Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hall of Fame comes calling for Neves

By Eric Benevides

PAWTUCKET -- Manny Neves' family and friends have a good reason to be proud of him.

That's because the Pawtucket native and owner of Elite Martial Arts on Smithfield Avenue was recently inducted into the U.S.A. Martial Arts of Hall of Fame as an instructor and a competitor - a prestigious honor for anyone associated with martial arts and a significant accomplishment to be enshrined in two categories.

"It's a great honor," added Neves, who was unable to attend last Saturday night's induction ceremony in New York, but recently received his plaque in the mail. "I've always wanted to be on the cover of a fight magazine or a Hall of Famer, so I got one down and one more to go."

And speaking of 'one more to go', most of Neves' family members and friends have also found a good reason to wring his neck and smack him off the side of his head.
That's because Neves, who announced his retirement from mixed martial arts competition after losing his last fight six months ago to Mike Varner for the "Last Man Standing" title, is making a comeback to the fight scene at the age of 42 - in Muay Thai kickboxing.

"My family thinks I'm out of my mind," said Neves. "My father is kind of upset about it, but my uncle (Bert Neves) is my boxing coach and he'll back me in whatever I do. And out of all my friends, maybe five percent are telling me, 'Yeah, go do it,' and the rest of them are saying, 'Forget it.' "

Regardless of what anyone thinks, Neves has circled Saturday, June 30 on his calendar as his return date when ICE (International Combat & Entertainment) is scheduled to host its second event of the year at the West Warwick Civic Center.

Neves is also the promoter of ICE, which is associated with the Professional Kickboxing Federation (PKF), and before he steps into the ring, he plans to host his first event on Saturday, April 21 in West Warwick and showcase 14 bouts in Muay Thai and Vale Tudo competition. Some of his Elite Martial Arts fighters are expected to appear on the card, such as Todd Chattelle, Neil Goulet, Bo Viera, Greg Nemeth, and Jessy Donnelly.

The main difference between Muay Thai boxing and mixed martial arts, reported Neves, is the absence of wrestling in the bouts.

"There's more punishment than MMA," admitted Neves, "In MMA, if you go on the ground, you go into a wrestling match, but in Muay Thai, you're not allowed on the ground. You're forced to stay in the middle of the ring and brawl. You can still do things like clinch and come up with your knee, but you have to stay on your feet."
And because of this, Neves, who expects his comeback fight to be a title bout, predicts that he will emerge a winner.

"I never said this before my last two fights," said Neves, "but because it's a title fight and it's going to be six rounds, I'm going to win by a knockout because I don't want to fight more than three rounds. My strong point is my standup (fighting). I won't have to worry about going on the ground and doing any wrestling, and my opponent is going to be forced to do what I'm good at."

It's a bold prediction to make, especially since Neves has no idea who will oppose him, but that means very little to him.

"I was told there's about 14 guys who are qualified to fight me and I don't ever care to know who they are," added Neves, who will drop his weight from 195 pounds to 184 for the fight. "I don't care how good or how tough they are, how many fights they have had, or who they fought in the past. This is my home state, my backyard, and I guarantee everyone 100 percent that I will win."

The prospect of fighting for a championship belt has Neves psyched, but the chance to redeem himself and heal the sting from his Sept. 24 loss to Varner has certainly motivated him in his comeback.

That fight was a rematch of their Dec. 2005 bout in Fall River - a fight that saw Neves batter Varner for most of the match before losing by submission in the final seconds. But the rematch wasn't even close - Varner knocked Neves down with his first punch and eventually put him away just 50 seconds into the bout.

"Title belt or no belt at all, it doesn't matter," added Neves. "I thought I got everything out of my system in my last fight and I didn't. In my last fight, the guy was better than me that night. He had my number. My boxing, my kicking, and my grappling were good and my conditioning was awesome, but what I lacked that night was right upstairs. My head just wasn't there.

"You heard the saying, 'If a fighter isn't nervous before a match, if he's not in his dressing room stressing out, then something's wrong with him.' Instead of getting ready (for the fight), I was talking on my cell phone to people who couldn't make it (to the fight) and standing behind the curtains waving to people and having conversations with them. I had no stress level and I wasn't nervous. I was just laughing and making jokes. If someone had a monopoly board, I probably would have played a game before the fight."

It was definitely a down moment in the Hall of Famer's career, one that has seen him not only post a 108-12 record and capture several state and regional championships in his 20-plus years as a fighter, but one that has seen him also introduce mixed martial arts to the state in the late '90s, earn two Instructor of the Year awards, and train hundreds of students and title belt holders.

"I can't go out that way," Neves admitted about his last defeat. "and this time, I don't think I'm going to stop. I see guys who are fighting at my age and aren't in as good as shape as I am. But right now, I feel like I'm born again. I'm psyched and I can't wait to get going."


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