marijuana; cheap fights in smoky lodges.
“I’m a steel worker,” said Manfredy. “I didn’t have a boxing background or a spectacular amateur career, what maybe 15, 20 fights? I hated amateur – that wasn’t fighting. My style was professional. As far as amateurs, I don’t remember that. People only know bits and pieces of what I’ve done. I’m a miracle walking. I’ve shown them the way.
“As a kid, I watched pro boxing, and I said, ‘that’s what I’m going to do.’ My favorite fighter was Julio Cesar Chavez – he was deadly, he had accuracy, timing, and power. He moved me.”
Two weeks after his 19th birthday, Manfredy was drinking and driving on a road in northeastern Indiana. The soon-to-be father was a struggling fighter with a record of three wins, two losses, and one draw. He swerved to avoid an oncoming car, fishtailed in the rain, and blasted into a utility pole.
The collision bashed the right side of his skull for more than 200 stitches. He said he that while trapped inside the wreckage, he saw an apparition, and he begged God for a second chance.
Around this time, he decided that his life story would be spelled out in the many tattoos that would plaster his body. It would be a story of good vs. evil – a drama with no ending, really. His is a life thoroughly involving mystery, with harsh twists and turns and blurry connections to the details.
Sometime after the crash, Manfredy bought a Halloween mask – a devil’s head, complete with flames and horns. He began wearing it into the ring – waiting for the right moment to reveal his face. The devil inside Manfredy soon made believers out of those who doubted his capacity to fight.
In 1995, he beat veteran Calvin Grove for the World Boxing Union’s super featherweight title.
“Calvin Grove had something like 53 fights before me,” said Manfredy. “All of those fights in me, man, something was happening – each one of them. You got to be willing to take a punch and not let it mess with your mind. Even though I was living like a devil after the fight, nothing ever got in the way of my training.”
In 1996, promoter Cedric Kushner took Manfredy to South Africa to defend his WBU Super Featherweight title against the national champion Mthobeli Mhlope.
“Cedric Kushner said we would have a fight in South Africa. Three days before the fight, I get there. I know I should have been there a month to acclimate – but not. I jump on the plane, and it takes 24 hours to get there. I get off the plane, and it’s snowing out there. It was summer here. I’m wearing a tank top. The gym is freezing cold, and I couldn’t work out.
“On the day of the weight, there was a witch doctor, who says, ‘you are a white man, you are a white man coming here, and you’ll never win.’ I put up my five fingers. I showed him my five fingers. On the day of the fight, I put on the devil’s mask, and I walked slowly into the ring. I’m looking out of the mask, and people are looking at me, and they are thinking, ‘what the hell is that?’ The guy (Mhlope), he turned his back the other way when I got in the ring. I knew I would knock him out in five.”
Arturo Gatti: “I Didn’t Like Him – No Way”
In his 25th bout, Manfredy landed his first major-gate attraction against Arturo Gatti, in Gatti’s adopted hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Manfredy wasn’t supposed to beat the Italian-born slugger; it was supposed to be a tune-up fight for Gatti.
Billed as the “Pride of Indiana,” Manfredy, 22-2-1, walked in the ring as the WBU junior lightweight champion and Gatti owned the IBF junior lightweight title and a 29-1 record.
Climbing from the ranks of the dysfunctional to the steps of the devastating, the underdog Manfredy opened a deep cut over Gatti’s left eye in the first, and knocked him down in round three with a textbook left hook. The fight was eventually stopped due to Gatti’s cuts with just seconds remaining in round eight. Gatti exited with plenty of stitches and facial damage, as well as $1 million in earnings and his second loss.
“I couldn’t throw a straight right hand at Gatti,” said Manfredy. “I had to turn it as I punched Gatti. I gave him a lot of respect, you know. I didn’t like him – no way. But I wanted to beat the best, and I had a broken hand. Man, my hand was so big after the fight with Gatti. But, you know, I got to where I got not having the popularity, the promoter, or the trainer, or the matchmaker, and I got there as an unknown. The best fighters are those who have stories. (Muhammad) Ali. (George) Foreman. We all have stories, brother.”
Floyd Mayweather: “It Was So Rigged It Was Pathetic”
Three fights later, Manfredy, riding a 23-fight win streak, fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. HBO dangled $750,000 to fight the 18-0 WBC super featherweight champion.
“I was holding the mask – the devil mask – in the locker room, and I hear the words ‘Diablo,’ and the whole crowd in Miami was for me. I’m hearing this, and imagine hearing this when they are wrapping your hands. I heard ‘devil.’ Devil. Devil. I’m looking at the mask, and I figured that when I got into the ring, I’d make a circle, and I figured that, if you want the devil, here’s the devil. So I threw the mask out.”
The first round was balanced – Manfredy even successfully cut off the ring in the final 30 seconds. In round two, Mayweather tagged Manfredy with a quick right hand, steering him to the ropes, and peppering a flurry of punches. Manfredy refused to take a knee and stayed on his feet.
Some called the stoppage by referee Frank Santore premature – and Manfredy said that the fight was halted too quickly.
“I had my hands up,” said Manfredy. “I was all defending myself, and they stopped the fight. I cussed them both out – the referee, Mayweather. It was all about money with Mayweather now – not boxing. Why didn’t he ever fight me again? We would have made some big money. Yeah, he caught me with a good shot. But I had been studying him like a scientist for eight years. I know how you finish. Mayweather, at one time, he was a complete fighter, mentally, physically, and spiritually. He could psychologically play a game on them. He was the guy that beats them in their mind.
“Arrogant people are always very confident. The dollar moves him – Mayweather. They had it all set up for him to win. The referee told him exactly what to do. It was so rigged it was pathetic. I’m 145 pounds, and I could go right now. I can throw down. But I don’t anymore. I know what I can do. I don’t care. Mayweather gambles, he drinks, and he’s hot and cold when it comes to religion and helping kids. He’s all confused. Unstable. All that money, and he ain’t happy. He’s fucking miserable.”
Ivan Robinson: “Yapping at the Mouth”
Following the Mayweather loss, Manfredy defeated Ivan Robinson on HBO’s Boxing After Dark in 1999.
Robinson returned to action following back-to-back victories over Arturo Gatti. But Manfredy had no respect for Robinson or his successes.
“I only took that fight because Ivan Robinson was yapping at the mouth. He had beat Gatti. I had beat Gatti. I got $250,000 for that fight with Robinson, and I took that fight to show this bozo who was the one who took everything from Gatti, who changed Gatti, who never left Gatti the same. That was me. Robinson lifted me up. Gatti was the highest rated fighter, and I didn’t care about Mayweather. Who was Mayweather? He never fought nobody.”
In 1999, Manfredy challenged Stevie “Lil’ But Bad” Johnston for the World Boxing Council’s lightweight title. The five-foot-nine-inch, 135-pound Johnston took a unanimous decision victory over Manfredy. At this point in his life he had the aura and attitude of a genial-seeming lunatic, perilously close to the edge. Deep disturbances still ruptured within, and he acted out perhaps the darkest period of his life.
“After the Stevie Johnston fight, I burned the mask, and there was the suicide attempt. I’m a Christian, and I’m not going to be affiliated with bad things. But back then, Will Smith came up to me and said, “My wife loves you.” Mike Tyson in Las Vegas, with cameras everywhere, he pointed right at me and said, “Angel Manfredy, I love the guy.”
“I’m not a follower – I’m a leader. I’m a warrior, I am a man of God. In life, you go to certain places. I’ll tell you about it. I went through a million dollars in less than a year. It was cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, I’d be dancing for ten hours, not sleeping for a week. I’d be dancing for 15 hours straight.
Manfredy’s career seesawed until his retirement in 2004.
“When you look back at what I did in boxing, what people don’t know is that for the championship fight with Mayweather, it was all rigged. They came to me before the fight to try on two different pairs of gloves, and I got my gloves the day of the fight, and they couldn’t fit my hands. I said, ‘I can’t fight with these.’ This was all I got. It was all very frustrating. I give him no props – none, man. I couldn’t do nothing. It was all disrespectful. I get these gloves a half-hour before the fight, and I couldn’t even make a fist.”
Manfredy said that he no longer refers to himself as “El Diablo” and that he is happily married to his high-school sweetheart, Yvette Rivera, whom he exchanged vows inside a ring on Thanksgiving in 1998. He said that he is settled as a father of three and now a devout member of a Pentecostal Christian church.
Manfredy frequently credits his faith for his success in the ring – and in life. He said that he was prepared to die every time he went into the ring and said he always felt “protected by the man upstairs.”
“Life is Getting Worse”
But Manfredy – and his religious zest – still remain an infuriating conundrum. In 2007 police arrested Manfredy at a travel center restaurant after his wife accused him of pulling her hair and choking her. (Manfredy underwent a full psychiatric evaluation and faced up to three years in prison. The charges of strangulation and domestic battery were later reduced and he served a brief prison term.)
“All I can say is that I live for the Lord. I live for the youth of this generation, and my heart desires to fill His will – not mine. I’m not going to be prostituted. I’m a new man, and we are new creatures. It’s been 12 years. I was the highest rated fighter in the world in 1999, and all the people respect that.”
“Life is getting worse. People are dying left and right. Read the Bible, and find your way. I want to do it all. I’m rolling with the punches. I’m in the valley. When you are in the valley, you have no worry, no doubt. I lived by faith even when I was the devil. Although I know what it’s like to worry.”
The life of Angel Manfredy is one of being rescued and revived, just in time, at various times, from the dire troubles of his soul. It may take the entire armor of God for Manfredy to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
“Say what you want,” said Manfredy, “but I realize who I am in Christ. Jesus is my father.”
The pendulum of Angel Manfredy only swings two ways these days; it sways in the present realm of the normalcy he says that he so desires: youth mentorship, family, and faith. And it dangles in the glory days of fighting and the deep, dark echoes of those past moments of pure vulnerability when he triumphed. Self-declaration. Anger. Nostalgia. There will always be hard influences at play in the portentous drama of his life.
“During that fight against John Brown,” said Manfredy, “there was a picture of me on one of the skyscrapers. There were people out there looking for autographs a block and a half long. But now nobody’s watching.”