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RSR Brings that 70’s Show with Former WBC Welterweight Champion Carlos Palomino Part I

Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt

“To hear from my Mother that my Father had cried tears of joy when he heard I won the WBC Welterweight Title, meant the world to me” – Carlos Palomino

The magical movie screens of the early 1930s to the late 1940’s had legendary actor/swashbuckler Errol Flynn with his Matinee Day Idol looks and many adoring female fans flocking to get a close up of him. During the mid to late 1970’s the boxing world had an equivalent to Flynn in the charisma and good looks department in former WBC Welterweight Champion of the World, Carlos Palomino. Carlos had flocks of women fans pushing up to get a closer look at him that would have made Errol a jealous guy for sure. Both Flynn and Palomino share the fact they were both boxers and even acted in boxing movies with Flynn in that great bio of James J. Corbett titled, “Gentlemen Jim” and Palomino played opposite former NYPD Blue star Jimmy Smits in the boxing movie titled, “Price of Glory.”

On June 22, 1976, Carlos Palomino went into the record books as the new World Boxing Council (WBC) Welterweight Champion of the World when he defeated then Champion, John H. Stracey, via a knockout, in the 12th round of a scheduled 15 rounder. Palomino made seven successful title defenses and retired from boxing just shy of his thirtieth birthday, the first time around.

He went on to success in movies, commercials and TV and who can ever forget his appearance on the popular 70’s TV show Taxi when he played The Champ opposite Judd Hirsh and Tony Danza in an episode called “One-Punch Banta”

Palomino brings some heavy credentials from all facets of his successful life to Ringside Report and in his answers, he will show you, the readers, why he is now forever linked with RSR “The Heart of Boxing” website. Without further ado – Carlos Palomino…

BB: What have you been up to since you retired from boxing in 1998?

I basically did the same thing I did before I made my little comeback to boxing in 1997 and that was pursuing my acting career and doing some boxing commentary for HBO; doing the Spanish commentary and the corner translation if they spoke Spanish. I also worked for Showtime doing Spanish commentary. I started a boxing program for young kids about six years ago called “The Jeopardy Program” that has about 15-20 kids that we train and about five that actually compete in bouts. The program is located in Van Nuys, California and run by the Van Nuys Police Department for at risk kids. Right now I am also doing commentary for ESPN International, which puts on fights every Friday through Guilty Promotions. In fact, I start filming a movie down in Mexico called “Motor Extreme.”

BB: Many may not know that you served in the US Army for two years (1970 -72) and during that time, you also boxed. Talk a little bit about serving in the Army during the Vietnam War. Also, how did you do on the Army Boxing Team?

Well, I went in 1970, right after the conflict, and did my Basic Training at Fort Ord, California and was sent to Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. I was in the 1st Cavalry Division and was a welder. At that time, I was very sure I was going to be shipped out to Vietnam at anytime. One day, I was walking around the base and walked into the boxing gym when I saw a sign for the Fort Hood Boxing Championships. I spoke with the coach and he informed me there were some championships coming up in the next couple of months. I asked him what if you have orders to go overseas and you make the team? He informed me that if you made the team, that your orders would be changed to Special Services. I was like where do I sign up (big laughter)? I told him I had amateur experience back in LA (which wasn’t true) and he put me in the ring with a guy who beat the heck out of me, whacking me with the jab and right hand.

I lasted the three rounds and when I was done, the Coach told me I don’t think you have any experience, but I am going to let you stay with us to train for the tournament in two months. He pegged me as a welterweight and told me I would have to fight the same guy again who just beat the crap out of me because he also fought in that same division. I can remember calling home to my Dad who was a huge boxing fan and told him about me getting into boxing. His advice, knowing I never fought, was to train harder then everyone else and just pay attention to what they were doing.

If the guys ran five miles, I ran six or seven miles for example. After everyone else would leave the gym, I stayed and kept working out.

Two months later, I won the championship tournament. Then I went on to the 4th US Army Championships, won that, and then they sent me to the All- Army Championships and I won that too. From that time on, I just stayed on the Army Boxing Team.

BB: After your Honorable Discharge from the US Army, you turned professional on September 14, 1972 with a four round decision over Javier Martinez. How did it feel to get your first pro win under your belt and what were the noticeable differences for you from the day when you fought in the Army?

It was a good feeling to have the win, but then I got paid and it was only $80.00. I asked myself if I really wanted do this? At the time, I was going to college on the GI Bill and I was getting around $250.00 a month from that and I also held down a part-time job with the Westminster Parks and Recreation Service.

I really thought hard about staying in boxing, but eventually went back to the gym and spoke with my manager at the time, Jackie McCoy, who prior to my career managed four world champions. He was very confident that I had a future in boxing if I stuck with it. That motivated me to work hard and stay in boxing.

Yes, there were noticeable differences and the gloves were much smaller. I can remember thinking to myself; this is going to hurt. (laughter) With no more headgear to kind of protect you, you felt naked walking up to your opponent in the pro ranks. My trainer and also my co-manager was a gentleman named Noe Cruz who had boxed in the Navy. I can remember the first time he saw me in the gym after coming out of the Army; he commented that if I fight like I was now in the pros, I would get killed. During that time, I stood too tall, a very amateur style, which, as you know, I learned in the Army.

We had to work on me sitting down more on my punches and working on my defense that even after my first pro fight, he told me we have a lot to work on still.

BB: You go 10-0-1 in your first eleven matches and in your 12th fight, you faced tough Andy “The Hawk” Price who took you ten rounds back on August 2, 1974 winning the decision. What are your recollections of this fight and did the loss change anything in you as a fighter?

It was probably one of my hardest fights in my career. Price was 12-1 at the time and was fighting in like, his second ten round fight. That was my first scheduled ten rounder and I was actually scheduled to fight someone else who was hurt the week before. I told my manager I have been in the gym for like six or seven weeks and I need a fight because I needed the money. He called San Diego and Andy actually had a fight fall out, so we were matched. Funny thing about this fight, I had actually sparred with Andy at 78th and Hoover and felt I could beat him, but my manager wasn’t that sure, he told me I should turn the fight down because I was not ready for this level of competition. I begged him to take it.

In the tenth round, I thought I had the fight won and had hurt Andy along the ropes, but he spun off the ropes and hit me with a left hook on top of the head that dropped me; my glove touched the canvas ruling it a knockdown. This probably was the deciding factor in Price winning the fight.

Yes, absolutely, my first professional loss changed a lot in me as a fighter. First, I promised myself I was not going to lose again. At the time, I was training in a gym in Westminster with a friend of mine from the neighborhood, Jackie and my trainer. While I was at this gym, there was one other guy who was a pro, but weighed around 125 LBS and the rest were young amateurs, so that was group who I mostly sparred with. I really couldn’t pound hard on them because they were young. Jackie told me I had to make a move to another gym so I can get harder sparring partners and better training.

That made me drive over to 78th and Hoover to the gym which was called “The Cradle of Champions” during that time. I really improved 100% by doing this.

BB: In your 21st fight on November 22, 1975, you face slick boxer Hedgemon Lewis who you go the full ten rounds with and when the decision is announced, the fight is a draw. What are your recollections of this fight and how would you rate Lewis as a fighter?

It was a difficult fight for me and I had a lot of respect for Hedgemon because he had fought for the welterweight championship and had lots of experience. Going into the fight, I was very apprehensive and nervous knowing he was the second ranked fighter I was going against.

He was very quick in the ring with me and the fight was close. The decision was fair and if he had won it or me, it would have been fair as well, because it was just that close. We actually signed a rematch six weeks later, but the fight fell out. However, in this match, I really learned a lot.

BB: June 22, 1976. A day I am quite sure you will always remember. You traveled all the way over to Wembley to face then WBC Welterweight Champion of the World John H. Stracey. In the 12th round, you drop him twice and win the title via TKO. What are your recollections of this fight and now that you held the WBC belt, how did you think it was going to change your life?

It was a very rough fight because John was a very strong welterweight. I can remember Hedgemon Lewis fought him right before I did and he came back and my manager talked to him about the fight. Lewis told Jackie that he was very strong, but his legs were done after about six or seven rounds. I really trained hard for this fight and Noe my trainer was a guy who was about 6’1 and weighed about 190 LBS. He was a roofer as well as a trainer and was a very strong guy because of that type of work.

Everyday after the entire workout was over, we would jump in the ring and we would kind of wrestle a little with him putting his weight on me. We would also put are hands on each other shoulders and push down which made my legs strong and we did this for like five rounds. When I was in there with John and we were involved in a lot of infighting with him putting a lot of his weight on me and push me around. It was nothing compared with what Noe did to me and I could handle it with ease.

When I won the belt, I thought there was going to be a lot of attention when I came back to Orange County. I went to an upper class white High school, which was called Westminster High School that had only about 10 or 15 Mexicans or Mexican Americans with no Asians, or blacks. I thought being the first ever World Champion coming out of Orange County there might be a lot of attention. When I got back from London, my family and friends from the neighborhood were all that showed up at the airport to meet me. Basically, nothing happened for me. (laughter) The only real difference was how I was received at the Olympic Auditorium and I would be announced to come up in the ring.

BB: Between January of 1977 and May of 1978, you made seven successful title defenses against the likes of: Armando Muniz KO15, Davey Green, KO11, Everaldo Costa Azevedo, UD15, Jose Palacios, KO13, Ryu Sorimachi, KO7, Mimoun Mohatar, TKO9, and Armando Muniz, UD15. In your opinion, which of these defenses was your toughest and which saw you at your very best in the ring and why?

My toughest by far, was my first defense against Armando Muniz. I stopped him with seconds left in the 15th round. It was just a hard physical fight for me. Muniz’s style was to keep coming forward and he did.

Again, I think my best performance in my title defenses was in my first one with Muniz. I got dropped in the second round of the fight and he built a huge lead in the fight with me starting to turn the tide around in about the seventh round. He scored a lot inside and I was not able to keep him off, but I started to land some very solid punches of my own. My manager peeked at the scorecards in the 14th round of the fight and the fight was even. They sent me out in the 15th round knowing I needed it and that is when I knocked him down which was the first time in his career. Muniz got back up, but I stopped him with seconds left in the round.

BB: Based on the outcome of your first title defense where you stopped Armando Muniz in the 15th round, do you favor that distance over the 12 rounds today?

Yes, I do favor them and had we not had 15 back then, I would have probably lost the fight with Muniz. Because of that, I really don’t think 12 rounds is a true championship distance. 13-15 made a lot of champions. Had there been just 12 rounds, I may have lost five out seven of my title defenses.

BB: On January 13, 1979, you face former WBA Junior Welterweight Champion Wilfred Benitez who was moving up in weight to face you. You faced Benitez on his native soil in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After 15 rounds, you drop a split decision to Wilfred by the scores of 148-143 and 146-143, Benitez. The third judge had it for you, 146-142.

A couple of questions on this fight, you were the WBC Champion yet; you traveled to Puerto Rico his country to defend. Did you think going in you would have a tough time taking a decision if it went to the cards? How did you prepare for him knowing he was a true master of defense? When the fight was over, and before the scorecards were read, did you feel in your heart you did enough to keep your title? Finally, on this fight. Due to the nature of being so a split decision, how come you didn’t get the immediate rematch against Benitez?

I absolutely thought I would have a tough time winning a decision against Wilfred in Puerto Rico and felt I needed a knockout to win the fight over there. We were told by the WBC that I had to go to Puerto Rico to defend my title. I asked them why? Benitez was the number one contender and the fight had to go to a purse bid. Puerto Rico came in with the highest bid and my paycheck was $450,000 for the fight. I told them we would take half of that amount to put the fight in a neutral site and even in New York, which was his second home.

They said no and the WBC said if you don’t go to Puerto Rico and fight, I would be stripped of the title. Back then; you did what you were told. Today, I would have gone to court and fought this.

Bruce Curry, who faced Benitez, worked out in the gym with me. We also brought in some other sparring partners who were really quick and elusive. We really worked hard on putting a lot of pressure on them when we sparred and threw a lot of punches. Curry told me I had to pressure him constantly and throw lots of punches, which we were doing in sparring. Curry felt that I hit harder then he did and that I could stop Benitez.

I really do feel I won this fight because he fought like he was the champion running around the entire fight and me chasing him. For me to get a split decision even on his home turf should tell fans I really won it.

Great observation about me not getting an immediate rematch; after the fight, Bob Arum came to my hotel room and promised I would get a rematch after Benitez defended his title one time, which was against Harold Weston whom he beat. I figured I was now in line to get my title back. When I started in professional boxing, I had three goals which were to win a World Title, obtain a College Degree and finally to retire as a World Champion, with my belt, at the age of 30 which would have been in 1979 which was coming up.

In Part II of this RSR exclusive tomorrow, Carlos comments on Wilfred Benitez’s current health condition, his match up against “Hands of Stone” Roberto Duran, his short comeback in the late 1990’s and a lot more of his insights on important boxing issues. You don’t want to miss the conclusion of this interview.

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