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Pete Frissina, meet the boxing nation

For his first 31 pro fights, Tarpon Springs' Pete Frissina trained primarily in a storage unit off U.S. 19 in Holiday.

Instead of being a home for boxes, it is home for a boxer. Instead of housing extra clothes, furniture and dishes, it holds a boxing ring, speed bag and room for little else. Instead of skilled sparring partners, Frissina, 28, banged with run-of-the-mill pugs.

There was never money for more, said his father and trainer, Jack.

All that changed for Pete Frissina's 32nd pro fight, tonight against Rafael Marquez (30-3, 28 KOs) at the Dodge Theatre in Phoenix. For his biggest fight _ on HBO, and with the IBF bantamweight title on the line _ Frissina's promoter, Don King, brought him to his South Florida complex where Frissina was trained as if he were a world champion.

Secluded for two months without even a cell phone, Frissina (27-3-1, 15 KOs) trained with the best sparring partners _ 175 rounds in all _ and got the strict, regimented tuneup he needed at this point in his stagnant career.

"I was a lot more focused, and I didn't have to worry about what was going on the world," he said. "It was just eight weeks of boxing, eating and sleeping. I'm definitely a lot sharper."

Jack Frissina said his son is stronger and ready for the step up in competition he'll get against Marquez tonight. He estimates the cost of Pete's training was $20,000 but hopes to pay back King with a world title.

"Damn right, this is the biggest fight of my career," Pete Frissina said. "We got the guy that's supposed to be the man. He's supposed to the supreme being."

In Marquez, Frissina faces a fighter lauded for his slick skills and power, though questions remain about his chin. Marquez (30-3) handed Tim Austin his first loss via TKO when he took the IBF 118-pound title last year, and defended against Mauricio Pastrana. He also has two wins over Mark Johnson, and is the best Frissina has faced.

Denied a shot at the WBO title despite being ranked No. 1, a situation which nearly escalated into a courtroom battle, Frissina fought only once in 2002 and 2003. Both were close decisions over Jesus Perez, the last an IBF title eliminator in July to earn tonight's shot.

Though he hasn't lost since 1998, Frissina has garnered little attention. He hasn't had a knockout since 2000, and two of his past three fights were split decisions.

That helps to explain why Frissina never has been in a televised fight. "I don't ever get the publicity; I don't know why," he said.

Even after a six-year career and a few fringe titles. While his Pinellas County contemporaries _ Winky Wright, Jeff Lacy, David Santos _ have been on television multiple times, Frissina has not had the chance to make an imprint on the boxing landscape.

Until tonight.

"Thirty-one pro fights, and no TV. No Fox, no nothing," Frissina said. "Sometimes you wonder, should I even be wasting my breath? It ain't like you stay in gym for nothing; you don't train just to train.

"But I've got a lot of friends pulling for me. I think I got a lot of people in my corner. And now I'm on HBO, so I have to shine now. I better win."

WHEN: 9:45 tonight.

WHERE: Dodge Theatre, Phoenix.

TV: HBO.

OUTLOOK: Tarpon Springs graduate Pete Frissina fights IBF bantamweight champ Rafael Marquez in a 12-round title bout. Frissina is the IBF mandatory challenger after beating Jesus Perez in July. His fight is one of two title fights to be televised. The other pits WBO welterweight champ Antonio Margarito against challenger Hercules Kyvelos.

_ Compiled by John C. Cotey.

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