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Bantamweight Christian Carto Gives Fans Another Sweet Treat at the SugarHouse

Bernard Fernandez

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PHILADELPHIA – There are certain flavors – like, say, scrapple for breakfast – that are more accepted and even favored here than in other places, where they have yet to become acquired tastes, and might never be.

The same might be said at this point of boxing’s little dynamo, bantamweight prospect Christian Carto, who resides in Deptford, N.J., but continues to train in and be introduced as being from South Philly, which, along with his family’s deep and long-established roots in the local fight scene, have helped make the 21-year-old something akin to a rock star. His bouts at the SugarHouse Casino along the Delaware River waterfront are always sold out (all right, so capacity is only 1,100) and his trunks are festooned with so many ads from area merchants that longtime Philadelphia promoter J Russell Peltz has cracked that “he looks like a NASCAR driver.” Carto’s manager, older brother Frankie Carto, claims he has had to tell other would-be advertisers that, sorry, there is no more open space for product placement on Christian’s work duds.

Carto’s latest ring appearance, a six-round unanimous decision over Mexican veteran Antonio Rodriguez Friday night before another raucous SugarHouse crowd, might yet prove to be another little acorn that blossoms into a mighty oak of national and even international significance. But, while typically dominant, Carto’s slightly smudged performance offered little proof one way or another as to the still-unproven kid’s potential for spreading his magic beyond his currently limited comfort zone.

“I tried to get him out of there,” Carto (17-0, 11 KOs), who floored Rodriguez (13-23-2 (6 KOs) with a left hook to the body in the second round,” said of the extension of his non-stoppage streak to six bouts, and against a 30-year-old opponent who had lost inside the distance 12 times previously. “I’m going to go back to the gym and work more on setting my shots up. There’s a lot I still need to work on.”

The task of furthering Carto’s pugilistic education has fallen to veteran Philadelphia trainer Billy Briscoe, who took Gabe Rosado to two shots, albeit losing ones, at world titles. Earlier this year Briscoe replaced Mickey Rosati, who had been with Carto since his days in the amateurs.

“We’re still trying to work out some wrinkles, getting him a little more well-rounded,” Briscoe said. “He got a little overanxious after he knocked the guy down, but that’s all a part of growing and maturing. He’ll get it.”

Carto and his family are betting that when and if he does get it, the rewards will be ample. The 5-foot-5 Carto, who hopes to become the first Philly bantamweight to become a world champion since International Boxing Hall of Famer “Joltin’” Jeff Chandler dethroned Julian Solis on a 14th-round knockout on Nov. 14, 1980, a title he held through nine successful defenses, has elected to remain a free agent rather than to sign a long-term deal with the many smaller, regional promoters who would like to have him as the face of their operation. (Friday’s card at the SugarHouse was staged by Marshall Kaufmann’s King’s Promotions.) But if popularity is a factor, and it generally is, Carto could soon announce an exclusive arrangement with one of boxing’s promotional heavy hitters. When he appeared on the undercard of an ESPN-televised card in Atlantic City headlined by heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Alexander Dimetrenko on Aug. 18, his appearance resulted in more direct ticket sales than the compiled total of fellow Philly fighters Jennings and Jesse Hart, both of whom are world-rated and have fought for world championships.

Not too shabby for someone barely old enough to vote and has yet to be involved in a fight scheduled for longer than eight rounds.

“He’s Italian and he’s South Philly. That’s a perfect combination,” said Peltz, who co-promoted the Aug. 18 show in Atlantic City along with Top Rank.

Although Carto disavows the notion that he was “born to be a fighter,” his genetics suggest otherwise. His late grandfather, Frankie Carto, was a lightweight who was 40-13-3 (21) from 1941-46; great-uncle Joe Carto, also a lightweight, was 4-2-1 (3) and another great-uncle, Nunzio Carto, another lightweight (natch) was 27-2 (13). It’s little wonder Christian, then eight, began tagging along with older brother Frankie, his grandpop’s namesake, when he’d go to the gym to work out, and he had his first amateur bout at 11, progressing enough over time to win the National Golden Gloves light flyweight title in 2014 (a championship once held by future pro greats Johnny Tapia, Michael Carbajal and Floyd Mayweather Jr.)  and take bronze at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Thirteen of Carto’s 17 fights have been staged in Philadelphia, including eight at the SugarHouse, where he has become so much of a “house” fighter that the casino heralds his upcoming bouts in the upstairs Events Center by plastering his face on billboards. All that remains now is for the local kid with the cult-like following to see if he can expand his brand to larger stages in New York, Las Vegas and other  destinations that have yet to sample and savor his little slice of Philly.

Curiously, coming as it did three days after the nation’s mid-term elections, Philadelphia fighters participated in all six bouts on the card, all were victorious and all were assigned to the blue corner, making for a “blue wave” of another sort. Carto was the draw, as might be expected, but he was not the only home-grown fighter who had family as well as municipal pride to uphold. Welterweight James Martin (3-0), son of former light heavyweight contender Jerry “The Bull” Martin, scored a tough, four-round unanimous decision over Denis Okoth (2-1-1, 1 KO) of Staya, Ky., a bout in which Okoth went down in the first round and Martin in the third.

As is the case with Carto, it will take some doing for Martin, 21, to match the ring legacy of his celebrated forebear. Jerry Martin, who turns 65 on Nov. 29, was a world-class 175-pounder who fought three times for world titles, losing in each instance to such notables as Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Dwight Muhammad Qawi. But “The Bull” did procure minor NABF and USBA titles along the way, and defeated quality opponents in James Scott, Billy “Dynamite” Douglas (father of heavyweight champion Buster Douglas), Jerry Celestine and Anthony Witherspoon.

“I look up to my dad, and I want to be a champion like he was,” the son said. “I want to copy his steps.”

Other victorious Philly fighters were welterweight Poindexter Knight (6-0, 3 KOs), who scored an impressive, first-round TKO over highly regarded and more experienced Travis Castellon (16-3-1, 12 KOs), of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; welterweight Frankie Trader (11-2-1, 3 KOs), who ended a 4½-year layoff with a second-round stoppage of Pablo Cupul (10-28, 5 KOs), of San Diego; welterweight Mark Dawson (5-0, 3 KOs), who scored a four-round, unanimous decision over Chukka Willis (3-7, 2 KOs), of Emporia, Kan., and middleweight Maurice Burke, who made his pro debut with a unanimous, four-round nod over Brandon Bey (0-1), of the Bronx, N.Y.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Crawford, Canelo, Caleb Plant and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Crawford, Canelo, Caleb Plant and More

Although a lot of disinformation comes out of the mouths of boxing promoters, Bob Arum was apparently serious when he broached the idea of a two-fight series between Terence Crawford and Conor McGregor, the first fight to be conducted under MMA rules and the second under boxing rules.

Crawford is amenable. “I just have to have the proper time to prepare myself,” he told ESPN’s Dan Rafael. “…I haven’t been in that (wrestling) environment in a long time, but most definitely I feel I can compete with anyone given the proper time to train on the MMA side, being that I have a wrestling background.”

Crawford, 32, last wrestled in middle school so he would certainly need a refresher course. However, he would have a better chance of defeating Conor McGregor in an MMA match than McGregor would have of defeating him in a boxing match. So, if Arum’s proposed two-fight series ever comes off, the tailpiece may be unnecessary.

– – –

As first reported by ESPN’s Steve Kim, Andy Ruiz Jr. has dumped trainer Manny Robles. According to Kim’s report, Ruiz’s father informed Robles of the decision and said it was Al Haymon’s idea.

Andy Ruiz appears to be one of those people that can gain weight just looking at food. He weighed 297 ½ pounds for his pro debut at age 19, carried 268 pounds for his first meeting with Anthony Joshua, and ballooned up to 283 ½ for the rematch after leading reporters to believe that he had actually slimmed down for the sequel.

Ruiz, noted Kim, went from a feel-good story to a cautionary tale in just six months.

– – –

Who ya’ gonna believe?

A certain disreputable web site, bragging that it had an exclusive, told its readers that Canelo Alvarez had settled on Billy Joe Saunders as his next opponent and that they would meet on Cinco de Mayo in Las Vegas. The next day, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, a far more trustworthy source, reported that Ryota Murata had emerged as the frontrunner and that negotiations were underway to stage the fight in Japan.

Perhaps it makes sense for Canelo to promote his brand in a new market. However, if he fights Murata, who holds a WBA belt, he would reportedly be dropping back to 160 and at age 29 he appears to have outgrown the weight class.

Stay tuned.

– – –

If Caleb Plant were an NBA player, his name would be Kevin Love. Plant, who recently married FOX/PBC reporter Jordan Hardy, is the only U.S.-born, non-Hispanic white person among the various champions in the 17 weight divisions.

Plant, who hails from tiny Ashland City, Tenn. (23 miles from Nashville) defends his IBF super middleweight title on Feb. 15 at Nashville’s 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena. In the opposite corner will be Germany’s Vincent Feigenbutz who will be making his U.S. debut.

The 24-year-old Feigenbutz, who turned pro at age 16, has won 10 straight and 30 of his last 31. He represents a big step up in class from Plant’s last opponent, Mike Lee, who was in way over his head.

– – –

A sad note from South Africa: Five days after the death of trailblazer Peter Mathebula, his widow, Emma Gabaitsiwe Mathebula, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Peter Mathebula’s funeral, originally set for Saturday, has been pushed back until Tuesday and will now be a joint funeral.

Mathebula, who won the WBA world flyweight title in 1980, basically died a pauper, having sold all of  his boxing memorabilia to keep his head above water. His heirs had reached out to the government for assistance in defraying the costs of his burial.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 82: Jason Quigley Returns to SoCal and More

David A. Avila

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Southern California prizefighting heats up with Jason Quigley headlining a fight card in Orange County and then, two days later, another fight card takes place in the heart of Los Angeles.

Ireland’s Quigley (17-1, 13 KOs) faces Mexico’s Fernando Marin (16-4-3, 12 KOs) on Thursday Jan. 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card live.

Quigley, 28, seeks to reclaim territory lost when he suffered a defeat last July against Tureano Johnson. Ironically, Marin would lose 10 days later in Hollywood to super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk.

For several years Quigley had trained in Southern California but decided to change trainers and location. He moved to Great Britain and still prepares near his native country but primarily fights in the U.S.

At one time Quigley clamored for a match against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez but now finds himself trying to prove he belongs in the upper tier of the middleweight division. It’s loaded with talent.

Also on the same fight card will be popular North Hollywood super welterweight Ferdinand Kerobyan who was headed to contender status when he ran into Blair “the Flair” Cobbs. At the time Cobbs was an unknown quantity but no longer.

Kerobyan (13-1, 8 KOs) meets Azael Cosio (21-8-2) in an eight-round clash in the semi-main event at OC Hangar. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Red Boxing International

On Saturday Jan. 27, Red Boxing International hosts its first boxing card of the year at Leonardo’s Night Club located at 6617 Wilson Ave. L.A. 90001. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Super welterweight Bryan Flores (13-1, 6 KOs) meets Brandon Baue (15-17) in the main event  in the first event of the year for the ambitious promotion company. For the past two years Flores fought primarily in Tijuana, Mexico where he racked up six wins. Now he’s back on Southern California soil.

Another match features lightweights Angel Israel Rodriguez (5-0) facing off against Braulio Avila (3-6) in a six-round fight.

Rodriguez fights out of Pico Rivera, Calif. but recently fought in Costa Rica where he won by first round knockout in November. He will be fighting Avila who just fought two weeks ago at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.

It’s a long fight card with 11 bouts on the schedule.

JRock and Rosario

Boxing fans received another lesson on never underestimating a ranked contender regardless of the name recognition.

Jeison Rosario knocked out Julian “J Rock” Williams who was making the first defense of the WBA and IBF super welterweight world titles he won last year in my selection as “Fight of the Year.”

Rosario walked in with little recognition and was thought to be a soggy piece of bread for Williams. The long armed Dominican fighter walloped Williams in front of his hometown fans in Philadelphia. It was yet another warning for fans to understand that anyone who steps in the boxing ring ranked as a contender can do the unthinkable. In this case Rosario knocked out the champion in five rounds.

Many felt Williams was far too skilled, especially on the inside where he showcased those skills last May against former titlist Jarret Hurd. It was a remarkable display of the art of inside fighting. But against Rosario, he never got a chance to exhibit those skills.

The loaded super welterweight division has another dangerous champion in Rosario.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. DAZN – Jason Quigley (17-1) vs Fernando Marin (16-4-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Danny Garcia (35-2) vs Ivan Redkach (23-4-1).

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Recalling Three Big Fights in Miami, the Site of Super Bowl LIV

Arne K. Lang

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The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs collide on Feb. 2 in Miami in Super Bowl LIV (54) in what will assuredly be the biggest betting event to ever play out on American soil. It’s the 10th Super Bowl for the South Florida metropolis which ties it with New Orleans as the most frequent destination for football’s premier attraction.

With its heavily Latin population, Miami would seem to be natural for big fights. However, this hasn’t been the case. Several great champions fought here, including Roberto Duran who twice defended his world lightweight title in these parts, but these weren’t big fights. In the case of Duran, his opponents were lightly regarded and the Panamanian legend was still three years away from his first encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard, a match that increased his name recognition a hundred-fold.

There were, however, three fights in Miami that summoned the interest of virtually all of America’s A-list sportswriters. Here they are in reverse chronological order.

Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (Nov. 12, 1982)

Alexis Arguello (72-5) was bidding to become boxing’s first four-division champion. In his way stood WBA junior welterweight title-holder Aaron Pryor (31-0, 29 KOs), a man now widely regarded as the best 140-pound boxer of all time.

Arguello, a Miami resident, having been exiled from his Nicaraguan homeland by the Sandanista rebel occupation, was a textbook boxer who defeated his opponents with surgical efficiency. Pryor was a typhoon. He mowed down his opponents with relentless pressure. It was a great style match-up and it didn’t disappoint. Contested before nearly 30,000 at Miami’s iconic Orange Bowl, Pryor vs. Arguello was a fight for the ages.

“There was power, finesse, poise, courage and a tremendous ebb and flow,” said Associated Press writer Ed Schuyler who dubbed it Manila in Miniature. In the ninth, 11th, and particularly the 13th rounds, Arguello hit Pryor with straight right hands that would have felled an ordinary fighter, but Pryor had an iron chin.

In the 14th, Pryor buckled Arguello’s knees with a straight right hand and then unloaded a furious combination as Arguello fell back against the ropes. He was out on feet when referee Stanley Cristodoulou intervened and he would lay prone on the canvas for several minutes before he could be removed to his dressing room.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Feb. 25, 1964)

If you happen to find a poster for this fight with the name Muhammad Ali on it, don’t buy it. It’s bogus. Liston met up with Muhammad Ali in their second fight. In their first encounter, Liston opposed Cassius Clay.

Clay’s Louisville sponsors, after a brief flirtation with Archie Moore, settled on Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Angelo operated out of his brother Chris Dundee’s gym located at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The fighter who took the name Muhammad Ali trained here and kept a home in Miami for most of his first six years as a pro.

Clay/Ali was 22 years old and had only 19 fights under his belt when he was thrust against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was riding a 28-fight winning streak after back-to-back first-round blowouts of Floyd Patterson.

In a UPI survey, 43 of 46 boxing writers picked Liston. “Clay has no more chance of stopping Liston than the old red barn had of impeding a tornado,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the publisher of The Ring magazine.

This would be the first of many famous fights for Muhammad Ali who emerged victorious when Liston quit after the sixth frame citing an injured shoulder. What is not widely known, however, is that the fight, which was shown on closed-circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was a bust at the gate. The 16,448-seat Convention Center was only half full.

The expectation that Liston would take the lippy kid out in a hurry depressed sales, as did sky-high ticket prices ($250 tops when $100 was the norm). And there may have been more subtle factors. “This may not be the best place for a fight between two Negroes,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, cognizant that people of color were not welcome as guests at the ritzy beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue.

Jack Sharkey vs. W. L. (Young) Stribling (Feb. 27, 1929)

A big fight, as I define it, doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. An important fight that produces an upset automatically becomes a bigger fight in hindsight. The Sharkey-Stribling fight of 1929 didn’t draw an immense crowd by Jack Dempsey standards, but the turnout, reportedly 35,000, far exceeded expectations and the fight – which preceded Miami’s first Orange Bowl football game by six years — really established Miami as a potentially good place for a big sporting event.

Promoted by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, the bout was originally headed to a dog racing track but it quickly became obvious that a larger venue was needed. A stadium was erected on a Miami Beach polo field, taking the name Flamingo Park (not to be confused with the thoroughbred track of the same name).

Slated for 10 rounds, the bout was conceived as one of two “eliminators” to find a successor to Gene Tunney who had retired. What gave the fight it’s primary allure, however, was the North-South angle. Sharkey, born Joseph Zukauskas, hailed from Boston. Stribling, born into a family that traveled the fair circuit with a variety act, was from Macon, Georgia.

The fight, which aired on the NBC radio network, was a dud, a drab affair won by Sharkey who had the best of it in virtually every round. Both went on to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title. Stribling, dubbed the “King of the Canebrakes” by Damon Runyon, lost by TKO in fight that was stopped late in the 15th round. Sharkey took the title from Schmeling on a split decision after losing their first meeting on a foul.

Young Stribling died in a motorcycle crash at age 28, by which time he had engaged in 251 documented bouts, the great majority of which were set-ups. Jack Sharkey lived to be 91.

—-

The strong earnings of the Sharkey-Stribling bout inevitably drew the Madison Square Garden Corporation back to Miami for an encore. On Feb. 27, 1930, Jack Sharkey opposed England’s “Fainting” Phil Scott. Four years later, on March 1, 1834, Primo Carnera defended his world heavyweight title here against former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, the Philadelphia Phantom.

Both bouts were big money losers, as were the great majority of major fights during this period. Eight months after the Sharkey-Stribling cash cow, the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. Few Americans could afford to vacation in Florida, let alone travel anywhere for a big fight.

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