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Live to Fight Another Day

When an athlete tears his or her ACL, there often seems to be rhyme or reason as to why it happens. These injuries can occur in non-contact situations, such as a wide receiver making a cut in football or a basketball player performing a jump stop on his way to the rim. These are tasks that these athletes have completed successfully hundred or even thousands of times, however they are left wondering, why this time and why me?

That was the case for Vincenzo Iannuzzo after he suffered the devastating knee injury during Cicero-North Syracuse High School’s football season opener in what would have been his senior campaign. “I was playing slot corner, we were in man-to-man coverage and my assignment ran a ‘go’ route,” Iannuzzo said. “I backpedaled, then when I turned to run with him I felt something in my knee pop.”

Iannuzzo was unable to play for the rest of the season, but as team captain, still showed up to every practice and every game, with crutches under his arms. Fellow defensive back Stephen Kires said his status as a leader never wavered. “Vin was in the center of our huddle hyping us up pregame, same thing in the locker room at halftime,” Kires said. “One really bad call on us in the game against Liverpool got him so fired up I remember laughing when I looked at the bench because Vin was crutching his way down the sideline, trying to keep up with the ref just so he could keep yelling at him.”

That intensity followed Iannuzzo into his rehabilitation from arthroscopic knee surgery. “I was really eager to get through it, I wanted to recover as fast as possible so I could show the colleges that were still recruiting me that I would be ready to go,” Iannuzzo said.

He was cleared for full-contact activity about seven months after going under the knife. “He was like a madman with rehab and the physical therapy,” his mother, Jennifer said. “He’d wake up early and do the exercises the doctor recommended before school.”

Many of the colleges that had been recruiting Iannuzzo rescinded scholarship offers after the injury, however a few stuck around. “Mercyhurst was one of the biggest schools that hung in there with me, and I was extremely fortunate to be able to continue my career there. 

Yet, when he arrived at Mercyhurst, he began to reconsider his commitment to football. “I feel like I was blessed with an abundance of athleticism as a kid, and as a result I was fairly good at all the sports I played,” said Iannuzzo. “So now I get to Mercyhurst and I’m on the bench redshirting, which was new for me. I’m coming off the knee injury which has sapped some of that athleticism, wondering if I can be the same player. Plus I was still frustrated that the knee injury ever happened, knowing that I had better offers that vanished because of it.”

The culmination of all those factors led Iannuzzo to, as he put it, “fall out of love with the game.” He finished out his redshirt freshman year with the Mercyhurst Lakers before transferring to Brockport and hanging up the cleats for good. “During that year, I could tell there was a difference in my passion for the game, and I really didn’t want to pursue that I could no longer see myself giving my all to,” Iannuzzo said. 

Of course, anybody who knew him from when he was younger knew that this may be the end of Vincenzo Iannuzzo the football player, but it would not be the end of his athletic career.

Stephen Kires, who played in the secondary with him during varsity football, played a variety of sports at the modified level with Iannuzzo, who he says stood out from a young age. “Well, he played running back when we were on modified, because there weren’t many passing plays and legitimately nobody could catch up to him back then,” Kires said. “He had a good handle as a kid so couple that with his speed and he was one of our best basketball players too. He was very good defensively in baseball and if he got on first, you could pretty much guarantee he would steal his way to third with those wheels.”

However, baseball and basketball are not exactly sports you pick right back up after taking the amount of time off that Iannuzzo did. Except there was one more sport/activity he excelled in as a child, perhaps more than any of the others: Karate.

Growing up, Iannuzzo’s father, Jeffrey was a Karate instructor at Iannuzzo’s Kickboxing and Karate owned by his brother Rick. Iannuzzo practiced Karate for over seven years and was ready to test for his brown belt by the age of 10 when tragedy struck. 

In 2007, Iannuzzo’s father was killed in an accident between two tractor trailers while working his other job as a truck driver. He was 39 years old.

Obviously an unexpected loss, Iannuzzo was devastated and stopped practicing Karate for quite a while. “It was too hard to go into the studio and train with a different instructor,” Iannuzzo said. 

Now, Iannuzzo is back to practicing Karate, along with other martial arts in hopes of becoming a successful mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. “I want to fulfill a legacy, you know, live up to the family name,” Iannuzzo said. “I’d also like to be the best role model I can for my younger brother the same way I could look up to my dad.” 

Iannuzzo also plans on carrying the family name into the octagon in terms of style. “A lot MMA fighters you see today use more of a traditional Muay Thai stance, they stay light on their front foot for leg kicks, close the distance when they can, and hit you with those short elbows and knees,” Iannuzzo said. “Even if I wanted to I’m not sure I could transition to that type of style. I’ve been training in a karate/kickboxing style for so long it feels awkward when I’ve tried. There are fighters like Steven “Wonderboy” Thompson who use that Karate style but it is considered unorthodox.

Iannuzzo is in the process of trying to schedule his first professional fight, after years of training. “Right now I’m just working on finding a promotion to fight in,” he said. “There are a few that have competitions close enough, like Albany or Buffalo area. After I graduate this semester, I can focus on training full time and hopefully get my first fight in this summer.”

Iannuzzo credits the brief time he had with his father and his father’s early passing for helping shape who he is today. “The amount of time I spent in the Karate studio with my dad as my instructor, I was ready to test for my brown belt before he passed, but I easily could have been up to a black belt or higher by then,” Iannuzzo said. “But even if I was the best in the class he would kind of make me be a perfectionist, which instilled a really good work ethic in me at a young age. He taught me to want to be the best, to never settle.”

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