Though he'd like to climb through the top 10 in his division and ultimately land a fight with an established pound-for- pound commodity, it's first things first for Paul Spadafora.
The Pittsburgh native, now 37, simply wants people to know that he's still out there.
"My manager and promoter have been working hard to make meaningful fights for me and I've been working hard in the gym to keep myself sharp," said the still-unbeaten ex-IBF lightweight champ, who made eight title defenses from 1999 to 2003. "We've come a long way from being unranked to top 10 in three out of four belt organizations.
"I'm also hoping that an opportunity comes around for me where a top guy is willing to fight me. Many people thought I retired, so I need to keep busy and perform well and become relevant again. I think I've shown that in my last two fights."
Spadafora, who fought just nine times amid myriad non-ring problems between 2004 and 2010, resurfaced last August with a unanimous eight-round decision over Ecuadorian veteran Humberto Toledo at the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in West Virginia and returned four months later with a 10-round nod over Solomon Egberime.
The wins moved him to 47-0-1 in an intermittent career that began in 1995, and, more vitally, got him to No. 8 in the IBF rankings at junior welterweight, where he's also ranked ninth by the WBA and WBO, and 15th by the WBC. He was hoping to boost his standing by facing off with once-beaten Vernon Paris on April 6, but that match fell through due to promotional issues and left Spadafora to instead face unheralded Robert Frankel (32-12-1) -- a sparring partner of WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner.
Spadafora's team said a match with the WBC's No. 3 contender at 140 pounds, Viktor Postol, is possible later this year, and they hold out hope that Broner would be a willing opponent if he's successful in a reportedly imminent challenge of WBA welterweight champion Paul Malignaggi.
"We feel we are one more fight away from breaking out of the shadows, mindful that with a win Paul would go to 48-0-1 and would be win away from tying the best Italian fighter of all time Rocky Marciano's win streak," said Spadafora's attorney, Joseph Horn. "The bout is significant and we hope the boxing world takes note of this and clamors for a big fight for Paul."
We caught up with Spadafora in the midst of preparation for the Frankel fight to discuss his past issues, his return to the spotlight and what he still hopes to accomplish before calling it a career.
Fitzbitz: How often do you think about where your career was -- a decade ago as a champion with eight title defenses -- and where it is now? How frustrating is that to consider?
Spadafora: I try not to think about it. I keep motivated knowing I have a fight in front of me. I love fighting and I'm moving forward with purpose. The frustrating thing is that I'm considered as low as I am, given my record and how I have never lost and defended my title eight times.
Fitzbitz: Back then, you were 27. Now you're 37. Can you talk about what's different about you as a fighter, as an athlete, as a man? What has changed?
Spadafora: In terms of boxing, I rest more and I train smarter. I work harder because I have to. I've always had heart and courage. Personally, I was immature and a product of my environment -- the places I was living, the people around me -- and it affected the decisions I made. I've grown on a lot of levels; spiritually, mentally and focusing on the positive things in life that have remained constant, like boxing, to help me evolve into the man I am today. I'm more respectful of boxing and life in general. I've been working hard to be a better man, a better example to my children, to be a role model to children of what not to do from the mistakes I've made. I want to be successful in and out of the ring.