Former WBC welterweight king Carlos Palomino had some great career. A tough, skilled, and eternally determined ring warrior, Palomino is yet another Mexican legend who so thrilled us during the golden era of the sport.
Today, aged 71 (but looking around 15 to 20 years younger), Palomino has some story to tell. Here, kindly, the former champ who never had things given to him, recalls his great career:
Q: It’s an honor to speak with you, champ. As you know, Roberto Duran turned 70 this month. You had a great fight with him, a non-title fight at welterweight in 1979. What are your memories of that fight, and of Duran in particular?
Carlos Palomino: “Well, I was very, very confident I was gonna beat him. You know, he was moving up from lightweight, and the couple of fights I had seen of him as a welterweight, which he had before our fight, I didn’t think he looked good. I didn’t think the welterweight division suited him; he looked overweight and a little soft. When the fight was offered to me, we took it straight away; I told my manager. I actually thought it was gonna be an easy fight. But when we weighed in, he looked much, much better. He was 145 pounds, and you could just tell he was in much better shape. I was 145 and-a-half pounds for that fight.
“What I remember is his quickness. The speed of his hands, that’s what really threw me off. I couldn’t settle in and really catch him. He was throwing an overhand right for most of the night, and I was trying to counter that right hand with a left hook over it. I just couldn’t get the timing right. I couldn’t catch him. His speed definitely surprised me. I never thought his hand speed would be that much greater than mine, but it was.”
Q: Duran, of course, had some tricks he could pull in a fight; this, along with his other skills – he could use dirty tactics. Did he ever use any of that stuff on you?
C.P: “I actually told him, at the premiere of his movie, ‘Hands of Stone,’ I was invited to the premiere. I had not seen him in years, and we talked, and I reminded him how he had thumbed me twice in my right eye. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not, but I did get thumbed twice. Years later, I had to have two surgeries on the eye, to correct it. I felt it that night in the ring, but I was able to continue. And the ref never saw it, so nothing was said. But that’s the only thing [as far as dirty tactics]. He was a very skilled fighter in the inside, and I was also very good on the inside – in most of my fights, that’s what I did; I went to work on the inside. But with him, when I got inside, his punches were landing just a little bit faster than mine.”
Q: Some people say that fight is one of the best welterweight non-title fights ever. Did you wish it had been a 15 rounder?
C.P: “Well, yes. I was coming off fighting nine straight world title fights, all 15 round fights. That was the first fight I took after the [Wilfred] Benitez fight, or the Benitez robbery (Palomino losing his WBC title via controversial split decision to Benitez, the fight held in Puerto Rico). I thought I won that fight, but I knew, in Puerto Rico, when I got back to the corner after the 15th, my manager, who never bullshitted me, he told me I had won but that I wasn’t going to get it. They refused to give me a rematch, so when the Duran fight was offered, I took it. So that [Duran] fight was my first fight after having had nine straight world title fights.
“In the Duran fight, I got a little bit of a slow start, and if I’d had another five rounds, well, it might have been a different story, I don’t know. But a lot of my knockouts, in my world title fights, they came in the later rounds – you know, round 13, 14, 15. So I don’t know what might have happened if I’d had five more rounds.”
Q: It’s so amazing how the sport has changed. You fight Benitez in January of 1979, and then you fight Duran just five months later! That just wouldn’t happen now. How easy do you think today’s fighters have it in comparison, with the big stars often fighting just once a year?
C.P: “Yeah, I’m not sure what it is. I know they’re making so much more money [today]. And, yeah, long breaks between fights. In 1978, I made four title defences, and I told my manager I wanted to get six, seven title defences in that year. I told him that’s what I wanted to do. But I broke my hand in the fourth title defence, so I was off for nine months, and then the next fight was the Benitez fight, after nine months off. I needed to work; I needed to be fighting all the time, to stay sharp. That long layoff affected me. So today, I don’t really know why fighters of today, like you say, fight once a year, twice a year at the most. I don’t know why it is, unless it’s just because they’re making so much money.”
(Part-II of this interview will follow soon).