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Rhode Wars 2 set – Meet boxer Nicola Quarneti – Brendan Higgins

By Brendan Higgins, contributing writer

This Saturday night, CES boxing returns to the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, with the second installment of the highly successful Rhode Wars series. This card promises to be an action-packed night of boxing with an international flavor. Fighters from around the globe including Columbia, Canada and Mexico will be in the ring battling for supremacy. One fighter in particular, will be making his return to the Crowne Plaza, all the way from Italy. His name – Nicola Quarneti.

Nico, 26, is the oldest of 2 children, and yes, ladies, he is single. He grew up in the small town of Lugo, in the Province of Ravenna. His family is very proud of him going after his dream and becoming a professional boxer. Like so many others, he watched the movie Rocky and knew he wanted to be a fighter. This movie seems to have sparked fire inside people from all walks of life over the years.

Nico was always an athlete. Like most kids in Italy, he played soccer. He also played volleyball and was a competitive swimmer. But after he saw the Italian Stallion doing his thing, he turned his attention exclusively to boxing.

So how does a kid from Italy end up in Rhode Island? I sat down with Nico and his manager/ translator, Dino Passaretta, to get the answer to that and many other questions. Dino is a native Rhode Islander. He has always been involved in combat sports. He trained at Manfredo’s Tae Kwon Do in his youth. His fighting roots run deep in kickboxing and traditional boxing. Passaretta is also a respected Rhode Island entrepreneur and businessman. He opened his first restaurant, Liliana’s (named after his daughter) in 2007. Since then, he has owned and operated some of the most well know and successful restaurants in the Ocean State including – The VIG, Centro, Locanda in South Kingstown, SeaCraft in Narragansett, Public Kitchen and Bar in Providence and Vanda located in Apponaug. I say translator, but in reality Nico speaks Italian, Spanish and is now perfecting English as his third language. From where I was sitting, he is picking it up just fine. However, from time-to-time Dino would help us communicate during the interview.

Nico is a student of boxing. He watches as many fights as he can to draw from them and improve as a fighter. He said, “Before I’m a boxer, I’m a student of boxing.” Dino chimed in and said, “He is a boxing historian. He watches a lot of fights.” I asked Nico who he admired as a fighter. He said, “Miguel Cotta as a fighter and for his life, and Floyd Mayweather as a boxer.” Nico’s admiration for Cotta is expressed with a beautiful tattoo of Cotta’s likeness on his back.  Nico is also a talented tattoo artist. Back in Italy, Nico started boxing when he was 14. As he got older, his brother Davide was instrumental in helping Nico get into shape. They turned one of the rooms in their house into a boxing gym. Today Davide is a gym teacher in Italy. He helped Nico with his conditioning as Nico prepared for the ambitious move of coming to the United States to further his boxing career. When Nico was 19, he started working as a laborer in the wine industry. He worked 6 to 7 nights a week. Hard work is something Nico does not shy away from.

Nico knew if he wanted to get noticed by the right people in the boxing world, he needed to come to America. He came to the United States on January 11, 2022. His first landing spot was Miami, Florida. Nico explained, “I go to Miami because I wanted to change my life. I wanted to go to the famous 5th Street Gym.

In Miami there is a good level of boxing.” Dino added, “He went to Miami because he felt more comfortable being able to communicate in Spanish. In the boxing houses in Florida, you have a lot of Cuban, a lot of Spanish, so the language was going to be much easier for him there. This is where fate intervened. Dino told me, “I have a condo in Miami, and I prefer to go there during the winter. At 51, Dino still trains. He keeps himself in shape taking boxing classes and sparring. When he is in south Florida, Dino also works out at 5th Street Gym. This is the gym where Angelo Dundee trained Muhammad Ali. One day when Dino was getting in his regular workout, Nico caught his eye during a sparring session. After that, Dino started paying closer attention to Nico. They started to engage in conversation. Dino liked this kid from Italy. One of Dino’s friends, former professional boxer, Francesco Cavalletti also liked what he was seeing from Nico. Dino assumed Francesco knew Nico, but in reality Nico was all alone, trying to find his own way in a new country. Once Dino realized this, he called Rhode Island based boxing promoter Jimmy Burchfield. Dino wanted to make Burchfield aware of this young Italian fighter with tons of raw talent and potential. Dino said, “First and foremost, I trust Jimmy. I know he does everything from the heart. When he gets behind a fighter there is no one better to have in your corner. I’ve known Jimmy since I was 16 years old. He owned the Classic restaurant. Jimmy was always this icon to me. He had so many famous people including Ali go there to eat. He’s been in the boxing world so long, all over the country, and everyone knows him. He is my longtime dear friend and someone I looked up to when I was young.” Still, Burchfield told Dino, “You can talk about him all day to me, but he needs to be up here so I can see him fight.” Dino explained, “The style of boxing in Europe is much different than the style of boxing in the United States. I felt if I brought him back to Rhode Island with me, and put him in the right environment up here, it would vastly improve him as a fighter. So that is what we are working on now.”

Dino is a soft-spoken gentleman. He is not a person patting himself on the back. So, I will take the liberty to do that. The boxing business is very difficult to advance in. Even with the right connections in place, the politics can present challenges. A young man with no connections, like Nicola Quarneti, can live in complete obscurity trying to get his foot in the door. In fact, it might not happen at all. With that being said, and by the grace of God, Nico meets Dino, a man with ties in the boxing world. Dino offers this promising young fighter the opportunity to come to Rhode Island, live in his home, and further his boxing career. In addition, Nico would be catapulted directly into the spotlight. He would be given the premium opportunity of being showcased on high level boxing cards like the upcoming Rhode Wars 2 this Saturday night. He would also be given the opportunity to train among the best of the best in Rhode Island.

The obvious question for me to ask Dino was, “Why Nico”? What is it about him that made you decide to give him this once in a lifetime opportunity? Dino said, “Down in Florida, there was this kid in the gym that called himself Golden Boy. I mean, you have to have brass balls to call yourself that. The kid is from Romania. He walks in the gym like he is a superstar. Like McGregor or Mayweather. He’s ripped, a good-looking kid, and he is fast. He thinks he’s something great. Nico cleaned his clock. Twice. Nico didn’t even have a trainer there (in Miami). I mean, Nico just walked into the gym without a trainer. The owner of the gym isn’t going to spend any time with Nico because he has so many other fighters. It’s a beautiful gym, a great gym, great people but you have to fend for yourself.” Nico said, “Before I came to Miami, I was watching all the best gyms on the internet. When I arrived, I went to Centeno’s Sweatbox and 5th Street.” I asked Nico how it felt to walk into these legendary gyms when he first arrived in America. He said, “It was very easy. I was ready. In Italy, I trained very hard. I was in great shape. I was ready for this.” 

As I sat with these men, it became more and more apparent to me that Nicola Quarneti was destined to further his boxing career here in Rhode Island, under the tutelage of Dino Passaretta. I asked Nico how he felt about Dino. He looked me directly in the eye and said, “Why he is helping me, I don’t know. He is a special person. He is an especially fantastic person. He has taken care of me from the first time we met. The sincerity coming from this kid was a welcome sight when you consider we live in an era filled with entitled athletes. I asked Nico why he trusted Dino so much, so fast. It was a risk to come back to Rhode Island with him. Nico said, “The vibes Dino sent me was good. I told myself, how many chances like this will I get. I don’t have many chances like this, so I have to try. I knew I only have one opportunity, and this is it. I trusted in Dino the first moment I see his eyes. Then they started working my corner when I was sparring in Miami. Me, Dino and Francesco were the Italian corner.”

On a side note, I was getting goosebumps listening to these men talk about the comradery they share. What was more incredible, Nicola Quarneti had never heard of Rhode Island before he arrived here.

Dino Passaretta with his protégé Nicola Quarneti

I asked Nico how he liked Rhode Island. He said, “I don’t know it too good. I really don’t like the cold so much.” Dino said, “He knows one street. From here to Jaime’s gym.” Nico walks to the gym most days. He continues to pay his dues. Nico is making the rounds training at Big 6 Boxing, 401 Boxing and On The Ropes Boxing in Warwick getting ready for his upcoming 4 round Super Middleweight fight against Keenan Raymond of Providence, this Saturday night. Nico said, “I’m focused on my training and what I need to do to be ready. The fight is the top of the mountain. The training is going up the mountain.” Dino added, “I know what he is trying to say. The fight is in the preparation. The day of the fight is when you reach the mountain top. The training is everything. Preparing yourself is everything. Not worrying about the opponent.” I asked Nico his goals in Boxing. He said, “I want to be the world champion and that’s it.” The stars seem to be aligning for Nico. Dino added, “First and foremost, I am Nico’s friend. If I see something I can do for him, I’m happy to do it. He is a great kid. I’m more of a friend than a manager. I am his manager, but far more importantly he is like a brother to me. He is family to me.” Dino turned to Nico and said, “La Familia.” Nico smiled and replied “Oh, yes, of course, but you are the big brother.”

I asked Nico if he had a message for his growing fan base. Nico paused for a moment. He seemed embarrassed by my question. Then he said,” I don’t like to speak so much. I do my talking in the ring. My message is, thank you very much for going to see me fight. I will do the best I can for this time and next time and next time. I’m going to keep getting better.” With Dino Passaretta in his corner, Nico’s goal of wearing a world title belt is on the horizon.

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Brendan Higgins, writer and author, RIPTA bus driver, former professional wrestler (Knuckles Nelson), and North Kingstown resident.

We welcome Brendan as a contributing writer to RINewsToday.

To read a story about Brendan, from our sports department, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/knuckles-nelson-waking-up-from-the-wrestling-ring-to-the-yoga-mat-john-cardullo/

Higgins is the author of “Waking Up: From the Wrestling Ring to the Yoga Mat”