By Gary “Digital” Williams
I submit this Beltway remembrance as the possible answer to a trivia question. Who is the first and, so far, only Heavyweight Champion to lose to a boxer making his pro debut?
The possible answer took place on October 22, 1994 in Washington, DC — the night Leon Spinks came to town. Only we didn’t know that until years after the bout took place.
In a sport where strange things are more the rule than the exception, the night of October 22, 1994 set a bar for the surreal in my career. I was still doing my local TV series — Boxing Spotlight — and we got word in August that former World Heavyweight Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Leon Spinks was going to headline a card in DC at the Washington Convention Center.
Now we knew that Spinks was way on the downside of his career, but we knew his name would be good publicity, not only for us, but also for DC boxing as a whole.
The card was loaded; Darryll Tyson and Sharmba Mitchell also fought on the card, but Spinks was the one everyone came to see. He faced a guy named John Carlo from New York who was listed as 11-1 with 10 KO’s. I remember Carlo not saying a whole lot at the press conference and that should have been a tip-off that something was not quite right, but I was younger then and didn’t pick up the signs. At that time, however, it was almost impossible to verify fighter’s records — there was no universal system and a boxer could easily be knocked out in one state and take another name and fight in another state weeks later.
Things really got crazy the night of the bout. Here’s Spinks standing in the ring with Carlo on the other side and in the middle was former DC Mayor Marion Barry, serving as guest ring announcer. Barry’s enthusiasm for the job was truly evident, even if he did call John Carlo “Juan Carlos” and pronounced Spinks as “Sphinxs.”
I’m at ringside getting ready to call the bout. The bell rings and I glance down to read some information about the fighters to the audience. That turned out to be a mistake because as I raise my head to look at the action, I see Spinks heading down to the canvas, knocked down from the first punch Carlo threw, a punch I never saw. Spinks is trying to get up; he rolls around on the canvas as referee Sylvester Stevens begins the count. He’s up at the eight-count and Carlo moves in. He starts hammering Spinks again and sends him tumbling to the canvas. Remember, we’re only about a minute into the bout and by this time there is screaming for the bout to be stopped. A towel flies in from the Spinks corner but Stevens doesn’t see it. Carlo gets Spinks into a neutral corner and pummels him again until Stevens finally stops it.
As my broadcast partner, Charles James, and I are trying to recap what we’ve seen, cups start to fly, including one right near our broadcast location. While I wasn’t totally embarrassed by what I just saw, I was afraid for my safety for a little bit.
The strange aspects of this bout continued weeks later when I saw the tape of the interview conducted by our Boxing Spotlight reporter, the “Fight Doctor” Jerome Spears, with Spinks. I would quote things that Spinks said, but after more than 25 years, I still can’t understand a word he said to Spears.
Remember, I said that Carlo was LISTED at 11-1 with 10 KO’s? Well, this was before the rule that stated that all boxers should have a Federal ID number and card and before the Internet that now has sites where a fighter’s boxing record can be authenticated.
Years later, we found out that the bout was Carlo’s professional debut! Again, there were signs that pointed to that, like how Carlo didn’t go to a neutral corner after knockdowns, but again, I didn’t pick up those signs. We also found out later that Carlo was named in a bout-fixing scheme when he was accused of laying down for Richie Melito in 2000, although he was never charged or convicted. It was just a crazy night that seems to get crazier as the years go on.
If any of the RSR Readers out there have any strange boxing stories like this, I would love to hear from you and we can possibly even do a follow up piece where I include some of your stories in it.