By Steve Sears
World champion kickboxer, Paul Vizzio, explains why he chose Mount Olive as his current place to live.
“I moved here to be near my daughter who also lives in town. I like living here because the Flanders golf course is around the corner. It has always been part of my training. I’m currently a 6-handicap golfer. The extracurricular activities like the lake, the theaters, the parks are all so nice here.” He then refers back to his childhood. “I didn’t grow up like this. Even just seeing so many nice houses. I grew up in a railroad apartment. My bathtub was in the kitchen!”
Perhaps golfing in town has strengthen his game, but his childhood in the lower East Side of Manhattan fortified him for life and for the sport where his accomplishments are unprecedented. His overall record is 47 wins and just one loss, and 36 of his wins were by knockout. “I have 17 world titles in four different weight classes,” Vizzio says, “Featherweight, Jr. Featherweight, Lightweight, and Super lightweight. My weight, even now, has always remained the same. I would fight in heavier weight divisions because that’s what was offered to me. I could have gained weight if I wanted to, but I chose not to. That’s why they [the guys] were always bigger than me.”
There were only two Italian families in Vizzio’s neighborhood when he was growing up. The rest were Puerto Rican and black. “You figure it out!” he states. “In the 50’s and 60’s it was all gangs. I had to be a part of a gang to survive. That kind of lifestyle forced me to have a strong will. It helped me to prepare for the underground matches (death matches). When I moved over to kickboxing, it helped to calm me down from the no-holds barred’ fights. I didn’t want to hurt anyone anymore.”
Vizzio started in the Thompkins Square Boys Club with Boxing and wrestling at around 7 years old. He started Kung-Fu when he was 12 years old, and also did some boxing. “I didn’t go to the PAL Boxing until I was much older in my professional career, and I used that area to train in with Phil Borgia,” he says. “I was his first World Champion. He brought me back after a 10-year hiatus to win the KICK world title. Phil trained other famous fighters like Kevin Kelley and Arturo Gatti.” He cites the benefit of the local Boys Club. “The Boys club was multi-racial and without an education, it helped to keep us off the street while it was open. None of us went to school. It was all fighting to survive with anything we could find. So, at least while it was open, we were all together. Working together. Boxing, swimming, and wrestling. I was motivated by my role model, Peter Tom, who now is a judge and has his own courthouse in the Chelsea, New York area. He really pushed me into the ring. He was actually the first Chinese guy to win the Gold medal in the Open division of the Golden Gloves”.
Vizzio explains his Kung-Fu realm entrance. “Kung-Fu started because I wanted to be able to hurt somebody. We saw some Kung-Fu guys breaking bricks with their hands, and I had to learn that. Once I got started in Kung-Fu, that’s when I spent all of my time, 7 days a week, 18 hours a day, training. I even slept in the school. I didn’t have time for gangs anymore. My Sifu, Wai Hong, really became my father figure. He was so quiet, and I knew he had to be deadly because his students were. I never saw him do anything, but I knew he had to be even more deadly than the students. He is the one that not only taught you Kung-Fu but taught me to be humble, quiet, never show off.”
“I got my start in the underground matches. That’s really what got me famous in Chinatown. My record for the ‘death matches’ was 55 wins – 54 by KO – and one draw.” From there, his career took off. “That fame is what led to my professional career. Since then, I’ve fought on ABC, NBC, CBS, Showtime, PPV, MSG, USA, ESPN, ESPN2, and probably more that I can’t remember. My best friend and blood brother, Toyotoro Miyazaki, got me into the PKA (Professional Kickboxing Association) and out of the death matches. That’s what really started my career.”
Vizzio now educates others in the sport. “I’ve taught all over the world but currently in Fairfield, New Jersey, Bayside, New York, and Hoboken, New Jersey.” He recognizes that there are differences in the training compared to when he was young. “I know that no one is going to train the way I trained. The way I teach now is I try to offer them something. We did the same thing over and over and over. No one wants to do that anymore. Everyone wants to fight like me, but it’s hard to find anyone willing to make the sacrifices that I had to make. Life is so different now. I was alone. Now people have families, jobs, responsibilities. I had nothing. I did nothing but train.” Vizzio also finds that now there is so much scientific explanation about proper training. “We didn’t have that then. I just wanted to be deadly. Nowadays, we find out that a lot of the stuff I did to get like this was bad for you. Who knew? I just did what I had to do.”
Vizzio, who never mentions his age, has four children and one stepchild who range in age from 28 to 46. He is also a proud grandfather of three. “All my children trained in the martial arts since they could walk. One owns her own martial arts school and currently resides in Budd Lake as well.”
His joy is his family, but also the town where he lives. “In the golf course and my family – and the lake! I really like the lake! The golf course is so nice. My family is special. Watching all my kids and my grandkids grow up has been my greatest achievement.” He then ponders for a moment. “Everyone is so friendly and knows your name,” he says of Mount Olive. “It’s a really nice place to live. Always clean and nice. I feel like Mount Olive should celebrate at least another 150, and I hope I’m here to see it.”
He closes with a specific wish. “I hope the lakes stay beautiful, and stop knocking down the trees! I just want to mention to leave the trees alone. I love when people come to visit and enjoy our nature. We have enough houses but never enough trees.”