MICHAEL CARBAJAL HAILED AS ONE OF GREAT FIGHTERS OF ALL TIME (Phoenix New Times, August 7, 1997) By Barry Graham When you talk about Phoenix to people from other states, they mention the heat, the mistreatment of prisoners in Joe Arpaio's gulag, and, maybe, the Suns. But it's rare to hear anyone mention that Phoenix has produced one of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing. Michael Carbajal's impact on the sport has been profound. What makes him unique is not his fighting prowess--other fighters have been as great, though not many. Some have been better--Julio Cesar Chavez, for instance. But Carbajal hit the sport's hierarchical structure as hard as he hit his unfortunate opponents. The ability for a boxer to generate revenue has always depended on weight, not talent. The heavyweight crown is the richest prize in sport. As weight decreases, so does income. Middleweights and welterweights can still pocket millions, and even lightweights don't do badly. Below lightweight, however, it's hard to be taken seriously by those outside the pugilistic cognoscenti. And the littlest men of all--the 108-pounders--found it hard to be taken seriously by anyone. Junior flyweight bouts were regarded as having little more than novelty interest. Watching such a bout, Jim Murray, a legendary British manager and trainer, laughed and said, "These boys are so small, you could give them baseball bats and they still couldn't knock each other over." And the purses they received reflected their lack of standing. Until Michael Carbajal emerged from a Phoenix barrio. He was always an unlikely superstar. He didn't have the flamboyance of a Sugar Ray Leonard. His boxing skills didn't dazzle. He wasn't a pretty boy. Like his idol, Panama's Roberto Duran (arguably the greatest lightweight of all time), he was a no-nonsense fighter's fighter whose appeal wasn't limited to the fight community. The reason for this isn't a mystery: Carbajal always came to fight. He carried himself not with the bravado and cockiness of a showboat like Leonard, but with a genuine fearlessness. There is a saying in boxing, "Everybody's a great fighter when he's coming forward"--and Carbajal understood this, consciously or not. He raised pressure fighting to a sublime level, refusing to back off or let an opponent advance. He wasn't a face-first brawler, though. Although far from a master of defense, he fought with a cool belligerence, stalking opponents and picking his punches. And when he hit his opponents, they usually stayed hit. With either hand, Carbajal could end a fight with just one punch. His punching power was so much more than a man his size could be realistically expected to carry that it was almost spooky to watch him bludgeon his opponents. He knocked out 30 of his 49 foes. And he did more than win an Olympic silver medal in 1988, and go on to win IBF and WBC world titles. He brought his weight division a status--in terms of both money and respect--that it hadn't known before. Carbajal has earned nearly $7 million in his career. He was the first 108-pounder to be paid a million-dollar purse for a fight. He was the lightest man ever to be named Fighter of the Year by The Ring, the magazine known as "the Bible of boxing." His cruel war of attrition with Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez was named Fight of the Year in 1993. But that was 1993. It's all over now, and it won't be coming back. Fighters have short careers. You're well past your best by 30, though many have so much ability that, even past their peaks, they can carry on successfully. But that's in the heavier weight divisions. The lighter you are, the shorter your fistic shelf life. And so the junior flyweights have the shortest careers of all. Carbajal is now 29. Any junior flyweight would be over the hill by then. But Carbajal has more mileage on the clock than most fighters. The style that made him so exciting to watch is a style that is better for your bank balance than for your frontal lobes. And Carbajal is now a parody of the fighter he was. It was sad to watch him pounded into ninth-round defeat by Jake Matlala, a South African mediocrity who probably couldn't have lasted as Carbajal's sparring partner a few years ago. And it made sense to hear Carbajal announce his decision to retire. Which presents him with the question every champion has to face at his career's final bell: What now? What will replace the vocation he's given the last 10 years of his life to? Where else will he hear the same applause, the thousands of people chanting his name? It's going to be harder than it should be for such a great champion. Because, unlike Ali or Leonard, he doesn't have celebrity status within the cultural mainstream. In the gymnasiums of Phoenix's barrios, Carbajal isn't venerated. His success hasn't been much of an inspiration to the little kids starting out. Oscar de la Hoya is their man, the fighter who smiles down from the posters on their bedroom walls. Carbajal was never the kind of fighter you see on bedroom walls--his posters tend to adorn the walls of gymnasiums and barbershops, the territory of the hard-core fan. "He's a great fighter, but not a role model," says a young Latino boxer from South Phoenix who recently turned pro. "He's not an inspiration. He don't live right." In our collective mythology, there are two Michael Carbajals. They're both based on the same man, and whichever one you believe in depends on where you're standing--your levels of cynicism or romanticism. There's the heroic, dedicated family man who made millions in the ring but still lives in his neighborhood, refusing to turn his back on the people he grew up with. Or there's the pathetic little gangbanger who, having made his millions, still doesn't have the strength of character to leave his old turf, isn't man enough to break with the gang and go his own way. There are Phoenix police officers who'll tell you that Carbajal is definitely in the Ninth Street Gang. There are boxing scenesters who'll tell you the same thing. Carbajal has always denied it, and there are people who'll tell you that such claims are bullshit, that Carbajal is simply the victim of racist rumormongering by people who can't stand to see a kid from the barrio succeed on his own terms. Which version is the more plausible? Neither, and both. His behavior outside the ring is undoubtedly thuggish. But Carbajal is a fighting man--how else would you expect him to react when hassled by a drunk, off-duty cop? He's been seen throwing gang signs. So have white, middle-class kids who're not in gangs, but just clowning around. So maybe he's just a wild, high-spirited young guy who's got some growing up to do, held back by the demands of his peculiar career. Maybe he's not even connected to a gang. Or maybe he is. Maybe both sides are right, and Carbajal is devoted to his wife and kids, and his gang. It doesn't really matter either way, or affect the challenge he has to face now--the rest of his life. The danger is that, knowing nothing else, Carbajal will keep coming back. The fighter he worships, Duran, couldn't live without the adulation. Now approaching 50, Duran is still at it, beating or being beaten by no-hopers who feel privileged to have his name on their records. There are already danger signs that Carbajal could go down the same road. As he announced his retirement, his promoters were talking about one more fight to "honor" him--a fight here in Phoenix, against an easy opponent. This proposal is outrageous on every level. Carbajal may have slipped, but punching power is always the last thing to go. Put him in with a ham-and-egger and you're liable to have a fatality on your hands. And it would be pitiful for a fighter of such majesty to reduce himself to beating up on some bum just to look good in front of his fans for one last time. And there's another possibility in such a scenario. Carbajal is so far gone that it's not impossible that a stiff might beat him. And if people really want to see that--we had a glimpse of it in his last fight--then they have no understanding of a champion, and no real understanding of what boxing means. Carbajal should walk away now, with his health and his dignity intact. We should hope that he is genuinely a champion rather than just a great fighter, and that he can face up to his toughest challenge: how to live without it. Whichever of the two Michael Carbajals we believe in, we should wish him well. GEORGE CHUVALO SAYS AN EARFUL (Friends of Boxing, Winter, 1998) By Warren J. Rutherford George Chuvalo went 27 rounds with Ali, spent more than 10 years ranked in the top ten heavyweights in the world, was never knocked off his feet in the ring. But recently George has been knocked to his knees by life itself with the tragic loss of three sons and the suicide of his precious wife Lynn. Friends of Boxing asked Mr. Chuvalo to comment on the now famous "ear-biting" fight last August at his home in Toronto. His response was typically frank and hard hitting. Friends of Boxing: "So what do you think about this recent Tyson Holyfield debacle?" George Chuvalo: " I'll tell you in my opinion...my theory. See you gotta put yourself in someone else's shoes. You gotta remember what it's like to be Mike Tyson. What do you think it's like to be Mike Tyson? What do you think? Everybody says you're the baddest guy on the planet. You say it yourself and we believe you. And when you lose a fight it ain't like the average champion losing a fight. You're a legend. You're a living legend. You're Mike Tyson. For you to lose it's almost impossible. It's hard to conceive, it's hard to imagine. And not only do you lose you get manhandled, not only do you lose you get knocked out, not only do you get knocked out you get humiliated, not only do you get humiliated but every day of your life after people ask you questions. You start asking yourself questions. And then comes the fight and you start to make excuses for yourself. What happens if I start getting licked in this fight, I can't hit this guy -- I'm having a hard time. This guy's fought other style's but Holyfield's got his number. If I'm havin' a hard time hittin' this guy so what am I gonna do? Believe me he thought about it-that decision to chomp his ear off wasn't born between the second and third rounds. That decision to chomp his ear off was born a long time before that. He thought about it a thousand times. A day where he'd be running, or he'd be in the gym. alone with his quietest thoughts. He thought hey man if this guy starts beatin' me and humiliating me in front of all those people-millions and millions of people around the world I'll be fuckin ' mortified! When am I gonna save myself? What am I to do? So he opted for the lesser of two evils. The evil of losing or the option of losing the way he did it. He looked very primal, he looked very animalistic, he looked like he was out of control. he looked like a spoiled brat. He looked like a lot of things. you know what I mean?" FB: "Yes sure." GC: "Would Joe Louis ever do that? Would Muhammed Ali ever do that? They would never do that. They would lose like a fuckin' man. You know what I mean? FB: "That's right. Remember Greg Norman's collapse at the Masters that one year when he was eight strokes ahead? People like him more now because of the way he handled the defeat. He went down like a man." GC: "Well actually people liked Tyson after he lost to Holyfield the first time. He did it with class-he didn't make any excuses. But just the fact that in his own mind, in his own brain, in his own psyche, in his own persona-he had a hard time living with that. He had a hard time living with the fact that he wasn't the champion of the world no more. He had a hard time living with the fact that somebody else thought that there was somebody else better than him. What is it like to be Mike Tyson? He was geared to be the champion of the world since he was 15 years old. All he could see himself was as Mike Tyson the fighter, like Tyson the champion of the world. He couldn't see himself as anything else. That sounds kinda helpless stuff, kinda crazy philosophy but its true. You know? He was the champion of the world. that's it. He was the battiest act -- the baddest ass around. That was him. So as far as him losing another fight-it was too much for him to bear. A lot of people can't understand that because they've never been Mike Tyson or anything close to it. They can't understand what its like to have that kind of adulation, what it's like to have that kind of reputation. So that in effect prompted him to do something so crazy, so wild, so bizarre." (Friends of Boxing is a quarterly boxing digest devoted to the Canadian pro boxing scene. It's web page is located at: http://www.sas.shaw.wave.ca/~foboxing) FANS PUT THE RAP ON BOXING (Allentown Morning Call, April 24, 1986) By John Kunda The mail load was heavier than usual, and, they tell me that the telephones all but rang themselves out on the night Larry Holmes was ''robbed'' in Las Vegas. To steal a line from that movie of a few years ago, ''Network,'' the Lehigh Valley sporting public was ''mad as hell.'' A letter writer from Quakertown could have been the spokesman for the entire lot that complained about the split decision that favored Michael Spinks. The man wrote: ''I don't care what they think of Larry Holmes as a person. He may have a big mouth and he may have rubbed the public the wrong way, but who are the judges kidding? They (the judges) made a mockery of the sport (?) and a mockery out of all of us who watched the fight. It's about time somebody does something about these grave injustices.'' There seems to be little doubt, even among the boxing experts, that the judges did, indeed, do a job on the former champion from Easton. Better than 80 percent of the writers at ringside had Holmes recapturing the title that he had lost last Sept. 21 to the same Michael Spinks. That ugly word ''fix'' popped up in a number of letters and phone calls. ''Corruption'' was another word that was over-used. Holmes complained, but he saw the handwriting on the wall. ''I'm a bad guy,'' he said, ''and they didn't want me to win. I had to knock him out to win.'' That wasn't sour grapes this time. It was a point well- taken. ''Larry was the victim of the ripoff of the century,'' said one Allentown caller who had claimed years and years of interest in boxing. Another said: ''A travesty of justice against Holmes who should have won hands down. About 50 million other Americans would agree. Let's start counting hands.'' ''It was a decision that should (and must) be reversed,'' said another caller. A caller from Mount Carmel, who said he represents 150 fight fans from as far back as 1954, said: ''We are incensed with the decision. Boxing has taken a giant step backwards because of the fiasco in Vegas.'' A grandmother of four said, ''something's got to be done about this horrendous injustice. We are entitled to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.'' A dozen or so simple called the decision ''highway robbery.'' One lady called and demanded to know why the announcers on television (HBO) said that ''unless Spinks knocks down Holmes, it was Holmes' fight . . . and that didn't happen. What gives?'' An Allentown letter-writer questioned ''why the fight in the first place?'' Then he added: ''If the judges had planned to put the screws to Holmes, why did they let them fight 15 rounds. Why didn't they just declare Spinks the winner. Maybe Holmes was right when he called the judges out there (in Las Vegas) 'a bunch of drunks.' Nobody in a sober state would have given Spinks the decision.'' Another wrote: ''Boxing is going the way of professional wrestling. They know who the winners are ahead of time.'' And another: ''I was disappointed when Larry Holmes said the things he did about Rocky Marciano after his first fight with Spinks, but is it fair to take away his championship because of it? I always thought something smelled about boxing. Now, I'm convinced.''