IT has been a hell of a ride for Angel Manfredy. Formerly known as “El Diablo” (The Devil), Manfredy, the Indiana-born son of Puerto Rican immigrants, lived on the edge and freely admits he should have been dead. The drug-fuelled parties, cocaine addiction, the liquor, the women, the public choking of his girlfriend resulting in jail time and 12 car accidents culminating in a near fatal smash and disfigurement, is a permanent reminder of his hell-raiser days. Inside the ring Manfredy met and beat six world champions and his signature win against Arturo Gatti brought him fame during the late 1990s. He came out the wrong end of four world title bouts against Floyd Mayweather Jnr, Stevie Johnston, Diego Corrales and Paul Spadafora but is proud of the WBU strap he owned. His discovery of faith through a deep religious experience brought the tormented soul back from the brink of self-destruction.

One brother became an architect and the other went into the US Navy. Why did you choose boxing?

All I remember as a child was fighting. I was born in Gary and my brothers would bring over their friends to fight me. Then we moved to East Chicago. One day after fighting somebody in the street and beating them I came home and my dad looked at all the blood on my hands and said, ‘You’ve been fighting again? Come on, you’re coming with me.’ I was nine years old when he took me to the gym. I fell in love with boxing. I won the Junior Olympics and CYO [Catholic Youth Organisation] titles. I did OK but my style was more suited to the pros. I turned pro at 18 because I loved watching [Julio Cesar] Chavez, [Roberto] Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and [Marvelous Marvin] Hagler.

When did this conversion happen?

The conversion didn’t happen until after the Steve Johnston fight for the WBC world lightweight title [August 14, 1999]. I had a party at my house on the same day as the [Felix] Trinidad-[Oscar] De La Hoya fight [September 18, 1999]. When everybody went home, my wife and I stayed to do cocaine for three days. No sleep for three days, no water for three days and no food for three days. I was in my bedroom and my wife was downstairs. I was on my knees and all I heard was a voice coming through the room saying, ‘It’s time’. I looked at myself and said, ‘Time for what?’ Back came the voice ‘Time to take your life.’ It seemed like the end. I am hearing voices of my dad calling me ‘stupid, dumb, you never going to be anybody and you’re never going to accomplish anything.’ I had a 45 in my closet and I had to make a choice. I heard another voice saying, ‘Are you going to give your life or are you going to take your life?’ In that moment I had to make a choice. I was thinking ‘do I take my life with this 45 or do I give my life to Jesus?’ Seconds away from doing it my wife came running through the door. I pointed at her and said, ‘Today we are going to serve the Lord.’ I didn’t have a gun in my hand but she said she heard a gunshot. From that day on we started to serve the Lord. That’s when I came out with ‘Got Jesus.’ It wasn’t until three-and-a-half years years later that I came to the Apostolic Pentecostal church and I found out that baptism washes away sins. God spoke to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, he’s coming to you. Here he comes!’

Previous to the Stevie Johnston fight, did you have thoughts of a conversion to God?

God heard the suffering in my heart when people were yelling ‘Diablo! Diablo!’ When I was in the locker room for the Mayweather fight I wouldn’t come out with the devil mask. When I did I held the devil mask in my hand. I announced to the audience, ‘Take the devil mask! If that’s who you want, take the devil mask! I ain’t no devil. I am Angel Manfredy.’ I was trying to make people know that I am no devil. After the fight I came back with another devil mask. I was still dealing with demons. I wanted to let people know what the devil mask represented. For me it represented that I could be killed and destroyed. It’s not going to be an easy fight for you. I’m bringing everything to this fight. I’m coming to win. That’s what the devil mask represented. That’s all I represented.

How fortunate do you consider yourself?

Today I lead a very thankful and humble life. Without Jesus I wouldn’t be here. I should have died a long time ago. All the drugs I did, all the women I had. I should be dead. There is no way I should be alive. I was ‘El Diablo’. That’s what I lived by. That’s what I went by. That’s what I did. That’s all I did. I was a sinner. I was the biggest sinner that there was. Nobody has ever done what I did in this world but it could not fulfil me. It wasn’t until I found Jesus when I got born again that I found the truth. Jesus Christ is the only one who can rescue us from sin.

You won the WBU super-featherweight title but many still see it as an unrecognised belt. What are your feelings about it?

The belt don’t [sic] make the champion. The champion makes the belt. When I beat Arturo Gatti he was the IBF champion. The IBF is more recognised than the WBU but I proved to the world that it does not matter what belt you have. It’s the champion that makes the belt. I am the only WBU champion that defended it seven times and two of those times were on HBO. I wear a WBU championship ring with diamonds in it. It’s like a Super Bowl ring. When people see me and greet me, they say, ‘Hi champ! How you doing, champ?’ They don’t say, ‘Hi WBU champion.’ They don’t say that because they know I beat Gatti. I am a true world champion because I beat a world champion. The belts don’t mean anything. The champion makes the belt.

Briefly, what do you recall about the Floyd Mayweather fight?

Florida was on my side. The whole crowd was on my side. Throughout the fight the crowd were yelling ‘Diablo! Diablo!’ I couldn’t make 130 pounds. I wanted to fight Mayweather at 135 but he didn’t want to fight me at lightweight because he could see I was a threat. I’m not angry about it but the Mayweather fight was a premature stoppage. I didn’t go down. I was on my feet. I am slipping a lot of punches. He landed three or four but he [referee Frank Santore] should not have stopped the fight. The fight left a bad taste in my mouth. In the ring he [Mayweather] said he would give me a rematch, but it never happened.

And the Arturo Gatti fight?

I told Gatti what was going to happen before it happened. I told him that he wasn’t going to go the distance. I told him that he wouldn’t be able to beat me. What I said happened. In 1998 I beat the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world at the time. I beat the IBF champion over a 12-round fight. They should have put the belt on the line. I should have been IBF champion as well. Gatti didn’t want to fight me at 130 pounds because he thought I was stronger. So he wanted to fight at 135Ibs at lightweight. He wanted to be bigger than me. He thought that was going to make the difference in the fight because he struggled at 130Ibs. Little did he know I was struggling to make the weight too [130]. When he said lightweight I thought, ‘beautiful, let’s do it!’ We fought in his hometown. The whole world saw it.

Your final shot at a world title came against IBF lightweight champion Paul Spadafora.

They gave me the gloves to try on the day of the fight and the gloves didn’t fit. I couldn’t even make a fist in the glove. I’ve got very big hands for a lightweight. I couldn’t fit my fist in the gloves. So during the whole fight with Spadafora I wasn’t able to punch hard enough because I couldn’t make a fist. They gave me a pair of Everlast gloves. Everybody knows I don’t wear Everlast I wear Reyes gloves. They weren’t supposed to give me the gloves on the day of the fight, 20 minutes before the fight started. They are supposed to give you the gloves a day before the fight, to make sure they fit your hands. They didn’t do that. They rigged the fight up.

What was your biggest payday?

I got $1 million for the Floyd Mayweather fight. The thing is Mayweather didn’t know about it. Mayweather wasn’t going to fight me if he found out that I made $1 million. So HBO gave me three cheques. They gave me a training expenses cheque, a fight bonus and they gave me the fight cheque.  They didn’t make it look like I made a million dollars but if you put all three cheques together it was a million dollars.

Are you saying that if Floyd had known about it he would not have fought you?

Yes. Lou Di Bella who ran HBO at the time told me, ‘Mayweather will not fight you if he finds out that you made more than him.’ So, ‘Pretty Boy’ was greedy before he became ‘Money’ Mayweather. That was the person he was. Nobody is supposed to know. He’s not even supposed to know. To this day the whole world is not supposed to know. When I do my documentary and my autobiography then I will tell the truth about what happened. I had been promised a $30 million contract with HBO if I beat Mayweather. That was my contract. My contract got reinstated when I beat Ivan Robinson. That’s why I had three more world title shots. The world wondered why I had so many world title shots on major TV. First and foremost I had the ratings. You had to be a rated fighter. You had to have good ratings if you wanted to be on major TV like HBO PPV. You gotta have the ratings for that and I did. That’s why they kept the contract when I beat Ivan Robinson [HBO’s Boxing After Dark highest rated show for 1999]. But once I lost the other world title fights the contract was not fulfilled.

When did you start taking drugs?

Man, when did I start? I began smoking weed and drinking when I was 12 years old. Then at 15 I started using cocaine. That’s why I lost my first pro fight because I was smoking weed and drinking beer with friends before the fight.

Angel Manfredy

You lost again and your record showed two losses in five fights.

I had my car accident, that’s what happened. I shouldn’t have lived. The doctors said I would never be able to fight again. I went right through a telephone pole. They had to weld me out of the car to get me out. I wasn’t supposed to live. The doctors said I wouldn’t be able to fight again. In my mind I refused to accept it. I got back in the ring. I went undefeated winning 23 in a row and three years later I was world champion [WBU].

Did you ever take drugs while you were in training?

The only time I did drugs was straight after the fights. Then it was party time! I never took drugs during training. Boxing was my first love at the time. I didn’t let anything get in the way of boxing. The only time it happened was during training camp for the Stevie Johnston fight. I was taking cocaine a month before that fight. After that fight I gave my life to God and changed and worked on a new start.

What are you doing now?

I am a boxing trainer at Ricky Carr’s gym [Crown Point] and work each day between 5.00 a.m. until 4.00 pm. You get two for one with me.

Everybody is going to hear the word of God when I am training them. They are going to hear the truth. I minister to them.