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Ted Panagiotis and Boxing: A Perfect Match
An Interview by JD Vena
These days it's not too peculiar when you see a teenage athlete competing among the professional ranks in sports. In boxing, however, it's common for young guns to lace on the mitts and or step into the ring with a belt entitled "world champion" on it. On the business side of the sport however, you rarely see a young adolescent working for pay as a promoter, manager or matchmaker. That's why if you know him or not, you should find it extraordinary that 24-year-old Pawtucket, RI native, Ted Panagiotis (pronounced Pan-a-jaw-tis) is the matchmaker for Jimmy Burchfield's Classic Entertainment & Sports. No, young Ted isn't new to the game either. He's been helping out with the matchmaking side of the business since he was a mere cub-like 15.
Known to some as "Dr. TKO," Panagiotis is the son of Peter Pan. No, not that Peter Pan. His dad is a Hall of Fame Surfer (used Pan short for Panagiotis) who has been featured on television, Sports Illustrated and USA Today. People still remark how his father would ride the gargantuan waves of the ocean as swiftly as the fabled character would fly. After reading this CBZ exclusive, I'm sure you'll find that Ted's success at his tender age doesn't have to do with fairly dust sprinkled on his head. He's paid his dues over the last decade, which is why he's riding his own wave into a promising future in boxing.
JD Vena: Ted the story goes that you got your push as a 9 year old when you mailed a letter to Jimmy Burchfield telling him that you wanted to work for him. How did you get involved in the boxing biz?
Ted Panagiotis: When I was a kid, my dad had been doing karate for many years. At the gym where he works out, there was a young amateur boxer who use to come in and spar with one of the instructors. That amateur happened to be Vinny Paz (formerly Vinny Pazienza). My dad also owned a surf shop and use to give Vinny T-shirts to train in and they became friends. When I was four, my dad would take me to Vinny's amateur fights and I quickly became a fan. I use to watch fights all of the time but what really put me over the edge was the Marvin Hagler - Tommy Hearns fight. From that point on I became an unbelievable boxing fan. Anyway, my dad use to do his own surf & sport report on WBIU, the Brown University radio station. It was only a three-minute report. He'd crack jokes about the Red Sox or rave about the Yankees, his favorite team besides talking about surfing. He'd also have guests on the show and they would always have these funny nicknames. There was a guy who played football for Brown and he'd always rip on his own team. He called himself "The Pigskin Prophet." Eventually, my dad had me come on the show and I would do my own boxing report. All of our listeners did not know that I was only 14 years old or what I even looked like. That's how I got the nickname Dr. TKO. After doing this for a while I realized I could get really good seats at the local fights. The first fight I went to was a Larry Holmes fight at the Fox Theater in Foxwoods and from then on I approached all of the local promoters and told him that I was on the radio and they would give me tickets. Around this time, I attended a show that Jimmy Burchfield did at the Convention Center in Providence and after the show I sent him a letter explaining that I loved boxing and would love to work for him, whether it would be in public relations or anything. At the time he didn't know how old I was and that's how his story takes effect.
JDV: So his side was a slight exaggeration?
TP: Yeah to him when he got the letter, he thought I was just a little kid who loved boxing. I wasn't looking for big money I just wanted to get my foot in the door and it worked.
JDV: What convinced him to believe that you could make in the boxing business? Besides your enthusiasm, what do you think he saw in you?
TP: At the time, he was a partner with a local judge on the TV show in RI called "Court in Providence." The show was about this judge who would let everyone off, no matter what crime they committed. Anyway, I met with both of them at a law office on Federal Hill. When I walked in the first thing they said to me was, "Ah Panagiotis, you're Greek?" I was hoping they weren't going to start speaking to me in Greek because I can't speak a word of it. But they said, "That's good. Greeks are hard workers."
I just started working for them right then and there. I think they immediately saw that I had the drive and devotion to boxing and that sparked their interest in me.
JDV: Though you were well researched, Burchfield had Tiny Ricci, another local matchmaker, teach you the ropes. What kind of things did he help you with?
TP: Well the most important part of matchmaking besides getting on the phone is getting phone numbers. Nowadays, it's not too hard tracking people down because of things like the Internet. But when I first started out, trying to get a hold of someone was impossible. I would call commissions sometimes and claim to be the manager of someone, but even when I tricked them on occasion, half of the time they would be giving me old phone numbers or just wrong ones. What Tiny did was give me all of his numbers that he compiled over the years and taught me how to talk to people on the phone. I couldn't be the nice kid who knew everything about boxing because if you're that way, you're never going to make a fight. Everyone you talk to tries to work you over. There is never enough money for them. They're always wanting more cash, more meal tickets, more hotel rooms and more travelling expenses. He taught me what kind of matches you have to make. For example, you don't want to match two southpaws together or two guys who are both known to be runners. Of course it's going to happen but if you have a choice you want the styles to match up well. He also runs a gym and taught me how to fight. He's really been great to me. JDV: A few months ago I read an interview of Max Kellerman in KO Magazine and he made some comments about matchmaking, particularly about J. Russell Peltz. He criticized Peltz for not making fights that were capable of being made. This statement infuriated many folks in the matchmaking business especially Peltz. Though Max is a very knowledgeable guy, what do you feel he's missing when it comes to putting fights together?
TP: It definitely infuriated me. First off Max is very knowledgeable about boxing but he didn't know what he was really talking about when he made those comments. Max strikes me as one of those kids in college who is very book smart but when you throw him in the real world and they have to use what they've learned they choke. He's a book smart kid who can tell you all about who Harry Greb or Jack Johnson fought but that won't get you anywhere in matchmaking. In matchmaking you have to know about today's guys and how to make fights happen. He said that without ever knowing what it's like putting a fight together. There are a lot of fights that look good on paper but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to turn out to be a good one. Another thing is that ESPN2 uses a very limited budget. You can't make a fight on ESPN2 that you can on HBO or Showtime. Peltz is working with a limited budget. There are some great fights on ESPN2 but for the kind of money some people ask for or offer, the ones that you really want to happen can't. I'd like to see Max put on a 4-round fight. Personally, I don't think he could do it. I use to watch some of Jimmy Burchfield's fights and would say, "I can't believe they put this guy in with that guy." It's impossible to get a great show if you have 8 fights. There's going to be guys who don't train properly or don't come to fight. I'm surprised I still have all of my hair. Besides stepping into the ring your self, matchmaking is the hardest part of boxing. I'd love to sit in front of a camera and tell the world what is wrong with boxing. Max does know a lot about boxing. I mean if I need to find out about a fight in 1920, I'd probably give him a call, but I don't think he knew what he was talking about when he made those comments especially since Peltz is one of the most respected matchmakers in the business.
JDV: Where does the money come from? How do you get contenders to fight each other? For example, how did you get Ray Oliveira and Vince Phillips to fight each other?
TP: Well Ray is considered a main event TV fighter, but he's not the kind of guy who can just fight anyone in a TV main event. He has a fight coming up on August 10th against Ben Tackie on ESPN2 and they like the fight. When they approve the fight, they give you a budget and tell you what TV is going to pay towards that fight card. But you can't make that kind of fight if you don't have a big venue involved. Oliveira-Phillips wouldn't have happened if Foxwoods weren't involved. ESPN2 just doesn't have the funds alone necessary in making that caliber of fight. In the club shows you need a lot of sponsors when it's not a TV fight. You work a million times harder for a club show than a TV show and you don't make a penny. But you have to do that to build the young talent.
JDV: What's it like when you throw one of your prospects in with a tough guy? What's it like days leading up to a fight? Is it nerve-racking?
TP: What Jimmy has taught me is that if you have a guy fight in his backyard then he should have an edge. Russell Peltz likes to use the Blue Horizon and we like to use the Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet (in Cranston, RI). If the fighter believes he has an edge, he's more apt to do his job. I've had a lot of guys get beat and at first I'd be kicking myself but there comes a point where the guy coming really prepared himself to win. If our guy didn't train properly or his mind wasn't in it then he shouldn't be boxing. But to answer your question, the most stressful part about boxing is the week before the fight. Once everyone has weighed in then I'm relaxed. Sometimes at the shows I have to do a lot of running around like bring gloves to a dressing room or something, but at fight time I'm usually at ease.
JDV: How did you feel when Scott Pemberton was knocked down against Le' Van Easley in their November bout for the NABF super-middleweight title? There was much at stake.
TP: Well that's tough because I'm also Scott's friend. I was screaming when he won and I was ripping my hair out when he got dropped. But Pemberton wanted the tough fight. He wanted a test because he wants to be a world champion some day. When one of your guys demand a tough fight and you have confidence in him, you put it in front of him and hope that he grasps it. If he hadn't trained properly for that fight, he probably wouldn't have made it out of the first round.
JDV: Several weeks ago, Scott was getting ready for his stiffest test against Thomas Tate when the FBI intervened a week before the fight and jailed him for muscling for a notorious New Bedford crime boss. What's his situation like right now?
TP: I talked with Scott today (6/18/2001) and his spirits are as good as they can be. It's possible he could be out very soon and according to the legality of the matter, he's still in the NABF ratings and would be in position to fight Thomas Tate, the champion as the number one contender. They stripped Scott when he was thrown in prison but he could be out any time. The hardest problem he'll have is getting a TV date. But if people sat down and talked with him, I think they'd realize that he didn't really know what he was doing was wrong. He's just not that kind of guy. With what the FBI had, they could have arrested him a long time ago, but they waited for a time to get him when things were going well for him. I still think he could come back and win a championship.
JDV: What have been some of your more memorable and shakier moments since you started matchmaking?
TP: Wow! There have been many times where there were great fights on our shows that I was proud of. Last year when I had Glen Forde fight Gary Balletto in Cranston. Man, that fight was a war. But what really stuck out with me was when Forde's manager told me he was right handed. Well, Forde came in as a southpaw and Gary never fought one in his life. It was that fight that I learned to never take a guy's word for it. You have to psyche these guys out and study them before you throw him in with one of your guys. Another memorable moment for me happened on the same card when Ray Oliveira upset Vivian Harris who was then undefeated.
JDV: You have an impressive roster of young prospects but who are you most optimistic about? Do you think Peter Manfredo, Jr., a middleweight has the most potential?
TP: Peter has a ton of potential. I really didn't know how much he had though until a few weeks ago. He went into his fight with Antonio Baker with a broken nose. Baker had just gone four tough rounds with Jermaine Taylor, the U.S. Olympian. The first two rounds between Peter and Antonio went toe-to-toe and it was very close fight. For Peter to come out in the 3rd round and knock him out the way he did with that left hook was something I really didn't expect. Peter has nice skills and based on his last showing, he's got power to go with it. Peter and Angel Torres, who was a 5-time national Puerto-Rican champion, have the most potential out of our young guys. For a featherweight, Torres can also really punch. Fareed Samad, who was an alternate to Fernado Vargas in the Olympics, is 9-0 with 9 knockouts and we expect him to do something too.
JDV: For most featherweights, particularly American feathers, rarely do you see them having a lot of fight before they're fighting 10 rounders. One of your new fighters, Jason Pires was 15-0 when he met Arthur Johnson, a 4-time title challenger. Where do you see Peter and Angel in two years?
TP: I think in two years they'll both be at least 15-0. Peter is already 6-0 in less than a year. As far as Angel goes, he's going to be gradually brought along. When Jason fought Johnson, he had never fought someone close to the amount of experience that Johnson had. Pires was a great talent at the time but he was thrown in there too quickly. We don't want to rush any of our guys. Gary Balletto is 22-0-2 and everyone wants to see him fight a top guy. What people don't realize is that the first ten people he fought were absolute bums. We look at him as having 12 fights right now and he needs the proper work. Right now he's sparring with Kostya Tszyu and he should be coming into his own very soon.
JDV: Speaking of Tszyu, by the time this interview is featured in WAIL, he and Zab Judah will have more than likely have just dispatched their European challengers, Okay Urkal and Allan Vesture. Oliveira has proven to be a much more qualified challenger than both of them despite their number one status. How distressing has it been for you in trying to secure a shot for him and what do you have lined up for him for the rest of the year. I've heard rumblings of a possible Micky Ward for New England bragging rights. The way it looks, there will be one more jr. welterweight title fight this year and it won't involve Oliveira.
TP: Zab Judah's people have offered a fight to us in the past but they offered money that Ray makes when he's fighting on ESPN2. We'd take the fight in a second if they were on reasonable terms and not on two weeks notice. Two weeks notice to fight the best guy in the weight class is not something we're looking to do with any of our guys. Like you said, Ray is one of the best fighters we have. He has great talent and a great chin and on any given day, he can beat anyone out there. What we're looking to do is beat Tackie and then we'll try to have some discussions with the winner of the unification match in the fall. We view Micky Ward as a guaranteed action fight but just another fight for Ray. For Micky, that fight would be his big payday. Micky is a good fighter but he's a little overrated. They put him in with Steve Quinonez and Micky knocks him out in the first round. What was the big deal in that? I have a tape of Quinonez getting knocked out by Hector Arroyo who can barely fight. There was no way that Steve was going to give Micky a fight. I was surprised ESPN2 passed that one as a main event. We've had discussions with his people about making the fight but they are adamant promoting the fight. We should have the power to promote the fight. How can they promote the fight when Ray is rated higher, he's the NABF champion and is unbeaten in his last 13 fights against better opposition than Micky. Besides Reggie Green, who turned down $30,000 to fight Ray, who else has Micky beaten besides Shea Neary who has lost at least once since his loss to Ward? Ray won five times last year and three of those wins were against ranked guys. Ward won one fight last year.
JDV: You've mentioned how close you are to Vinny Paz. In his last fight he was butchered by Aaron Davis. Since he's very near or past the end of the road, how far do you think Vinny can go and how far do you want him to see him go?
TP: We're planning for him to win 50 fights, which would be four more fights if he wins them all. I'd like to see him do that and call it a career. Then he can do his movies or whatever it he wants to do. I love Vinny. He's a great guy and a fun guy to be around. I definitely don't want him to get hurt but one thing people don't realize about his last fight is that we told him not to fight Davis. I felt bad signing the contract but Vinny insisted that we find him a tough fight and that he could beat Davis. You have to give Vinny credit for wanting to fight him after hand surgery and being off for over a year. Another thing people don't realize is that Aaron Davis is not shot. They were calling on his age and the amount of fights he had. But Vinny is Vinny and he's going to fight and as long as he fights I hope it's with us that way he can ride off into the sunset.
JDV: How do you want to ride off into the sunset? Do you eventually want to become your own promoter and run your own show?
TP: Down the rode some day I'd like to take over CES when Jimmy steps down. Right now, you couldn't pay me enough to leave him. I owe Jimmy everything for giving me the this opportunity. He and Tiny have taught me so much that I could never possibly pay them. Who else is going to give a 24 year old a shot? When Jimmy steps down I'd like to carry on and do what we've been doing all along, which is making great fights.
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