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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 10:23 GMT
Living the dream
By Richard Hookham

From reality TV star to world champion?

Even given boxing's reputation for crass exploitation at times, the prospect seems faintly ludicrous.

But for Peter Manfredo Jr, who shot to fame as the runner-up in the first series of the American show 'The Contender', the dream is very much a reality.

Peter Manfredo
I'm here because I'm a professional fighter, this is my living and it's serious business

Peter Manfredo Jr

On Saturday, at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, the American will face Wales' WBO super middleweight hero Joe Calzaghe, who will be defending his world crown for a 20th time.

But anyone worried that Manfredo is just a rookie ring patsy taking part in a cheap publicity stunt needs to know the full picture.

'The Contender' may have appeared as some corny pugilistic TV soap opera to some, but Manfredo, like the other fighters on the show, is a seasoned pro.

As he pointed out on his visit to London to promote the fight, he had genuine hopes of making it big long before the cameras started rolling.

"Any fighter in my shoes would have jumped at the chance of going on the programme, earning good money and improving their profile," Manfredo said.

"Without it, maybe I wouldn't have got this chance but I'll take this chance now, no problem."

If Manfredo was an extra in a Rocky film he would play the happy Italian kid on the punch bag in the corner of a musty old Bronx gym, dreaming of landing his golden chance.

He talks like one too: polite, respectful, but with a ready arsenal of snappy Joe Pesci-like one-liners that even had Calzaghe smiling when they met.

"As soon as I heard I'd got the fight I couldn't stop smiling and haven't stopped since," said the 26-year-old from Providence, Rhode Island.

"I've been waiting for this all my life and my dream has finally come true.

"But get it straight, I haven't come over here to lose. I'm confident I can take Joe's title.

Peter Manfredo
Born: 26.11.80
Style: Orthodox
Height: 5ft 9ins
Nickname: The Pride of Providence
Fights: 29
Wins: 26
Wins by KO: 12
Losses: 3

"I rate him as the best in the world - alongside Floyd Mayweather - but I reckon he may underestimate me - and that's good."

Manfredo earned his chance with wins over former world title challenger Scott Pemberton and Joey Spina, who has held the IBF inter-continental belt - proof again that he is no fall guy.

The Pemberton fight was his first at super middleweight and Manfredo insists he just loves campaigning at the 168lb limit.

"Look at me, I'm Italian - I love to eat!" he quipped.

"I'm comfortable at this weight and I don't have to kill myself before every fight, trim down and deplete my muscle mass.

"OK, Joe is still going to be bigger than me, but I've got speed on my side and I think I can out-manoeuvre him. Anyway, I love fighting big guys. It's like David against Goliath!

"I know I'm stepping up a level - especially fighting Joe in his own backyard in Cardiff but hey, he's earned that right as champion."

He added: "I watched his fight against Jeff Lacy - he absolutely killed him but I never thought much of Lacy anyway.

Anyone who thinks I'm just that boxing guy off the TV fighting out of his depth doesn't know the full story

Peter Manfredo Jr

"He's strong, but that's it. Lacy's very one-dimensional and Joe knew how to stay away from his big left and punished him for 12 rounds.

"But I'm not the same fighter as Lacy. I'm a little faster, a little smarter and I can promise you I don't intend to be taking as many shots."

Manfredo has spent the next four months plotting with his coach, the legendary Freddie Roach, on how to beat his illustrious opponent.

"I've been with Freddie for a year now, but it feels like all my life - we connected straight away.

"I'm a throwback to the old school, I stick to myself - in my book you fight alone.

"Anyone who thinks I'm just that boxing guy off the TV fighting out of his depth doesn't know the full story.

"I'm here because I'm a professional fighter, this is my living and it's serious business.

"I am surprised it's happened so fast, but it was Joe Calzaghe who picked me to fight him so I must have earned it and I intend to make the most of it."

Calzaghe relinquishes IBF title
27 Nov 06 |  Boxing
Calzaghe in talks over Manfredo
10 Nov 06 |  Boxing
The Calzaghe Record
05 Mar 06 |  Boxing

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