Mess With “The Bull” And You’ll Get The Horns — Spotlight on Jake Giurieco

Youngstown has a promising new professional fighter. Rough past, tough life … yeah, we’ve all heard that from a boxer before. But “The Bull” is different. Just ask his legion of fans after only five pro fights why.

Ed. note: This article first appeared in the winter 2010 Youngstown Pulse.

Youngstown Pulse Magazine Editor

YOUNGSTOWN — Growing up, there were numerous events that could have signaled a time for change in the life of area professional boxer Jake Giuriceo. It could’ve been the three fights he got in on the first day of school as a ninth grader at Campbell Memorial High School that got him expelled for a year. It could’ve been the underage drinking at all the local dives. It could’ve been a tattered family life that saw him grow up all over Youngstown before ending up with his grandmother then ultimately his brothers.

But one series of events stands out, and it put Giuriceo behind bars. When the fighter was 20, he quit his job in at SpeedCo in Girard.

“Like a dummy, I quit,” Giuriceo recalls. “I didn’t have any vacation days, and I wanted to take a vacation. So I quit.”

At the urging of a friend, Giuriceo hit the highway for Missouri. His buddy wanted to set him up with a girl there. The only problem was his license was under suspension.

“I knew I didn’t have a license when I was driving down there, and I got pulled over and got a ticket for driving under suspension,” Giuriceo said. “So I had to go back to court. But when I went back to court, I didn’t have no one to take me. So I drove back down. I had a ‘95 LT1 Firebird. It had a Corvette Engine in it. It was fast, man. So I go into court, everything is going good, and I plead not guilty. I’m going to leave, and they pulled me over, cause they knew I drove to court. I’m sitting there, and at that time, I didn’t have anything. I was staying in a house with my brother and his wife. The only thing I really had was that car. So if they took that car, it was like they were taking everything from me. So I booked. I ran from the cops, I just took off. I went smoking. Ended up getting a felony three for fleeing and eluding, then I did some jail time and was on probation for a while. After I got out of jail, that’s when I went back to the gym. I knew I had to do something, cause I was doing everything wrong.”

Giuriceo got slapped with 90 days. He ended up serving around 70. But it was in those 70 days of lock-up that the now promising welterweight knew it was time to get his life on track.

“I thought, ‘Why am I here? How am I so stupid,’” he said. “The whole time I was just thinking about leaving and never coming back. Never coming back, man. It was all I was focusing on.”

Giuriceo served his time, but already had a hint before even serving a day in prison boxing was his ticket away from trouble. He had already fought in the amateur KO Tournaments winning them four years in a row throughout high school.

“Nobody ever told me to try boxing,” Giuriceo said. “I just knew I could fight. I really didn’t have anything else. I was like, I can fight, I can box, and I went walking up Keith’s driveway.”

Keith Burnside, Giuriceo’s trainer and owner of Burnside Boxing, didn’t think too much of the scrawny Campbell kid when he first saw him. Questionable work ethic, very little discipline, untested skills, bad background (“I made all the wrong choices, Giuriceo said. “I got in trouble, and I stayed in trouble.”) — it was all the makings of hundreds of stereotypical boxers he had already seen.

That changed in a hurry.

“I would test him,” Burnside said. “I seen in the beginning, this kid was coming to my house every day walking from Campbell. I would test him. I would tell him to come at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, cause I knew he was going out the night before.”

“He tested me and I passed them tests,” Giuriceo interjected. Without a license, Giuriceo really didn’t have much choice but to walk to Burnside’s garage every day. He did the three-mile trek for nearly three years.

“He really did pass them,” Burnside said. “Even from the first time we trained, I knew he was gonna stick with it.”

It was all Giuriceo really had to stick with. It was either boxing or go back to the only life he knew which was fraught with adversity and turmoil. Success breeds success. But disappointment can lead to further disappointment. For Giuriceo, that’s all life had been.

“My family life sucked,” he said. “My dad died when I was real young. My mom was here and there whenever she came around. I had an uncle and my grandma and my brothers — that was it. I just started drinking, doing stupid stuff. I hung around all older guys, so they would buy me beer and take me to the bar when I was 16. That’s how I dealt with things. I looked at my life and it sucked, so I would just get drunk.”

Giruiceo’s father passed away when he was five. It took a huge toll on the family, but especially Giuriceo’s mother.

“She had three kids with him,” Giuriceo said. “She turned to drugs, and just like anybody in that situation, she wasn’t there for us. She was out doing whatever she needed to do, and that’s why I stayed with my grandma. So I always kind of looked at her and resented her. But then, growing up I started to realize everything that happened and why it happened, and it was easy for me to forgive her and accept her as my mom instead of being so negative and mad and to push back at her because of how we grew up. Really, it was her fault, it was her choice, but I can understand why. If I lost my wife that I had three kids with that would be hard on me, too. It would be tough. Things between my mom and me are a lot better now.”

Just about everything else is, too.

Giuriceo fought in the semi-pro ranks for a few years. He lost a controversial amateur title bout in Cleveland (“We got ripped off,” Burnside said. “Everyone knew it. Even the Plain Dealer knew it.”) but he was refining his skills. No longer was Giuriceo just another kid with a bad past trying to find an outlet through boxing. He was a professional fighter. He made it official in February of 2009 on the Kelly Pavlik-Marco Antonio Rubio undercard at the Covelli Center.

Since then he’s tacked on four more wins, two by way of knockout. He’s garnered a fan base that rivals Pavlik’s early in his career, and he’ll fight again on another local Pavlik undercard Dec. 19 at Beeghly Center on the campus of YSU.

What may have cemented it all together was catching the eye of local business owner and philanthropist Joe Corvino.

“People were coming out of the woodwork,” Burnside said. “They wanted this kid. We were sick of the amateurs and wanted to go pro, but we had to find somebody to manage. I just went to Joe Corvino, who helped me out growing up the same way (he does now for Jake). I figured he’d be the best guy to go to. He’s like a father figure to all of us. That was our best move. We talk about everything.”

Corvino, president of PHD Manufacturing in Columbiana, was instantly impressed with Giuriceo.

“I looked at some tapes of him, and I thought he was pretty good,” Corvino said. “I went to a couple of his fights and I was impressed, not just with his fighting skills, but what got me was his fan base, even as an amateur. I was impressed. When I met him and saw him it was a big factor. I never saw anyone work so hard in my entire life. He actually loves to work out. Not many people can say that. He was dedicated. Being that I have eight kids myself, I try to help them with whatever dreams they have. And I thought, okay, I’d like to be a part of doing the same for Jake. He’s a very nice kid. Everyone I talk to that has met him says the same thing. He handles himself well, he shows maturity.”

What Giuriceo, Burnside and Corvino have developed is a relationship rarely found in the sport. They’re family now.

“Keith is like a father figure to me,” Giuriceo said. “He’s a great guy. He introduced me to Joe. Keith does everything for me. He’s more than just a trainer. He’s like a dad. He cares like a parent would. Since day one. It’s what makes our relationship so strong, because we care about each other. Same thing with Joe. It’s all the same thing. We got something different than all the other guys got. They don’t care about each other. It’s all business to them. We all got each other’s back. I’d do anything for them just like they would do anything for me. It makes a world of difference.”

Burnside and Corvino echoed the sentiment.

“We’re just on a circle,” Burnside said. “Here’s a guy who is honest, hard working, intelligent — that’s what we need in the gym. He’s like a son to me, and like Joe says, he’s like a son to him. If something ever happened where he couldn’t fight again, it wouldn’t break how we are. We’d still be tight as ever. It’s something special.”

The relationship will be vital as Giuriceo continues to climb the ranks in the typically every-man-for-himself kind of business and sport boxing is.

Big paydays can mean big egos. As Giuriceo’s career blossoms, it’s something the three friends have already talked about.

“A payday woudn’t change me,” Giuriceo said. “I mean, I’m into boxing for money. Obviously, everybody needs money to live. That’s not my main goal. I just love boxing so much. I want to be a world champ. I just really do. And I know I can. I know I’ve got the potential, I know I’ve got the heart, I know I’ve got the drive. And as of dealing with the business aspect of it, I’ve got Joe, I’ll be good. I don’t gotta worry about any of that.”

Being from Youngstown, another concern for the promising fighter is the pressure a downtrodden city can throw at you. It’s as if the boxer fights for the people — as if he has to represent himself to carry the area’s flag in every aspect of his life. Even if you’re on top, a city so desperate for a hero can put you on a pedestal that’s easy to fall from because the expectations are too outrageous. It’s already happened to a certain extent with Pavlik, who in some people’s eye, hasn’t done enough for the Valley, or hasn’t fought enough, or hasn’t handled himself the way they think he should.

Giuriceo sees it the other way around.

“You look at these fighters and they say, ‘I’m carrying the pride of Puerto Rico,’ or with Pavlik it’s Youngstown,” Giuriceo said. “I really look at that the other way. The Youngstown fans are great. The Tri-County area fans are awesome. I don’t carry them, they carry me. So the only thing I gotta do is keep winning, stay out of trouble and do the right things, and I’ll be fine. I don’t carry Youngstown, they carry me. The fans carry me. They keep me going. Without them, what am I?”

Another concern with promising fighters is jumping the gun too early. One loss early on in a pro fighters career can mean the difference between fighting in arenas and fighting in church basements.

Giuriceo knows he has to be patient.

“It’s not hard,” he said. “If you understand it, it’s not hard. If you look at how all the great fighters were brought up, they weren’t that good their first five fights. You keep fighting, you keep getting better. Just take your time and wait, be patient. I can do it. I got patience. I know I’m gonna get better with each fight. Even if they offered me a shot at some little title right now, I wouldn’t take it. Not until I’m 10-0. That’s when you start getting it. I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks or do something I’m gonna regret. But when I’m ready, I’m gonna do it, and I know I’ll be ready.”

Giuriceo, Burnside and Corvino are committed to seeing that happen. But even if it doesn’t, their relationship isn’t going to change.

“I’m very proud to be part of this team,” Giuriceo said.

Jake Giuriceo (5-0, 2KO) takes on Henry White (4-4) on the Kelly Pavlik-Miguel Espino undercard Saturday, Dec. 19 at the Beeghly Center on the YSU campus.

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