Here is the second installment of the interview with former WBC welterweight king Carlos Palomino.
Q: Talk about your draw with Hedgemon Lewis, from quite early on in your career, who you fought at the Olympic Auditorium, where you were, of course, very popular.
Carlos Palomino: “Hedgemon also sort of grew up at the Olympic Auditorium himself, so we were both very well known there and popular. I thought the draw was the right decision. I was coming on at the end, I think he got a fast start on me, and I was coming on at the end., But yeah, I think a draw was the right decision. After that fight, straight away, I asked my manager to get me a rematch, and six weeks later, we’re going to fight a rematch. Then, Hedgemon got a world title fight with John H. Stracey. They offered me a deal to allow him to fight John, where I’d get a guarantee to fight the winner, which is what happened.”
Q: You had two great wins over in London, when you beat Stracey to win the WBC title, and against Dave “Boy” Green, who you beat in a defense. Two very popular fighters here in the UK at the time. What was it like, being the bad guy?
C.P: “I have a lot of respect for the British fans. I went there with the preconceived belief of how the fans would react to me, which I thought would be quite bad. But I was always respectful to my opponent, and I was treated with a lot of respect myself. I mean, after the John Stracey fight, I came out of the ring, and fans were stopping me, asking for my picture. Then I went back for the fight with Dave Green, and the same thing, a lot of respect on both sides. I loved fighting in England.”
Q: You are known as one of the toughest welterweights of your era, and of course, you never got stopped. What was it that made you so tough and durable?
C.P: “I know Duran was stopped, even Sugar Ray Leonard got stopped, and Manny Pacquiao. Ray Leonard, we used to work out at the same gym; this was after we’d retired, just to keep in shape. Anyway, he had been retired maybe six years, and he was in the gym one day, and he told me he’d been offered $4 million to fight Hector Camacho. He asked me, should he take it? I said to him, for $4 million, if you don’t want to take it, I’ll take it (laughs). I told Ray, ‘the one thing he can’t do is hurt you because Camacho can’t punch.’ And he said, ‘yeah, that’s what I think.’ And Ray had never been stopped, and he takes that fight, and Camacho knocks him out. Great punchers, like Tommy Hearns, they couldn’t stop him, and then he ends up getting knocked out by Camacho. He [Leonard] came back to the gym, and he was just so down after that. But myself, I have always been very proud of the fact that I never got stopped. A lot of greats fighters did get stopped, like Ali, Mike Tyson.”
Q: Did anyone ever come close to stopping you? Were you ever badly buzzed in a fight?
C.P: “You know, I got dropped a couple of times; in my first fight with Armando Muniz, I got knocked down. But they were always like flash knockdowns; I never took a count while I was on the ground – I was up, and I’d take the mandatory eight-count. The one time I was really buzzed, where I didn’t go down, but I was fuzzy, it was weird, I couldn’t really see my opponent – that was in the Dave Boy Green fight. He hit me with a right hand, and my legs wobbled. Like I say, I didn’t go down, but it really was like a fog was in front of me; it lasted maybe 30 seconds before I recovered while I was trying not to get knocked out (laughs). I think it was the eighth or ninth round. He hit me with a right hand as I was straight in front of him. I don’t know why I didn’t go down.”
Q: How good a fighter was Muniz, who you fight twice?
C.P: “He was a really tough guy. He wrestled in hi-school, and he had almost no neck. You could hit him with everything. He beat Jose Napoles but got robbed in Mexico (Muniz losing a TD). That would have made him a world champion, and I think he might have been a champion for a long time if he’d won that fight, but his confidence went down. He won that fight, but they didn’t give it to him. Then he went back, and he got beat over fifteen rounds via decision. Jose Napoles, to me, is one of the greatest welterweights that ever lived. So for him [Muniz] to fight him twice and get robbed, that was impressive to me.
“And when we fought, it was a war – a 15 round war. 1977 it was Fight of the Year. Muniz was just a tough, tough guy. If it wasn’t for my conditioning, he would have stopped me. I worked really hard for all my fights. Every time I stepped into the ring, in my mind, I knew I was in better shape than my opponent. I didn’t care what he was doing; I knew that what I was doing made me in better shape than anybody I fought. My roadwork was a big factor for me. I tell all fighters who I speak with like I spoke with Ryan Garcia when he asked me about things from my time. I told him I sparred 150 rounds for a fight. These guys tell me they’re sparring 50 or 60 rounds to go 12 rounds. To me, I mean, Oscar De La Hoya, in some of his fights, by the tenth, 11th round, he was backpedaling, he looked exhausted, you know. I ran in the army, that’s where I started my amateur career, and they would get us up each morning, and we would run six miles every morning, six days a week.
“So when I got out of the army, I just kept the routine. I got to the point where I ran six-minute miles. So I ran six miles in 36 minutes. And twice a week, I’d go to the track and run sprints. I’d learned that. My first eight-round fight, I got tired in the seventh round; I was exhausted. So I thought that maybe it was my running, maybe I wasn’t doing enough. So I began working with the track team, and I got up to six-minute miles. It expands the lungs, and my whole career, I ran a whole lot. I would’ve been able to fight twenty rounds. I would have been able to have continued after the 15th.”
Q: So many of the old-time fight fans and experts say it’s such a shame the 15 round fights went away. In your career, how different might it have been had you only had 12 rounds to work?
C.P: “Yeah, I do think I probably would have lost four of my world title fights if they had been 12 round fights. I scored a lot of late stoppage wins, where I came on late in the fight.”
Q: You must get asked this a lot, but who was the greatest you fought?
C.P: “Well, Duran was probably the best as far as skill level, he was just a natural fighter, he was in, he was out, he bent this way, he bent that way, he’d step around you. Just a tremendous talent. And then defensively, it was [Wilfred] Benitez. Benitez almost had a sixth sense; he could see all the punches coming at him. The toughest fight I ever had was the 15 round fight with Armando Muniz, the first one. I stopped him with like ten seconds left in the final round. It almost went the full 15. But I had amateur fights that were so tough.
“I was learning boxing as I was fighting in the army. I had two months of training, and then I ended up winning the army tournament. I don’t know how I won it! I was fighting guys with 50, 60 amateur fights, and I had had no amateur fights, having just had two months to train. In 1971, I won the Pan American trials. I fought guys with around 90 amateur fights, and I had 15, 16 amateur fights. In the final of the Pan American, I fought a guy from Indianapolis. I got dropped every round! I kept getting up, going after him, and I ended up winning the fight. Because in the amateurs, even if you get knocked down, it counts as one punch landed; it’s not like in the pros where it’s a 10-8 round. The guy’s name was Norman Goins. He turned pro, and I followed him; I was keeping an eye on him. We had fought at 139 pounds as amateurs, and we both went to welterweight as we went pro. He went to something like 10-0, or 11-0, and then he lost, and then he basically fell off the planet; I never heard from him again. I really don’t know what happened.”
Q: Is there anyone you wanted to fight in the pro ranks but didn’t get the chance?
C.P: “Not really, no. There’s nobody I can think of. What I would say, though, is I retired at age 30, and at that time, the big money was just starting to come through with the Sugar Ray Leonard fights. I couldn’t get a rematch with Benitez because Benitez gave Sugar Ray Leonard a title fight, and they both made over a million dollars in that fight. At times I thought, maybe I should come back and see if I can get another title fight, maybe Ray Leonard, so I can maybe make a million dollars. I made eight title defenses, and I didn’t make a million dollars. So I thought about maybe canceling my retirement! I had promised my mother I would retire at age 30. ”
Q: You did launch a comeback in 1997?
C.P: “I did. I had done good work in acting, actually making more money there than I did in boxing. But I came back at age 47. I got four straight KO wins. My father passed away in 1995, and I had a lot of issues with my father; he was a really tough guy – they’re making a movie about my story, called ‘Palomino’ – and he passed away from cancer. He told me and my older brother to take him home, that he didn’t want to die there in the hospital, and we took care of him. He loved boxing, and maybe it was my destiny to be a fighter because of him. So after he passed, I went back to the gym, which was where we had had our best times together, and I felt my dad’s presence in the gym. I went back just to work out, and one day a guy walked in and asked me if I wanted to make a comeback. I said no.
“But he kept coming back, and he offered me a million dollars for four fights. So I talked about it, and I said I wanted to be involved in who I fought. I wasn’t going to go in with Oscar De La Hoya, who was a world champion at the time. So we did a deal, and I got the four KO’s, but I never got the million dollars. That guy disappeared. I got a lawyer, and we tried to find him and mount legal action, but we couldn’t find him. I dunno what happened. He was a young promoter out of L.A, trying to get into the game. But then Bob Arum offered me a fight with Wilfredo Rivera. I had seen him fight De La Hoya, who stopped him on a cut. I felt I could beat Rivera, even as I’d just turned 48. I fought him, but I lost a decision. But a couple of times, I felt I had him hurt. But I gave it a shot, and I felt at peace.”
Q: You are in such great shape today, and you look way younger than your 71 years!
C.P: “Thank you. I’ve never stopped working out. When I retired in 1979, I started running marathons. I’ve always kept working out. I still get up every morning to do 500, 600 sit-ups, and I shadowbox 12 rounds a day. I’m still pretty close to my fighting weight. It’s really funny, my family, my brothers, they say to me, ‘man, when are you gonna get old!’”
Q: You in your prime against De La Hoya, that would have been interesting! I’m not sure he could have taken your body punches.
C.P: “I still feel John Stracey was one of the toughest guys I fought. For him to have gotten up from those two shots to the body. When he went down the first time, his mouthpiece came out, and I thought that was it. But he got up. Then he went down again, and I saw his corner telling him to stay down, but he got up again. And I saw Oscar get hit with like a slap to the side by Bernard Hopkins, and he was rolling around on the canvas like he’d got shot. I saw that fight, and I thought, ‘That would have been easy in my prime – I’d have hit him with a hook to the body, and he would’ve been crawling around the ring for an hour.’”
“The first thing the Mexican coaches teach is the left hook to the body.”