SAN DIEGO — Tony (Mighty Mouse) DeLuca realized one day when he was sparring that he was taking more abuse about his nickname than he was in the ring.
The young flyweight who weighed 112 pounds and stood "almost 5-foot-5," decided that he needed a moniker with a little more punch.
Tonight, it will be Tony (Bazooka) DeLuca (7-1-2) taking on Arturo Rodriguez (6-2) in an eight-round fight for the Stroh's-Golden Star Southern Region flyweight championship at the El Cortez Hotel. The fight is last on a four-card program that begins at 7.
DeLuca, 23, majored in marketing for two years at Northeastern University, so he knows something about packaging. When San Diego boxer James Kinchen jokingly suggested the new nickname, DeLuca realized they just might have something.
"I'm always thinking of where boxing is going to take me," said DeLuca. "I throw out Bazooka bubble gum--that's my own thing--I have bumper stickers and I do T-shirts for my friends.
"It's a business; there's so much competition. Business-wise you want to go far. You have to be good, but there's more to boxing now, you have to be a well-rounded package."
DeLuca, who grew up in Portsmouth, N.H., credits boxing with saving him.
"It was a point in my life where I could have gone either way," he said. "Drugs are unreal there."
One day, a former heavyweight contender named J.J. Johnson opened the first gym in Portsmouth. DeLuca was 17 and a high school "ruffian," he said.
"It was one of those old New England buildings that should have been condemned," he said. "I walked in and there were leaky pipes, dim lights and people boxing over in the corner. I was bitten by the bug.
"This big black man (Johnson) came over to me and said 'Why do you want to box?.'
"I told him 'I love boxing--even though I've never done it, I want to box.' "
DeLuca said that Johnson tried to discourage him. "But I was really persistent," DeLuca said. "When something comes easy to you, you want to excel--you dream about it--it's all you think about."
DeLuca is left-handed, so when Johnson showed him boxing highlight films to study technique, he would show it on a mirror so DeLuca could see what he was supposed to do. He learned quickly.
In his third fight, DeLuca beat the defending Massachusetts Golden Gloves champion. In his seventh fight, DeLuca became champion of the state.
DeLuca quit boxing for the first time after he graduated from high school. He was a B student and had several colleges to choose from, including Boston University, Syracuse and Northeastern. Already having a sense for business, it wasn't a hard decision.
"I ended up taking the college that gave me the best deal," DeLuca said.
But two years later, DeLuca, who had made the dean's list while at Northeastern, had trouble keeping his mind off boxing.
"I tried to give it up," he said. "But I found myself shadow boxing in the mirror."
DeLuca decided he had to give professional boxing a shot, so he moved to San Francisco where one of his four sisters lived.
He fought only twice in the next year.
"It kind of discouraged me," he said. "I was working out every day in the gym for nine months after my second fight. They kept promising fights."
When he realized there probably weren't any more fights to come, he headed home. To help out his family he became a mason's tender, saving some of his money and giving the rest to his parents. "I never appreciated why I went to college--so I wouldn't have to work that hard," DeLuca said. "I wouldn't want to do that for a living."
But instead of going back to college, he went back to boxing, against the wishes of his parents
"It's funny, most of my friends have graduated college," said DeLuca. "It's different--I have achievements in life they will never have. I want to go back to school, but that's something I can always do."
Just 4 1/2 months later he was back in the ring. Round three in his boxing career began when DeLuca moved to San Diego in December, 1984. He had rationalized that he couldn't get fights in San Francisco because there just weren't enough flyweights in Northern California.
He has found most of the flyweights in Southern California and is running out of opponents. Lately, he's been traveling to Tijuana to find sparring partners.
But for DeLuca, there is really only one flyweight he is after--Paul Gonzales, the 1984 Olympic gold medal winner from Los Angeles.
"He's going to determine where my career goes--win, lose or draw," said DeLuca. "When you think of my career, he's standing in my way. There aren't that many flyweights. I'm in his backyard; he's going to have to fight me."
DeLuca's plan is to fight a couple more eight-round bouts and then move up to 10 rounds "just to get in the public's eye." Then, he figures, he'll be ready for Gonzales.
"I want to push myself as far as I can go," said DeLuca. "You have to commit yourself to something. It gives you something to look forward to every day.
"I need something to drive me--right now it's boxing."