Emerging from the snow-capped trees that envelope Big Bear, the tall, dark figure pounding the tarmac looks more like a model or an actor, than a fighter. Running in high altitude, he’s smothered by his own lack of oxygen, testing himself at The Summit, preparing for battle once again. It was in his blood, that gladiator mentality often depicted in Hollywood.
Unbeaten former Olympian, Guido Vianello (3-0, 3KOs) had travelled from Rome to pursue his career in boxing, which was in its infancy, but the heavyweight echoed the importance of entertainment, reminding us of Russell Crowe’s battlecry during his iconic portrayal of Maximus. When walking towards the ring at Madison Square Garden for his professional debut, Vianello’s face was cloaked with a Roman soldier’s helmet – proudly paying homage to his native Italy.
“I’m glad you like my costume!”, he joked, when asked about his choice of ring attire. “The mask is a symbol of my native city and bringing the story of Rome into the world is important, even if it is just within sport. I also wear the mask for fun, to play down a serious and hard sport like boxing. I really like wearing it and it makes me proud of who I am. I don’t know how long it will last, but in any case even without a helmet, I will remain forever ‘The Gladiator’.”
Of boxing’s different weight classes, the heavyweight landscape was currently the most cluttered following Anthony Joshua’s shock defeat to Mexican, Andy Ruiz. It was a fascinating time for the bigger men, with various exciting talents slowly climbing towards the sport’s sterling silverware.
It was too early for Vianello, currently working with Abel Sanchez, but both MTK Global and his management team, S-Jam Boxing, believe he has the pedigree to succeed. Qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016 had been a solid achievement for a twenty-one year old novice from a nation of respected amateur fighters. However, sport had always been important to the family, as Guido explained.
“They live in Rome and they own a tennis club named’ ‘Tennis Club Vianello’. When I was born, I started to play tennis but it wasn’t the right sport for me. I could not express what I had inside, which I [later] managed to do in the ring. My family also come to see most of my fights and my brother-in-law, Luca Coppola, helps me to sort out everything when I’m not in the gym.
“I miss my country and my city. In Italy, you can breathe in a particular atmosphere, a mix of quiet and wellness: the food, the dreamy landscapes and the people are different from every other part in the world. But also, the United States is a beautiful country and I’m very proud to live here now. I will always be grateful to this country for giving me the confidence and the opportunity to show my skills on the best shows in the world.”
Vianello had been afforded some outstanding opportunities since penning his professional promotional contract with Bob Arum and Top Rank. After his debut on the undercard of Vasiliy Lomachenko v Jose Pedraza at The Garden, he next fought in Fresno, California, again finishing with a devastating knockout. His third and most recent outing, a first round knockout victory over Lawrence Gabriel, had also featured on the diminutive Ukrainian’s undercard, this time in the Staples Centre.
Three knockout victories in just four rounds had seemingly attracted the interest of the US fans as Guido continues chasing the American dream. As one of the fresher faces currently working with Top Rank, he’d been delighted to warm the audience as a unique part of their events, headlined by some of the world’s most exceptional talents.
“After the Olympics I saw in my mind the transition to the pros with a promoter like Top Rank. Being part of their team is the culmination of a dream. They know how to build champions and plan all their fights in detail, to allow me to grow gradually. They also have an agreement for many years with the best sports network in the world, ESPN, so it’s always very exciting for me to know that my fights will be broadcast on their channels.”
He continued, “Mr [Bob] Arum is a fantastic person. He made me excited to meet him for the first time, since he is part of the history of boxing. Immediately after the handshake we talked about the Italian food that he loves, so there were immediately common interests. I would like to thank him for this opportunity and I promise that I will do great things!”
“These first few fights are helping me to find my confidence when boxing in these big stadiums. It’s important to start understanding how the big events work in United States. I’m very grateful to Top Rank, that they allow me to take part in some of the best events that they organise.”
Whilst in conversation, the twenty-five year old explained that through the Italian Boxing Federation, he’d been put in touch with marmite boxing figure, Sam Jones. Jones, responsible for commanding heavyweight Joe Joyce, liked what he saw in the big Italian and the rest, as they say, is history. Joyce and Vianello had spent time trading punches in Big Bear, an experience the younger man found invaluable.
As Putney’s Joyce, aged thirty-three, powers towards proposed world title shots, Guido is treading water, finding his feet sensibly as one of the youngest prospects in the division. During our time together, he was an excellent speaker, articulate and keen to share his story. It seemed evident that Jones would have less work to do, in building his profile, with far more time to do it.
“Joe [Joyce] is a great friend. We shared great moments in my first months in Big Bear. I’m very proud to share the management team with him. We support each other a lot. During the first camp, we sparred a lot and we put on a big show, a mix between speed and power. In Italy, I didn’t have many sparring partners so I went there [to London] to train for three days and after that, everything started. We had a good bond since we’ve met and we have the same goals. Now we have great relationship, I think he [Sam] and his partner Adam Morallee are amazing people and they are the best managers I could have.”
Now with the support of management giants, MTK Global, he was ready to progress. Fellow Olympians Tony Yoka, Joe Joyce and Filip Hrgovic had all taken steps towards the top fifteen of their respective governing bodies, whilst Vianello had continued remaining patient. His time would come – he knew that – so he was content with learning his trade under the tutelage of renowned trainer, Abel Sanchez, biding his time.
Emerging from a football-centric nation such as Italy, Guido could quickly cement himself as the countries most prominent fighter. He had followed in the footsteps of former police officer and Olympic gold medalist, Roberto Cammarelle, who was toppled controversially by Anthony Joshua in the London 2012 Olympic final.
Now, the younger man would venture into the unknown, as Italy’s previous, premier amateur heavyweight had never fought as a professional, preferring to focus on his career within the police force, despite adding the World Amateur Championship gold medal to his impressive collection.
Vianello explained, “When I started boxing, I was dreaming of going to the Olympics. I’ve never put a limit on myself and I worked very hard every day to achieve this goal. Qualifying at age twenty-one has been amazing [for me]. Unfortunately the lack of experience and the emotion played a bad joke on me. In the first fight against a Cuban guy, I wasn’t able to do my best.”
“From this beautiful experience I’ve learned a lot, but I cannot be satisfied with the result. The best memories are of the opening ceremony. I was very proud to be with all of the Italian Olympic team inside the Maracanà with the Italian Flag. I think it is one of the most beautiful emotions that I’ve ever felt in my life, together with my professional debut at Madison Square Garden last December.”
As we hurtle towards another night of heavyweight action, with Vianello’s Top Rank stablemate Tyson Fury facing off against Tom Schwarz, the young Italian would remain a keen observer. He was willing to learn, absorbing lessons taught from those more experienced. It was this desire to improve that signalled a promising career amongst the sport’s glamour division.
Locked away in Big Bear, ‘The Gladiator’ was building an empire, slowly but surely. His attitude is immaculate and his approach to boxing is admirable. For those who line the coffee shops of Rome, watching the Azzurri masterfully defend in major tournaments, there was a new kid on the block. Football would always remain their first love, but Guido Vianello, punishing himself at high altitude, planned on taking their breath away.
“I dream of becoming a world champion because I want to help boxing to become very popular, as it has been in the past and make have it broadcast on all of the major television channels. Boxing helps a lot of the young people, it teaches you discipline and how to become a man. It also teaches you to never give up and always respect your opponent.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209