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Greatest Hits: Rubin “Hurricane” Carter – part 1

10
Sep

Please enjoy a very special, posthumous edition of Ring Magazine’s Greatest Hits series. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who died from prostate cancer in 2014, is best known for his controversial murder conviction which was overturned and his 20-year legal struggle to be found innocent and released from prison, which was chronicled in books (namely the one he authored, “The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472”), the 1999 film “The Hurricane,” and Bob Dylan’s protest song “Hurricane.”

Carter poses prior to a sparring session with Bill Hardney in the rain at World’s Fair Unisphere.

However, prior to his (and co-defendant John Artis) 1967 murder conviction and life sentence to be served in Rahway State Prison, Carter was a legitimate middleweight contender who had faced some of the best boxers of the 1960s, including hall of famers Emile Griffith, Dick Tiger, Luis Rodriguez and Joey Giardello (who he challenged for the middleweight title in 1964). Viscous first-round knockouts of Griffith and respected veteran Florentino Fernandez established Carter as one of the most fearsome punchers of his era.

Few are as familiar with Carter and his boxing career as veteran referee Ron Lipton, who knew the New Jersey native as a gym mate, sparring partner and close friend. In this two-part edition of Greatest Hits, Lipton provides Carter’s comments on the 12 best fighters he faced during his whirlwind five-year, 40-bout career.

Lipton gathered Carter’s statements over the years. In his own words: “As told to me numerous times in person (prior to his prison term)…  and again in person on December 18, 1993 at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and again on March 25, 1997 before and after our nationally televised interview. I referred to my tapes, notes of direct quotes, and films of our interviews that I saved.”

Part one begins with popular Cuban contender Florentino Fernandez, who the editors of Ring Magazine rated No. 56 among the 100 hardest punchers of all time in 2003, and it ends with the controversial Joey Giardello title bout. It also includes hall-of-fame trainer George Benton, who was a respected Ring-rated middleweight during the ’60s.

 

Florentino Fernandez

Date/location: October 27, 1962, Madison Square Garden (Main Event)

Weights: Carter – 157 pounds; Fernandez – 160½

Details: Carter’s 15th pro fight. Fernandez enters bout with a 31-5 record.

Result: Carter KO 1 (in 69 seconds). Carter scores two knockdowns, the second knockdown sends Fernandez out of the ring and onto the ring apron.

Carter’s comments: I saw him fight Gene Fullmer for 15 hard rounds and I thought Fernandez won the fight. They called him the “Ox.” I was thinking about this guy in training camp a lot because from what I saw he could knock you dead with that left hook. The Jersey Journal called our fight the “Battle of the Left Hookers.” I always felt my bread and butter punch was my right hand but I had a pretty damn good left hook too. So, I decided to get this guy with a right hand while he was looking for my left hook.

Remember what we did with the cables in the wall? I felt my short right hand was like a greased bolt of lightning after all the hand speed drills we did in camp. I planned to use my hand speed to get him quick.

Boxing Illustrated did a story about this fight where the guy who interviewed me in the Garden said I was reading a Bugs Bunny comic book in the dressing room. That was total bulls__t because the hockey teams left them there and I picked one up to move it away from me, so this guy thought I was reading f__king comics. I was thinking about nothing but getting this guy Fernandez out of there before he killed me with his left hook.

Carter had Fernandez on his way out of the squared circle within one minute.

He threw a lazy jab and I flashed the right hand over. I felt the side of his head cave in. Down he went and when he got up, he was rubbing his head. Later they told me he had a concussion. He got up and I just bounded in on him like I was floating, not rushing but taking up the slack while his back was against the ropes. I threw a three-punch combination – a right hand and short hook and the short hook took him O.U.T. cold and I followed it up with another right hand, which I think breezed bye him.

I saw John Fx Condon from the Garden publicity department at ringside and maybe his woman with him and when Fernandez went down and out of the ring onto the apron; people jumped back flinching in shock.

I remember people coming over to me to hug me in the ring, which I hate to be honest with you, after a fight like that. It ended too soon for me. I was glad but I was still ready to go the full 10.

My manager started hugging me. I tolerated that bulls__t for a second or so and I shook loose from him. Others in my corner kept crowding me to get into the photo session and I hate that s__t too.

It was my moment and they kept crowding me to get into the picture. I let them but I was steaming because I hate that camera hog stuff. It is so transparent what they are trying to do. Leave the fighter be, he earned his moment in the sun.

 

Emile Griffith

Date/location: December 20, 1963, Civic Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Weights: Carter – 155 pounds; Griffith – 151½

Details: Carter’s 23rd pro fight. Griffith’s record coming in is 38-4

Result:  Carter TKO 1 (2:13). Carter scores two knockdowns in round one.

Carter’s comments: You know better than anyone that me and Emile were friends and stayed good pals through the years. He wouldn’t hurt a fly and was someone I always liked and enjoyed being with, but this was business and dangerous business with me. I hired sparring partners that boxed with Emile before and we all knew he did not have many weaknesses in that ring. He was something like an 11-5 favorite to beat me and they made me sign a 155-pound contract. In training camp we talked about his main weakness, which was his fiery temper when crossed. (Benny) Paret found that out the hard way in their rubber match.

They say I am always grouchy and mean tempered and maybe so but Emile had a temper that was something else when pissed off so I decided to piss him off as much as possible before the fight so all he could think about was kicking my ass in there.

He was fleeter of foot than me, a better boxer, and was in great condition all the time. I knew if this fight went on too long he would outbox me. The other weakness I noticed is that he had a long waist and a small waist, strong stomach, but a bit thin on the ribs.

When we all got down to Pittsburgh you remember how high the snow was? It was over our cars and we had to do that television interview.

The guy put the microphone up to Emile and asked him what he was going to do on fight night. It was all fluff questions and his answers were too. Emile said he would take “the Hurricane,” knock me out and turn me into a gentle breeze.

Now it was my turn, remember what I said? My heart was not in it, but I let it fly anyway. I said, if this little bitch even shows up tomorrow night that will be enough to knock me out.

I hated myself for sticking it to him but he was hooked, he jumped out of his chair screaming at me and they had to separate us.

When we walked outside into the freezing snow, I told you I had him and just had to reel him in. I made sure I did not show him any hand speed in the opening minute, I also made sure to throw lazy right hands and hooks that either missed him or went over his head. I kept talking s__t to him through my mouthpiece and I had his eyes glinting dangerously.

He still kept his distance jabbing at me but not closing. I called him some more names and he started turning up the juice. Hot damn here we go, I was the lion and I needed him to make tracks into my den, because no tracks would be coming out.

Carter overwhelmed Griffith.

He started throwing some serious leather and I still held back, then he stepped in and that was his ass. I broke a left hook off on his lower right rib and I heard all the air rush out of him, he fell in and grabbed me holding onto me for dear life. I shook him loose and slammed a long hard left hook to his jaw and he collapsed unable to be hurt badly in two places at once.

I ran to the neutral corner and watched him get up very shaky. I also saw the faces of his corner men, Gil Clancy and Howie Albert, they both looked like they were having a heart attack.

I came out to rain all over Griffith and hit him with looping lefts and roundhouse rights and dumped him again. He was hurt badly and when he got up. I would have seriously injured him if the ref did not stop it.  He did and that was that.

I had to hear all this bulls__t through the years, not from Emile though, that they stopped it too early. All I can say is I was the one in there and I am glad for Emile’s sake they stopped it when they did. No one ever asked me for a rematch.

I am glad we stayed friends and I always rooted for Emile. He was always fun to be with and a gracious good sport to everyone as he was with me after the fight.

 

George Benton

Date/location: May 25, 1963, Madison Square Garden

Weights: Carter – 160¼ pounds; Benton – 158¾

Details: Carter’s 19th pro bout. Benton enters the bout with a 47-7-1 record.

Result:  Carter SD 10.

Carter’s comments: George was one tough son of a bitch. He was one of those brothers who could do it all in the ring. He wanted this win like Dracula needed blood, this was his big chance to move up the ladder but he had to get over me first. I knew all that and I also knew he could punch, and he could box, and his defense was the best, so I had my hands full from the get-go when I signed for the fight.

Carter and Benton (left) face off before their first fight.

I had made a comment back then in an interview that at the weigh-in I discovered that George was a bit more afraid of me than I was of him.  We posed for photos at the weigh-in and I said then that he was a bit shy up under the left tit, meaning that I sensed he was a bit nervous about fighting me and I thought at the time I took a little bit of his heart at the weigh in.

I don’t play that stare you down stuff bluffing. I don’t bluff, I don’t play, if I look at you and through you and you think I am bluffing you will leave sadder and wiser. I also knew he had great timing and was a very dangerous counter puncher.

I kept my gloves up higher in this fight because I saw him take guys out who dropped their guard just for a second. He took out John Smith in California with a sharp one-two (combination).

Me and George put up a hard fight but watch the film of it, I put something on him the whole fight and some of those exchanges with him were classic moments of speed and power from both of us. He took some hard shots like a champ.

In the 10th round he stung me, but I got him worse and crossed over a right hand that had him wobbling all over the place.

I won a split decision when the referee Arthur Mercante voted for Benton. When the other two scoring judges voted for me the crowd cheered wildly. When Mercante’s score was announced the crowd booed him viciously. Judge Johnny Dran gave me seven out of 10 rounds.

I always hated Mercante for that and never liked him anyway; he thought all the fights were about him not the boxers.

I heard an interview with him once where he said he always voted for the boxers because he put more importance on good boxing than punching.

I almost threw up when I heard that because I knew it was true. How many punchers were robbed of a decision because of his vote and personal preferences when they allowed refs to score? No one could believe he voted for Benton and the film shows I clearly won the fight.

He had a right to his opinion for sure, as do others, but not for the reason of favoring a boxer over a puncher outright.

I also read that Benton, who became a great trainer, thought I was laughing at him after the fight while I was in my dressing room. He had come to see me, said he heard me laughing after I won and did not come in. I would never laugh at George. I had all the respect in the world for him and told him so. I think I was laughing at myself for getting tagged in the 10th round.

That loss hurt him badly and I lived long enough to know exactly how he felt. He was a great old-school fighter.

 

Holly Mims

Date/location: December 22, 1962, Madison Square Garden

Weights: Carter – 155½ pounds; Mims – 160¾

Details: Carter’s 16th pro bout. Mims enters the bout with a 59-23-6 record. Mims drops Carter for a 4 count in the fourth round. (Mims is dropped onto the lower rope with a left hook in the first round but it is not ruled a knockdown.)

Result: Carter UD 10

Carter’s comments: This fight was a unanimous decision win for me, but the fight upset me for a long time because of a rumor. Gomeo Brennan was supposed to be in the main event with me. He said he came down with a cold and the Garden claimed they flew Mims in at the last second for the fight.

The problem was that was not true as I saw Mims in the hotel lobby much earlier than they claimed they went and got him.

I knew all about Holly Mims as I had at one time a manager who wanted me to fight him when I was just starting out. I had then referred to Mims as the baddest middleweight “N-word” in the world and told my manager I was not ready but promised myself I would be with more experience.

Mims had given Ray Robinson a hell of a fight right after Robinson took the title from (Jake) LaMotta. Mims was his next fight. After the fight, Ray respectfully asked Mims, “Where the hell have they been keeping you?”

Anyway, the rumor I had to hear for years, which was total bulls__t, was that Mims was brought in and told to have the “handcuffs” on, meaning to take it easy on me. I had already knocked out Florentino Fernandez in one round so they had to be s__ting me. Anyone believing that handcuff story would believe the Mona Lisa was a man and grits ain’t groceries.

Look at Mims’ fights with Joey Archer, Griffith, and all the rest and tell me to my face that Mims fought me one bit less hard than he fought those guys. Mims tried to tear my head off the whole fight. I felt, as the film shows, that I should have been credited with a knockdown in the first round.

Carter’s aggression and power clashed with Mims’ experience and durability.

I caught him a hard left hook on the chin and he sagged back from my punch slamming into his jaw and depositing him onto the lower strand of the ropes. If that lower rope was not there he would have landed dead on his ash can. My left hook put him there, not him leaning back.

No knockdown was called as it would be today right? If a fighter is dropped onto the lower rope like I knocked down Luis Rodriguez in our first fight, it is called a knockdown, period, end of story.

Anyway in the fourth round this cagey son of a bitch, and I give him all the credit in the world, dropped me for they say a 4-count, but the film shows I jumped up much sooner. Was I hurt? You bet your ass I was stunned, he blindsided me with a beautiful right hand smack dab on the chin. I had my back square against the ropes facing mid ring. This slick cutey is all the way over on my left side, what does he do? He throws a left hook right down the middle to my face to get my attention, his left hook turns him to his right and he fired a perfect loaded-up right hand at the speed of light off his back leg and dropped me like a stone.

I recovered and proceeded to force him into a hard fight all the way to the final bell. He did not look it, but man oh man, he could take it and give it back. We both fought our guts out and I won the unanimous decision.

If he had the “’cuffs on” then the referee was hitting me all night long with everything he had.

Holly was in the gym all the time, year-round in D.C., and always ready to fight like globetrotting Archie Moore used to be. Here I knock out Fernandez, who went 15 with Fullmer, and beat him in the eyes of many and they need Mims to take it easy on me after bringing him in as a substitute for Brennan. Please, spare me.

 

Joey Giardello

Date/location: December 14, 1964, Convention Hall, Philadelphia

Weights: Carter – 158½ pounds; Giardello – 160

Details: Carter’s 25th pro bout. Carter enters this fight with a 20-5 record. Giardello enters the bout with a 94-23-8 record.

Result: Giardello UD 15

Carter’s comments: This fight was my big chance and what I dreamed about ever since I decided to become a prize fighter, a shot at the middleweight title. I knew all about this guy. He had 13 solid head-knocking years as a pro at this time and fought everybody who was anybody in the middleweight division, the best punchers and the slickest boxers.

I drove down to Atlantic City in the winter of 1963 with my sparring partner (Ron Lipton) to watch Giardello take the title from Dick Tiger.  That night I must admit, Giardello did not do a damn thing wrong in that ring. All I kept hearing from Ron was that Giardello was impossible to knock out and was only stopped on cuts twice by Carey Mace and Spider Webb, but a guy named Harold Green knocked him out with one left hook. He told me in camp my only chance in Philly was to stay on him for 15 rounds with all I got until I stopped him, or I would lose a decision there.

I was a student of  boxing history and I did some more research in my old Ring Record book and sure enough I saw that a guy named Harold Green, who was a tough middleweight, actually KO’d Joey as the sixth round bell rang with a left hook way back in 1950 or so.

When we signed for the fight, they made it for October 23rd in Vegas first.  They shamefully shuttered me away on the other side of town in a place called the El Cortez. Giardello got to stay on The Strip at the Thunderbird, a much nicer place. I was the 7-5 favorite to take his title.

Due to financial difficulties with the promotion it folded up and I felt I was at my peak and more than ready when the whole thing fell through.

When I got to Philly (for the rescheduled bout two months later), the commission demanded I shave off my goatee. I look at the fighters today coming into the ring with a full beard and just shake my head at the memory. It was Joey’s home town and the Convention Center was packed with his fans.

Giardello proved he could take a shot as well as he could avoid one during the 15 rounds he went with Carter.

I trained and paced myself to go 15 rounds for the first time. Joey stayed very far away from me in a wide legged stance. If I even moved or twitched a muscle he would jump back and jab. He could protect himself well and he took a hell of a punch. I pressed the fight for 15 rounds and busted his face up badly; he was cut and bruised but tough as nails and would not go down. Very hard to hit him solid but I did. At the end of the fight look at the photos of him and me, I did not have a mark on my face.

I climbed out of the ring and one of the first guys I passed on the way to the dressing room was Harold Johnson, the great light heavyweight champion. He told me I won the fight hands down. My sparring partners came to my dressing room and it was a sad scene for me.

I felt I won at least, and I do mean at least, 9 or 10 rounds and when Joey came on later in the fight he was landing a few body shots but he never hurt me once in the whole fight. People said all he did in the whole fight was that he turned me and I did not cut the ring off. They also said he landed a few body shots. Enough to retain his title?

I say watch the fight again and I mean every single round. If I stayed still and did not move in the ring that night, there would be no fight.

I did not need a giant scissor to cut the ring off. He was ring savvy and knew how to stay just barely out of my reach, but not enough. He won a unanimous decision and I respectfully disagree with the verdict.

As the years went by, I would see Joey on occasion. The movie they made about me depicted that fight and the Griffith fight all wrong and the script was in the hands of the wrong people who wrote it, and who I had to divest myself from for a variety of reasons later in life. Giardello sued the movie company and I can’t say that I blame him. They had the wrong guy for the choreography.

The fight chorography was horrible, but Denzel’s acting was great. I felt bad for Joey when I would see him as he was suffering horribly from pugilistic dementia, he could hardly speak.

I told him he won the fight and that made him happy. Many people feel he did and that is OK, I just wish someone would sit down and watch every round again and show me how I won only three or four rounds according to those judges and the referee.

If you hate me, feel I was guilty of a crime I did not commit that is OK too. I get that all the time. “He’s a murderer, a bum, a thug” and it will never end, but it has nothing to do with whether I won a fight or not.

I watched the film of the fight many times and I am my own worst critic. I did more than enough to get the win, but that’s boxing and like the saying goes if I knock him out can I get a draw? As the years went by when anybody brings up the fight, I just tell them Joey won the decision fair and square. That makes them happy and they go away.  What’s the point anymore? I tell them just make believe the black guy in the fight is not named Rubin Carter and then tell me who really won.

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