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A Shocker in Philadelphia as Fan Favorite Christian Carto is Knocked Out Cold

Bernard Fernandez

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The ending came suddenly and unexpectedly, a bolt from the blue that no one in the standing-room-only audience could have anticipated.

Well, no one with the possible exception of the guy who landed the second-round bomb that left 1,300 or so spectators shocked and concerned for the welfare of the very popular young fighter they had come to cheer and support.

Victor Ruiz, a 28-year-old southpaw from Tijuana, Mexico, no doubt understood that he had been brought to the 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia to serve as the 18th consecutive victim for Christian Carto, who was being touted as his hometown’s best and most exciting bantamweight since another South Philly favorite, “Joltin’” Jeff Chandler, was crafting a career that would gain him enshrinement into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000.

But the capacity-plus audience, well-dotted by Carto fans wearing shirts bearing his likeness, went from lusty screams of encouragement to instant, stunned silence when Ruiz delivered an overhand left that caught Carto flush on the jaw as he was moving forward. Carto, 22, was unconscious before he went down, making no attempt to cushion the landing. And when his head bounced off the canvas, referee Eric Dali didn’t even attempt to initiate a count, immediately signaling for the ring doctor to attend to the stricken fighter. It went into the books as a second-round knockout after an elapsed time of one minute, 56 seconds.

“Christian leaped in with his hands down into a perfect left,” said Carto’s cut man, Joey Eye. “The guy (Ruiz) was a world championship contender once and he knows how to fight. Christian got a little too confident and you saw what happened. It’s part of the business.

“He was out, really out, for over a minute. I know because I was counting the seconds. I was getting more and more nervous because he wasn’t responding at all. But he did come around eventually. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”

Carto’s neck was immobilized and after a delay of several minutes he was taken from the ring on a gurney for transport to nearby Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for treatment and observation. He was able to briefly raise a gloved hand to acknowledge a concerned Ruiz, who, after celebrating his upset victory, knelt over Carto in an expression of concern when he realized the possible seriousness of his opponent’s condition.

It was later reported, encouragingly, that Carto’s CT scan came back negative.

Ruiz (23-10-1, 16 KOs) arguably was the best, most accomplished fighter Carto (17-1, 11 KOs) had faced on what had been a steady progression toward what many considered, and maybe still do, would result in real stardom. The crafty Mexican is a former world championship challenger, losing his only bid for a widely recognized title when he was stopped in seven rounds by IBF bantamweight ruler Zolani Tete of South Africa on June 4, 2016, in Liverpool, England.  But Ruiz arrived in Philadelphia having lost four straight and five of his last six, and the official program for the “Philly Special” card almost dismissively described his presence in the scheduled eight-round main event thusly: “It’s easy to say that Ruiz has fought better opponents – he has – but the bottom line is that he lost to most of them. This is the right fight at the right time for Carto.”

Ruiz – his four-bout losing streak had come against quality fighters who were a combined 49-3-2 at the time he fought them — had other ideas than to serve as anyone’s steppingstone, as was indicated by his  comments to lead promoter Michelle Rosado of Raging Babe Promotions the morning before the fight almost everyone expected him to dutifully lose.

“I took him to breakfast at IHOP,” Rosado noted. “I asked him what he knew about Carto. He said, `We know who he is. He’s a white kid, Italian(-American). He’s got a big following. Oh, and I’m going to knock him out.’”

It hardly seems to matter much now, but Carto won a feel-out first round on all three official scorecards, which seemed to have emboldened him to come out for round two in a more aggressive mode. After winning his first 11 pro bouts inside the distance, Carto had been obliged to settle for points nods in his next six outings and he might have been eager to end his KO drought.

“Then he walked into a shot that landed perfect, a looping left as he was walking in,” said Hall of Fame promoter J Russell Peltz, who was at ringside.

Peltz offered the opinion that it would “probably be at least six months” before Carto would be able to fight again, but that is only a guess. Some fighters never recover from the kind of knockout he sustained against Ruiz, mentally if not physically, and how he reacts moving forward is anyone’s guess.

“He’s a strong kid, and young,” Joey Eye noted. “Is he going to be gun-shy every time he gets in the ring from now on? Or is it going to make him so pissed off that he goes after everybody. You don’t know.”

Ruiz’s exclamation-point victory in the marquee bout rendered what had taken place in the preceding six bouts almost meaningless, but an otherwise uninspiring undercard was salvaged in the lead-in to Carto-Ruiz as North Philly welterweight Marcel Rivers (7-0, 4 KOs) registered an exciting and competitive six-round unanimous decision over Derrick Whitley (4-1-1), a southpaw from Springfield, Mass. All three judges favored Rivers by 58-56, but Whitley could have made a case for winning by the same margin, nor would a draw been out of the question.

Bouts involving two highly regarded Philly heavyweights, however, hardly seemed to justify the hype. Darmani Rock (14-0, 9 KOs), the 2015 National Golden Gloves super heavyweight champion from the city’s Germantown section, at 273.3 pounds has a jiggly physique seemingly more suitable to being harpooned than punched, but Steven Lyons (5-4, 2 KOs), from Houma, La., with a weight disadvantage of 66.6 pounds, seemed disinclined to engage from the start in a scheduled six-rounder, finally going down on one knee after being hit with a couple of body shots and being counted out at 1:20 of the fourth round. That fight, however, almost could pass for Ali-Frazier I in comparison to the pro debut of much-touted South Philly big man Sonny Conto, the 2018 National Golden Gloves super heavyweight runner-up from South Philly who was credited with a first-round TKO of Jimmie Levins (0-5), from Buffalo, N.Y. The inept Levins went down five times in the first round, all of which were ruled slips by Dali, although in fairness it should be noted that Conto did land a left hook preceding Levins’ fifth trip to the deck. Fight fans will see more of Conto, enough of a prospect that megapromotional company Top Rank has an interest in him, but Greg Sirb, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, said that Levins should not expect to ever again appear in a fight in which he has jurisdiction.

In other bouts, bantamweights Alejandro Jimenez (4-0-1, 1 KO), of New Hope, Pa., and Edgar Cortes (6-4-1), of Vineland, N.J., fought to a six-round split draw; junior welterweight Gerardo Martinez (4-1, 1 KO), Coatesville, Pa., scored a four-round majority decision over Osnel Charles (12-19-1, 2 KOs), of Atlantic City, N.J., and bantamweight Jonathan Torres (2-0), of Bethlehem, Pa., won a four-round unanimous decision over Dallas Holden (1-4), of Atlantic City.

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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Harper and Jonas Battle to a Draw in Episode 2 of ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’

Arne K. Lang

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The second edition of Eddie Hearn’s “Fight Camp” summer series unfolded today in the backyard of the mansion that serves as the Matchroom Sport headquarters in Brentwood, Essex, England. The main event was ostensibly the 12-round bout for the Commonwealth cruiserweight title between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, but most of the pre-event talk was about the women’s match between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas which went last in the program. Harper was making the first defense of the WBC world super featherweight title that she took from long-reigning title-holder Ewa Wahlstrom in February.

Harper vs. Jonas, originally scheduled for April 24, was the first-ever female world title fight between two Brits and it proved to be a very entertaining scuffle, building on the momentum of the inaugural Fight Camp offering last Saturday when Ted Cheeseman and Sam Eggington put on a splendid show.

When the smoke cleared, Terri Harper retained her belt by virtue of earning a draw, but the question of which English boxer was superior remained unanswered.

At age 23, Harper was younger by 13 years, but Liverpool’s Jonas, a 2012 Olympian, had the stronger amateur pedigree. Jonas started fast but Harper had the edge plus youth on her side as the bout wended into the final furlongs. In round eight, however, Jonas rocked her with a left-right combination and she hurt her again in the next round.

Harper had to dig deep in the final round to arrest the momentum and she rose to the occasion, staving off defeat. The judges had it 96-94 for Harper, 96-95 for Jonas, and 95-95.

Harper remained undefeated at 11-0. It was the second loss for Jonas in 11 pro fights.

Terri Harper is a good human interest story. Before she was coaxed out of retirement in 2017, she was peeling potatoes in a fish and chips shop in her hometown of Denaby in County Yorkshire. As for her next fight, she now has three apparent options: a unification fight with Poland’s Ewa Brodnicka, the WBO belt-holder and a recent Matchroom signee, a match with Mikaela Mayer (Brodnicka’s “mandatory”), or a rematch with Natasha Jonas. Whatever develops, her next match will be eagerly anticipated.

Other Bouts

The fight between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, which actually went second in the bout order, was a soft defense for Billam-Smith. Trained by Shane McGuigan, Billam-Smith (11-1, 10 KOs) blasted out Thorley in the second round. He ended the one-sided scrap with a short right hand as Thorley was boring in, knocking him to his knees. Thorley beat the count, but his legs were unsteady and the referee properly stopped it.

A 27-year-old Welshman, Thorley came in undefeated (14-0), but he had been feasting on slop – his previous opponents were collectively 106-549 – and the result wasn’t unexpected. The official time was 2:05.

In a 10-round contest in the super-welterweight division, Liverpool’s Anthony Fowler, another Shane McGuigan protégé, improved to 13-1 (10) with a seventh-round stoppage of game but out-gunned Adam Harper (9-2). Fowler, a gold medal winner at the 2014 Commonwealth Games as a middleweight, had no fear of the light-punching Harper and was in full control from the get-go. His lone defeat came by split decision to rising contender Scott Fitzgerald.

In a featherweight contest, 20-year-old Leeds southpaw Ivan “Hopey” Price improved to 3-0 with a 6-round shutout over Jonny Phillips (5-5).

A fifth fight, a scheduled 8-round clash between lightweights Kane Baker and Aqib Fiaz, was canceled when Fiaz took ill.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 100: Global Impact of Prizefighting

David A. Avila

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Boxing is huge.

Unknown to many, professional prizefighting extends to almost every country on this planet. Only soccer exceeds it in appeal.

Prizefighting could very well be the very first professional sport ever established in history. Scholars of history concur.

This weekend you can get a taste of boxing’s reach to other parts of the world.

London, England will be boxing central on Friday Aug. 7.

DAZN will be streaming a Matchroom Boxing fight card that features cruiserweights Chris Billiam-Smith (10-1) and Nathan Thorley (14-0) battling for the Commonwealth cruiserweight title. It’s an eight-hour time difference between London and Los Angeles, California where the start time will be 11 a.m.

The main feature, however, pits WBC super featherweight titlist Terri Harper (10-0) against Olympian Natasha Jonas (9-1) in a 10-round bout. Both of these fights take place at Fight Camp, the home of promoter Eddie Hearn.

If the set up looks familiar, years ago America’s Hugh Hefner used to stage boxing cards at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, California. The late magazine mogul loved the sport and invited many of his friends in the entertainment industry to watch prizefighting. People watching from their living rooms saw via television the rich enjoying their riches.

It’s the closest I will ever come to being rich.

One of the first events I ever saw at the Playboy Mansion showcased female fighters. Hefner was a true believer in female boxing and always included a female bout if possible. It was one of his stipulations.

Daytime Boxing

This Friday morning on the West Coast, boxing fans get an opportunity to re-visit an outdoor setting similar to the Playboy Mansion fights. DAZN will be streaming the card live from England.

If Americans think they are the only boxing fans in the world, well, they definitely are not.

When it comes to boxing, the Brits, Irish, Scots, Welsh and neighboring countries all love boxing more than Americans do. Even when you go further east into Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and all the other countries that used to be part of the defunct Soviet Union, they all love boxing. Let me reiterate, they love boxing.

In America, we’re accustomed to acknowledging that Mexicans love boxing as well as the Cubans and Puerto Ricans. But when it comes down to it, all of Latin America loves boxing. It comes second to soccer but that’s it. Boxing is a staple in Latin America.

In the good ole U.S. of A. the majority of people – including newspaper editors – favor team sports. Individual sports like tennis, track and field, and prizefighting take a back seat on newspapers or television network sports news.

But when boxing or MMA comes on a television screen or is scheduled for an arena, the American fans of those sports come out rain or shine.

Pacific Ocean and Other Areas

Across the Pacific, in the Australia and Asian continents, boxing also has a firm grip. Smaller weight classes have been dominated by Japanese, Korean and Philippine fighters for years.

They love boxing too.

A dream of mine has always been to see a fight card at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall. Japanese boxing fans are able to watch boxing almost every week at the legendary fight palace.

Asia has always produced great fighters in the lower weight classes.

Manny Pacquiao arrived more than 20 years ago barely a blip on the boxing radar. Who would have guessed he would be revered as one of the greatest fighters of his generation?

Can American fight fans imagine what the boxing world would be like without fighters from other countries?

Imagine boxing without Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Vasyl Lomachenko, Naoya Inoue or Roman Gonzalez. It’s easy to forget that all of these fighters mentioned are not from the USA. Each has fought many times in front of American audiences.

In America, we fail to realize we don’t have a monopoly on talent.

Last week, both DAZN and Showtime placed fight cards on the same day. DAZN started early and brought a thoroughly entertaining boxing card including a possible Fight of the Year between super welterweights that saw Ted Cheeseman win over Sam Eggington after 12 raucous rounds of action.

Later, on the same night, Showtime brought super bantamweights, and boxing fans got a look at new WBO super bantamweight title winner Angelo Leo win by decision over last-minute entry Tramaine Williams. The replacement fighter accepted the challenge after scheduled fighter Stephen Fulton tested positive for the coronavirus.

Saturday Expectations

On Saturday night, Showtime returns with super tall welterweight Jamal James (26-1, 12 KOs) meeting Thomas Dulorme (25-3-1, 16 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

Both James and Dulorme suffered losses to Yordenis Ugas.

It’s a shame that the virus has shut down audiences throughout the world. Los Angeles would have been eager to watch this event, especially in the heart of downtown. Rumors spreading are that one or two major fight cards will be held in L.A. later in the year.

Fans can watch on television as Dulorme and James battle to see who can crack that top 10 tier of welterweights. Dulorme miraculously salvaged a draw against Jessie Vargas when they fought by scoring a knockdown late in their fight. James has beaten solid competition but no one convincingly. This is an opportunity for either fighter to prove his worth.

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Pete Hamill Was Much More Than a Boxing Writer

Arne K. Lang

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Pete Hamill was one of my heroes. It pains me to write that the legendary journalist died today, Aug. 5, at age 85.

Hamill grew up in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, the oldest of seven children of an immigrant from Belfast who lost a leg to an injury suffered in a semi-pro soccer game. Like much of gentrified Brooklyn, Park Slope is a trendy neighborhood, but that certainly wasn’t true during Hamill’s boyhood when the air was ripe with the scent of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.

In one of his early non-fiction books, Hamill recollected the time during his adolescence when he called an acquaintance a kike while the Hamill family was gathered around the dinner table. This angered his father who reached over and slapped him. “Benny Leonard was a kike,” snarled the elder Hamill, referencing the esteemed 1920s-era lightweight champion. Awkward language aside, the old man was teaching his son something about the importance of respecting people of all backgrounds – and indirectly something about the nobility of prizefighters.

Hamill would write that in his blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood in the years after World War II, there were only two sports that mattered: baseball and boxing. The institutions in his community, he wrote, were the factory, the church, the police station, the saloon, and the boxing gym. “There were fights in old dance halls, in bankrupt skating rinks, in National Guard armories, all of them serving as farm clubs for the big arena: Madison Square Garden.”

In his teens, Hamill took to hanging around boxing gyms. He befriended Jose Torres (pictured with Hamill in their later years) before Torres turned pro. Once he became established as a journalist, Hamill encouraged Jose’s literary ambitions and Torres, who won the world light heavyweight title under the tutelage of Cus D’Amato, went on to become a writer of considerable repute, “Boxing’s Renaissance Man.”

In a 1996 piece for Esquire, Hamill wrote, “I came to believe that fighters themselves were among the best human beings I knew. They were mercifully free of the macho bull**** that stains so many professional athletes. They were gentle in a manly way.” But by then Hamill had become disillusioned with boxing, viewing it as the detritus of a less advanced age. The tipping point was a dinner he attended where everybody tried to avoid looking directly at the guest of honor, Muhammad Ali, whose tremors were so bad that he was unable to lift a piece of chicken to his mouth. But Hamill continued to turn up at some of the big fights.

A high school dropout, Hamill briefly occupied the top editor’s chair at New York’s two major dailies, the Post and the Daily News. His published works include ten novels, more than a hundred magazine stories, two memoirs (one of which, “Downtown: My Manhattan,” serves as an excellent travel guide for anyone visiting New York), and several teleplays including the boxing-themed “Flesh and Blood” which was adapted by CBS into a two-part, four-hour telecast with a young Denzell Washington in a supporting role.

I once had the privilege of having lunch with Pete Hamill. The invitation came from my friend Harvey Rothman, rest his soul. Harvey had been the entertainment director at Caesars Palace when the Miami mob ran the joint and was unceremoniously dumped and left to his own wiles when the mob was kicked out. Hamill was in town to research “The Neon Empire,” a crime drama about Las Vegas commissioned by Showtime. The three of us had lunch at Caesars Palace and, if memory serves, Pete and I covered the tab as Harvey’s comping privileges had been revoked.

At the time, I didn’t know much about Hamill. My only recollection of him was seeing him on the David Susskind Show, a TV talk show in New York that dealt with current affairs. I don’t remember much of what was said at our luncheon other than we reminisced about New Orleans where we had both hung our hat for a spell. He was disappointed to learn that Sidney’s News Stand on Decatur Street was gone and the property had morphed into a seedy liquor store.

I would later learn that we had much in common other than the fact we were both born in Brooklyn (I grew up on Long Island so I wasn’t an authentic Brooklynite). During our early teen years, we both discovered the world of books through the novels of James T. Farrell, the great Chicago writer (long out of vogue) whose masterwork was the “Studs Lonigan Trilogy.”

Pete and I met up again when I hosted a late-night sports talk radio show in the Sportsbook of the old Stardust Hotel. My guest that night was the fabled boxing press agent Harold Conrad (purportedly the inspiration for the Humphrey Bogart character in the movie “The Harder They Fall”), who was then working for Don King. To my great surprise, Conrad arrived with Pete Hamill. Harold was then in his seventies and his memory was starting to fail him. Hamill could foresee that there would be some pregnant moments during the show if I didn’t have someone else to bounce questions off.

When someone dies at a ripe old age, it’s normal to say that he led a full life. But it’s hard to imagine anyone leading a life as full as the life that Pete Hamill led.

He was there marching along and taking notes as Dr. Martin Luther King led a march from Memphis to Jackson. He was there in Belfast at the height of “the troubles.” He was there when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and helped subdue the attacker. He was on assignment in lower Manhattan when terrorists took down the World Trade Center and then spent the next 11 days documenting the recovery efforts. He dated Shirley MacLaine and Jackie Onassis. And, of course, he was ringside for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Writing for Harper’s Bazaar, he called it the most spectacular event in sports history and no one who was there that night would disagree.

Pete Hamill was Forrest Gump. At the moments that define the timeline of my generation, he was seemingly always there.

Pete Hamill is survived by his second wife, journalist Fukiko Aoki, two daughters and a grandson. His eldest daughter Deirdre, a travel photojournalist based in Arizona, worked for a brief time at the Las Vegas Sun where she honed her craft covering the club fights. Pete’s brother Denis Hamill, younger than Pete by 17 years, is also a noted journalist.

Hamill, who was suffering from diabetes and using a walker, died in his bed at New York Presbyterian / Brooklyn Methodist hospital where he had gone after breaking his hip in a fall. The hospital is located in Park Slope. The well-traveled Pete Hamill had come full circle.

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