Leo Loiacono felt like he was playing a heavyweight contender even when he was one in 1997 and ’98. So Loiacono didn’t hesitate when his manager asked him last summer if he wanted to play one in “The Nail: The Story of Joey Nardone.” Loiacono, a former Ridgefield High School football player and former teacher at Kennedy High School, was supposed to be an extra in the boxing movie, which stars Tony Danza, William Forsythe and Leo Rossi.
Loiacono, whose nickname is “Lionheart,” plays “Carnez,” a heavyweight who spars against Nardone, a fictitious character who comes out of prison and helps a troubled boy learn to box. The film, set in Philadelphia, will debut tonight at the Philadelphia Film Festival and Cinefest.
For the full schedule and ticket information, visit philly-cinefest.com.
“I’m really hoping this acting thing takes off,” said Loiacono, 40. “But acting is no joke. It’s hard work. I learned that making this movie.”
Vinny LaManna, Loiacono’s longtime manager, is trying to land Loiacono an audition in an upcoming Robert DeNiro production.
“I believe that this movie is going to be a great addition to Leo’s video resume,” said LaManna, “I think that he could be a good character actor, for sure. He could be a thug behind Tony Soprano, or be the bailiff on ‘Judge Judy.’ He’s not scary looking, but he is definitely intimidating and imposing.”
Loiacono’s intimidating, imposing look made Don King sign him to a promotional contract in 1996.
LaManna had already helped build the muscular, popular Loiacono into a top ticket-seller on the New Jersey circuit. King pumped up his confidence so much that Loiacono believed he was ready for a February 1998 fight against Ray Mercer, then one of boxing’s best heavyweights.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Loiacono was (14-2, 12 KOs), by the time he met Mercer, a former Army Sergeant who won a gold medal for the United States at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Loiacono, meanwhile, fought four times as an amateur after playing football for Kean and Jersey City State college in New Jersey.
Mercer, a former heavyweight champion, knocked out Loiacono with a left hook in the second round of their bout in Miami.
“If I didn’t freeze, I would’ve won that fight,” Loiacono said. “I’m not saying I would’ve knocked him out, but the fight would’ve gone my way had I been able to stay calm and poised. I was faster than him and stronger than him. He trained for the fight, but he wasn’t taking me as seriously as he should have taken me. You could tell he didn’t train that hard for the fight. You could hear him breathing heavy in the first round.”
The loss cost Loiacono a shot at Evander Holyfield, a bout King promised him if he could overcome Mercer.
“That fight ruined my life at the time,” Loiacono said. “I was devastated when that happened and it took me a long time to get past that. It’s something I still think about. I’ll take it to my grave with me.”
Loiacono has thought many times about making a comeback since his last bout, a third-round knockout defeat to journeyman Kimmuel Odum in February 1999, and he will this summer.
Ultimately, however, he is focused on his full-time job in law enforcement, helping raise his two daughters, 12-year-old Dianna and 4-year-old Olivia, and pursuing acting.
“I would love nothing more,” Loiacono said, “than to become the next action hero up on that screen.”