Lenny Zappavigna - photo: Tim Barry
By Paul Upham: Australian lightweight champion Lenny Zappavigna gets his first taste of big time American boxing experience when he faces Gilbert Vera on Saturday night on the Manny Pacquiao-Jorge Solis undercard at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The 19 year-old took full advantage of an opportunity to go to training camp with Pacquiao as he prepared for Solis and impressed in sparring many rounds with the Filipino junior lightweight superstar over the last few weeks.
“It has been awesome, sparring with Pacquiao,” Zappavigna told SecondsOut. “The best sparring I have ever had. I have been really happy with my sparring against him.”
Asked what makes the ‘Pacman’ one of the best boxers in the world today, Zappavigna replied, “His speed, his workrate and his experience. He has good power and is very strong.”
28 year-old Pacquiao has been impressed with what he has seen from Zappavigna.
“He is taller than me and he moves fast,” he said. “He was a good amateur and so he has speed and power. Our sparring is good.”
Zappavigna turned pro after winning a bronze medal last year at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Growing up in Leppington in the western suburbs of Sydney, where he still lives with his family, Zappavigna went to the local gym one day and has been earning praise ever since.
“I knew the first time he walked in my gym door at the age of 10 that he had a very special talent,” said trainer Tommy Mercuri. “He had so much natural ability and he picked things up so quickly.”
Working daily with Mercuri at the Westside Boxing Gym, Zappavigna had an amateur record of 70 wins and 10 losses. He is very advanced for his age and experience, with a real professional style and has regularly sparred Australia’s best boxers such as Nedal Hussein, Hussein Hussein, Gairy St Clair, Lovemore Ndou and Vic Darchinyan.
Training alongside Pacquiao at Freddie Roach’s famed Wildcard Gym in Los Angeles has been an important lesson for Zappavigna.
“It is a little bit different, but it has been good,” he said. “Running in the morning and in the gym in the afternoon. Working in the Wildcard gym has been great because there are so many world champion fighters training here. There is a lot of sparring going on so I have seen a lot.
“For sure, this is where I want to be. It’s been good to see how the great fighters train and what they do to get up there. Now I know what I have to do to become world champion. Hopefully, if all goes well, I can get there.”
Zappavigna 6-0 (4) weighed in at 139¼lbs on Friday in San Antonio while 21 year-old Gilbert Vera 6-0-1 (3) from Austin, Texas tipped the scales at 141lbs.
“He hasn’t been beaten, that’s all I know about him,” said Zappavigna. “He has had one draw. It will be a good test for me. It is going to be good experience to fight on a big card like this.”
Zappavigna vs. Vera has been designated as a swing fight on the night and if either the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs. Anthony Shuler or Brian Viloria vs. Edgar Sosa matches finish quickly, Zappavigna could receive world wide television exposure.