From little Butler, Pa., Minto's perseverance pays off

I know a guy who played some linebacker at a small school in Pennsylvania. This was a while ago, early to mid '90s. It was at one of those schools you shake your head at when you see it on the bottom-line scroll. Slippery Rock, to be exact.

Anyway, he didn't graduate. He was short on cash. He ended up taking a regular-guy job. He climbed telephone poles and ran line. He just started living a regular-guy life.

He gained some weight. Then he went to his small-town gym to shed a few pounds. He had some amateur fights just for kicks. Then he got married and had a couple kids.

This guy was the weekend-warrior type. He remembered the glory days of high school. Basketball and baseball and football were all in the mix then. Now, he was left with what he dabbled in, boxing. So he fought. He really didn't have much training. He taught himself.

I'm going to catch up with him this week. I'll ask how everything is. His daughter is 6 and his son is now 4. He still lives in Butler, Pa. Born and raised. Just a normal guy. With one exception.

You see, he is now fighting on national television in the main event of "Friday Night Fights." His name is Brian Minto.

As a rule, there aren't a lot of capable 5-foot-11 heavyweights from small towns in western Pennsylvania. And good luck finding any of them who turn pro at the late age of 27 and become TV regulars.

In fact, if you give me that description, I will show you a handpicked opponent getting clobbered by a heavyweight prospect. It's the type of guy you never see on TV again. Nor would you want to.

Maybe that's what Brian Minto was supposed to be all along.

"When he turned pro, I told him you realize you got to shave a lot of years off. He said he'd fight every other day if he had to," manager Patrick Nelson said. "He was a 230-pound chunky kid you couldn't miss with a punch. But his heart and enthusiasm was like watching Hilary Swank in 'Million Dollar Baby.' No one took him seriously."

I'll admit, I didn't know whether to take him seriously when I first met him. I can still remember visiting with him in the locker room on July 23, 2004. He looked as if he were about to walk out to the guillotine. It was his first time on national TV. It was his first time fighting in Atlantic City. And it was the first time he wasn't supposed to win.

"I was a little nervous but I was excited to get the chance in the spotlight," Minto said. "No one thought I could win against Maddalone. They said he was too big, too strong,"

Vinny Maddalone looked like something out of a Scorsese movie. He was ripped with muscles and raging with a fiery disposition. Tattooed with a chain and crucifix draped around a neck that seemed as wide as a pail. He oozed New York tough guy.

Maddalone nearly took Minto out in the first round. Sitting ringside, I wondered if this was too much for the built-up kid from Butler, Pa.

"All of a sudden, I'm down on all fours saying to myself, 'What just happened?' I got clipped pretty good," Brian said.

By the seventh round, the tide had turned a bit. Minto was boxing with precision and control. The bull was being gored. Maddalone was staggered and cut. Still, he had plenty more in him. Maddalone got to Minto again in the eighth with devastating force. In the ninth, Minto just did enough to survive.

"I answered a lot of questions about myself," Minto said. "Tom Yankello asked if I wanted the fight stopped. I had no legs. I just kept telling myself, 'Come on. You can get through this.'"

Then came the moment. It happens in every fighter's career. It's the moment you have to make a decision. A decision to fight on. Minto started the 10th round knowing Maddalone would try to take his head off.

"Out of nowhere in the 10th round I got this second wind. I saw it picture-perfect. I saw him trying to hook back after my punch. It was in slow motion."

Beating the brawny bull to the punch, Minto connected with one of the sweetest, purest, most fireworks-filled left hooks you could ever hope to see. BANG ... 228 pounds of muscle crumbled to the ground. Minto had done it. KO win.

It was considered among the best fights of the year. Two years and six wins later, Minto has become a familiar name to boxing fans. This week, he is headlining "Friday Night Fights" in a main event against Danny Batchelder (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

That's right, Minto is headlining. Oh, how far he has come.

"The last time I got on a flight to go to my fight, I thought about it. A few years ago, I was working in the labor gang. I was mixing mortar and carrying brick and block for the local 326 union in Butler."

That 2004 coming-out party versus Maddalone was a big break. He went from laying literal foundations for the masons to laying the foundation to a successful ring career.

In October 2005, Minto had a rematch with Maddalone on the pay-per-view undercard of Tarver-Jones. It was an A-plus performance. Under the tutelage of Tom Yankello, Minto showed amazing improvement. This time, there was no need to survive and hope for the money punch. Minto opened up and dominated Maddalone. Precise power punching, good movement and a close-the-show combination led to a sixth-round TKO.

Minto put together two more wins and then showed up on a "Friday Night Fights" opening bout in April. Billy Zumbrun was 26-fight veteran who had gotten robbed against Riddick Bowe. At times Minto made him look like an outclassed opponent with a heart and chin that was too good for his own good.

Minto came down hard on Zumbrun in the seventh and eighth rounds. In fact, many ringside observers were shocked the fight even continued. Minto punished Zumbrun on the way to an easy decision win.

Minto makes good fights. Even when he is in total control, he is entertaining.

"I think this is going to be a really good fight this week," he said. "If you saw my first five fights, you'd say, 'This kid isn't going to make it.' Now I look back and see how much I've improved."

What a strange road it's been for the old Division II linebacker. Slippery Rock football has produced three NFL draft picks through the years. Two 11th-rounders and one in the 12th. You wouldn't remember their names if I burned them into your screen saver. Then there's Brian Minto. He isn't going to make the school's Hall of Fame, but Brian is getting more ESPN air time as a pro athlete than anyone from The Rock could ever dream of.

Not bad for a regular guy from Butler, Pa.

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."