Saturday, March 02, 2024  |


The Fighting Carbajals

PHOENIX,AZ - AUGUST 1990: Michael Carbajal poses with his belt during a portrait session in Phoenix,Arizona. (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)
Fighters Network

I apologize, I said to Michael Carbajal, as I admitted to him that I didn’t follow his career all that carefully back in the day. The 55-year-old Hall of Famer, who ran up a 49-4 record as a pro between 1989 and 1994, didn’t change his expression in the slightest.

He looked at me and listened, giving off a mellow vibe, as I told the junior flyweight standout for the ages that it was Massachusetts’ fault.

Marvin Hagler competed as well and as hard as he could against the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox, and his skill set demanded I take notice.

Also, I told Carbajal, whose first fight against Chiquita Gonzalez you will want to track down on YouTube if you’ve not seen the 1993 Fight of the Year, this: that the New England region mirrored many spots within our nation’s borders in that extra attention was paid to heavyweights.

March 13, 1993: Michael Carbajal gains loads of new fans and the juice to get a million dollar purse next time, when he fells Chiquita Gonzales in their first fight at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas. Pic by Stephen Dunn /Allsport

“I apologize, Michael, we just didn’t get too much coverage outside of the heavyweight and middleweight divisions,” I offered, slightly ashamed that I didn’t know more Carbajal factoids off the top of my head. “No problem, Woods,” the five-time champion answered, speaking in a relaxed cadence, something of an Arizona drawl.

In the course of collecting material for this story, I admit I came to enjoy hearing Michael say, “Wooods,” how he elongated a syllable. That matched up with what I’d been told about his demeanor, mostly. So unassuming, so not taken with himself. Easy to root for, same as was the case when promoter Bob Arum ushered him from the 1988 Olympics toward a throne that would have to be custom built. America wasn’t a flyweight kind of country, size mattered here, in how we like our Big Gulps, and our prize fighters.

Over the course of reporting this story, I contended with a challenge: Michael came off to me as extremely earnest, a bit shy, real likeable. So, I reminded myself periodically that I needed to think “neutral” as I sifted through text clips, You Tube videos, taped interviews, all of it. I wanted to be wary of bias creep.

But yes, I came to this project under the impression that Michael Carbajal didn’t get treated as well as was deserved after hanging up the Everlasts in 1999.

Of all the sports, the prize fighter deserves to have been paid generously for the toll taken on their body and brain, and to enjoy the fruits of their extreme laboring.

About ten years ago, I’d heard the shocking news. Yes, even for boxing, what used to be termed ‘the red light district of sports’ for the volume of chicanery, tomfoolery and trickerations experienced by those making a living in the colorful but often distressingly unstructured construct that is professional pugilism, this case stood out.

Danny Carbajal, Michael’s older brother/trainer/manager/money manager would be headed to state prison? What?

Am I to understand Danny supposedly engaged in financial misdeeds executed largely while he sought to minimize the damage that his estranged wife might cause at a divorce trial held to determine if he’d played by the rules in handling shared income/property? Wait…what happened to his soon to be ex wife..and her boyfriend?

This was not a paint by numbers Where Are They Now project, this felt like a Dateline deal. In my mind, I spoke in Keith Morrison’s voice. You know the white haired Dateline correspondent who can make the reading of the ingredients on an energy bar pulse with intrigue. “Yes, Woods, this is a story you need to do, because it feels like maybe Michael Carbajal has not been done right.”

The kid came from fighting stock, his dad Manuel earned an Arizona state Golden Gloves crown at flyweight and bantamweight in the late 1940s. Mother Mary possessed and possesses traits that Michael owns, assets that helped Michael the fighter stay motivated to ply this grueling trade with rabid resolve. It took other-worldly willpower to go pro in 1989 at 106 pounds, and finish up at 108 pounds in his final outing, a title victory against Jorge Arce in the summer of 1999.

Raising nine kids, more than a couple of them handfuls, Mary is alive and well enough, at 89. I spoke to her, briefly, on the phone and she affirmed that she thinks Michael has been done wrong by Danny. No, I didn’t ask her to share her emotions stemming from having Danny threaten her with eviction and getting a lawyer to send a letter demanding she leave the house on N. 46 St. in Phoenix, for non payment of rent.

But before we delve much more into that side of the sage, let’s present basics, because Michael’s last fight came 22 years ago, many people reading this won’t be even dimly aware of who he is.

Dad Manuel started him on the path when he was 6 years old, and would rat-a-tat at a bag hung from the clothesline, or on a tree, when the clothesline snapped. Pop had a feeling this one might be different pretty quick.

When Michael waited for the call to fight his first amateur fight, he was 13 or 14, his dad asked him if he remembered a convo they had back when Michael was 7. Nope, remind me, Michael said. His father told the young teen that at age 7, the little squirt told him he’d one day be a world champion, and would retire as champ. He did just that because his love for all of it didn’t fade. He didn’t gain contempt for the rigmarole, ever.

It surprised him that his dad could tutor him in the art of fighting, because Manny didn’t advertise having been a Golden Glover in the late 40s. And though Mikey lost his very first amateur contest, in 1980, he progressed nicely, winning the Golden Gloves nationals in 1985, and the US Nationals in ‘86, ‘87, ‘88. The hitter wanted to rep America in the 1988 Olympics, and he met his goal, part of a team including Roy Jones Jr (light middleweight), Ray Mercer (heavyweight) and Riddick Bowe (super heavyweight).

Fashioning a story line Carbajal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics wasn’t a hard lift: The second youngest of nine kids who lived in a rugged section of Phoenix. This is how the LA Times’ guy, Earl Gustkey, put it in a 1990 piece: Carbajal’s neighborhood, 10 minutes from the gleaming office towers of downtown Phoenix, is an area of boarded-up homes, broken bottles and beer cans in the streets, and wrecked cars parked on weed-filled front yards.

A “barrio,” that’s how Dick Enberg phrased it in his voice over on NBC which introduced Michael, a 106 pound hopeful for a gold, to viewers. Danny is the first child of Manuel and Mary Carbajal, we are told; he built a make-shift gym in the back yard of the family residence. Danny, 16 years older than Michael, is a barber, Enberg says, who “operates his shop in the front yard.” This was a slice of life from bootstraps city, gritty and humble Mexican-Americans toiling ceaselessly, but humbly, toward a greater goal. “Danny, he’s the one that built the gym,” says young Michael. “He brought me up, showed me everything I know, he trained me, he’s been behind me, he’s done everything for me.”

Viewers back in the summer of 1988 had no reason to disbelieve, or guffaw, when Danny spoke to the reporter, and and said, “I’m not in this for the money, I’m in this because I love to be with Michael..It’s a lot of fun.”

Michael hasn’t spoken to Danny since 2007.

The package holds up today, because of the screaming irony in play when Danny offers up what he’s NOT motivated by.

Also, this tidbit stuck in the mind of casuals and sub casuals: Michael speaks on how he came to be nicknamed ‘Manitas de Piedra,’ in homage to Roberto Duran, the Panamanian boxer/buccaneer who had a pirate’s persona to go with that dual dynamite in both hands.

“My mom would tease me,” he related. ‘I’m gonna go live with (Roberto Duran), if I ever see this guy, I’m gonna go with him.’ I used to get mad and real jealous about it.” So, it was a beat em/join em thing.

Remember I noted how reasonable Michael seems, how low key he is. That chill mode displayed when he took on Ivailo Hristov of Bulgaria in the 106 pound final in Seoul and left with just a silver. “I was disappointed, naturally,” he said to Sports Illustrated in a 1990 piece called ‘Small Wonder,’ but I was just happy to be in the Olympic Games. And I knew in my heart I’d won.” The man got no flowers before being screwed, and he didn’t whine, moan, cry or stay stuck on the disappointment.

Michael’s fan-base got seeded and watered well at the Olympics. After ex bantamweight champ Richie Sandoval pleaded with Bob Arum to sign this mini marvel, the plan to make a mountain-sized buzz about a mole-hill of a man got firmed up.

That ‘Small Wonder’ SI story back in the day earned Michael another batch of rooters; reading it today activates a grimace when you see Ron Fimrite write, “And in Danny he has a manager he can trust. Their affection for each other is real and obvious. Danny is as garrulous as Michael is quiet, and he clucks over his protègè like a mother hen…’Mike and I have always gotten along just fine. If I tell him to do something, he’ll do it and never complain.'”

From the Aug. 6, 1990 SI, with Joe Montana on the cover.

SI stayed on the Carbajal beat, and enjoyed pointing out that promoter Bob Arum proclaimed aloud that he wanted to have Carbajal be the first jockey-sized boxer to get a million dollar purse.

This passage has me comparing and contrasting in my head:

“The oddest part of all this is that probably no champion has less interest in money than Carbajal. So far, his most extravagant purchase has been a 1962 Chevy Impala, which he bought for $2,500. He still lives with his parents in a Phoenix neighborhood of such dilapidation that on the street, a boulevard of empty lots mostly, the church is called the Church on the Street. This is a simplicity of life that Carbajal intends to enforce by remaining in the neighborhood,” Richard Hoffer wrote.

File that passage away as you read on, see how that doesn’t sync up with Danny Carbajal’s statement during a deposition session, some sixteen years later, according to a story penned for the New Phoenix Times by the experienced alt-weekly digger Paul Rubin. I didn’t embezzle, improperly transfer, use forgery to do a dubious funds transfer, Danny said, Michael got what he was due, and just spent his way through the pile of dough, in the millions.

Al Bernstein got to know Michael a bit, so he would be able to tell us if Michael had that aura, as someone who’d be prone to spend recklessly. He is also a Hall of Famer, he gained entry to the halls of Canastota in 2012. The Showtime analyst, who had a 23 year stint at ESPN, is alone at the top when rating by knowledge, judgement, fairness and longevity in the arena.

I asked him to please sum up Michael Carbajal and what sort of stature the rat-tailed pummeler enjoyed in his heyday. “To me, Michael Carbajal is a really important figure in boxing,” says Bernstein, who by the way does a bangup job with a singing act he’s been doing since the late 90s. “I will say he’s the first, but certainly one of the first amateur fighters to create that kind of fan following at that lower weight division. He was an amazing fighter, on Top Rank on ESPN, on his pay per views. And the irony of it was that the bond with his brother, and the neighborhood he came from, was a big part of his story. That turned out to be kind of mythology.”

Top Rank having a weekly show on ESPN, that provided a perfect pod for Michael to get seasoning, and allow boxing fans to get to know him. Bernstein: “I knew right way he was a terrific fighter. Top Rank was trying to figure out a way to make a guy just out of the amateurs a star in a division that didn’t (churn them out as part of the American fight scene so much).”

He recalls Michael’s bout in Phoenix (12-12-1992), against Robinson Cuesta, how much he’d advanced as an attraction.

“That fight, he performed great. It was a coronation, a gigantic crowd. And then the fight against Chiquita Gonzalez (3-13-1993), a joint promotion between the folks at the Forum and Top Rank. Tom Kelly on blow by blow and me, one of the most remarkable fights, one of the best I ever announced. I was astonishing, it embodied the Michael Carbajal journey. He faced adversity, and had to come back from the brink. It was one of the most unexpected turnarounds I’ve ever seen. And then the second and third fights against Chiquita, who completely altered his style. I will say I think you have to place some of the blame at the feet of Danny. OK, the second fight I get it, but the third fight, what kind of adjustments did he make? And I did one of his other most amazing moments, when he beat Jorge Arce in a bull ring in Mexico (7-31-1999). Yeah, Michael was one of the most fan friendly boxers you’d want in your entire life, his career was special,” said Bernstein. “Michael, he was a gifted fighter who I think is a historical figure, for popularizing that lower weight class, and he was unfailingly thoughtful and a delightful guy to deal with. And oh man, imagine putting your life on the line, in one of most amazing wars you can imagine, against Chiquita Gonzalez, and then your own brother….Anyway, if I had to make a list of most pleasant boxers, in all my years, Michael Carbajal would be in the top five.”

A bunch of people I talked to for this story, when I asked them what ideally this story would work toward, answered: “Justice.” They don’t believe everyone did their best work investigating the depth of Danny’s operations.

The pivot to darkness when word started to get around that Danny was facing some harsh questions from investigators meant Rubin now had almost a series. Rubin kept on the darker developments as Michael’s career progressed, but these were different times, stories often stayed contained in a regional zone more than they would when social media networks truly took off. “That was a good article that Paul Rubin did. But it just hit here in the Valley,” Michael admitted.

In a 2005 Rubin NPT story, he laid out his conception of Danny’s estranged wife’s demise. Sally Carbajal and Danny had been together for four decades, Rubin shared, but Danny filed for divorce in July 2003. The divorce finalized in December 2003, but that was news to Sally. She’d not received documents pertaining to the pending dissolution of her marriage, and in fact was surprised when in February 2004 she sought to file a petition for divorce. In August 2004, the divorce was granted, with the ruling enacted because of Danny’s petition was annulled.

Danny by 2005 found himself getting hard looks from authorities. A trial to determine the apportioning of assets belonging to Danny and Sally would kick off on Feb. 28, 2005. Three days before, however, a mystery assailant shot Sally and her new fella, Gerry Best, a cabbie.

The timing of the double murder got tongues wagging, and friends of Sally didn’t care for how Team Danny would refer to her excessive drinking.

Danny when asked about the coincidental timing of the killing, which halted the state’s scrutiny of Danny (and Sally’s) handling of Michael’s purse money and properties which had supposedly been purchased from his winnings, would offer an alternative take.

“I heard that the guy she was living with was selling drugs, but you just don’t know, everybody talks,” Danny would offer.

So, the approximately $500,000 worth of property in Phoenix, and some $400,000 cash stored at Merrill Lynch would not be examined, and chains of custody of deeds to properties, and a dissection of the inflows and outflows of hundreds of thousands of dollars in play because of Michael’s earning power would not occur.

It does strain credulity, some would note, that Danny when deposed told the assembled on the record that properties purchased with Michael Carbajal money were put in his and Sally’s name, not Michaels.’ Why, then?

To “protect” Michael, Danny offered, because his brother might find himself in some unspecified hot water, and…..what, the state would go after his property because why?

Danny’s explanations didn’t satisfy prosecutors who argued that Danny set in motion copious deception and fraudulent dealings in seeking to shift funds advantageously to his benefit when him and Sally were split. Danny pled guilty to felonious theft in July 2007. Earlier, his daughters Josephine and Celia pled guilty for their part in the scheming, and were sentenced only to a probation period.

The murders of Sally and Gerry Best have not been solved. In 2015, the Phoenix PD made a push to get some new info on the deaths, sending out a release asking for tips from anyone with info.

I requested from the department any info they are inclined to share on the status of that case, and will insert a response when supplied.

Rubin told readers of a statement made by Danny and Sally’s daughter Celia which makes you tilt your head and wonder: “I loved my mom to death, and I just miss her.”

Danny did a batch of time, and after 3 1/2 years, gained his freedom in August 2011.

The tension between him and Michael remained sticky in the air, though an out of court settlement late in 2011 provided some diminishment of the brother beef. Then, there’d be an uptick in friction.

In a 2012 Rubin story, readers learned that Michael sought to build a client base at the Carbajal gym across from his house, which used to be a church. Danny wasn’t about that–so he signed the deed for the property to the Maricopa Country Sheriff Youths Association. Why? Because they needed a facility, Danny explained.

The brothers were not in a better place, time hadn’t been working to heal wounds. Danny at the time would deny that he’d been the mastermind of a campaign to divert money earned by Michael into his personal coffer. “Michael wasn’t defrauded of anything,” Danny declared. “He got everything that was his, he just spent it.”

Danny didn’t seem repentant when asked about doing that bid. He got quoted saying, “I went to prison because my wife was murdered and she couldn’t testify.” That’s a puzzler–was he implying that she would have testified in a manner that would have proved beneficial to him?

I thinks that stuff is part of what’s driven Michael to speak, really speak, including taking questions on emotions. But I asked…why now? Why admit to the portion of the world who cares how much all this has hurt?

“To get back at them,” Michael says, no enmity present on his visage. “What they’ve done, what they’ve done to my mom.” The Arizona sportsman declares he’s content, serene, and I’m sure a part of him means it, but a centimeter beneath the surface, anger burns.

The marketing of Keenan Carbajal burns. Even more so, Laura’s blood pressure rises when she speaks on this generation of Carbajal talent, and the perceived effrontery. Hall is a striking persona, and her intensity makes her an effective overseer at the Michael Carbajal Ninth St. Gym, 70 yards from their residence. She shares a few different reasons why she’ll not be waving pom moms and pennants at his next fight, which unfolds tonight, in Phoenix.

Having the kid, OK, he’s 30, not really a “kid,” wear trunks that say “Cobra” on them, an homage to Manuel. And the push to solidify name recognition by using the tag “Familia Carbajal” in promo material, Hall isn’t amused.

Team Keenan Carbajal arguably deserves points, for the brazen turn on this tightrope they’re walking, looking to build the brand by reminding people of the lineage, and hoping that it stops there, that the reminding ony goes so far.

Right now, Michael feels like that so much time has passed since Danny went to jail that people outside of Arizona don’t know what went down after the flyweight living legend left the ring, for what he thought would be a comfortable existence. He sees and hears the “Familia” talk and he takes offense, basically. “They wanted another Michael Carbajal, they were hoping he comes out like Michael, but they found out, it can’t be done,” he states.

The jury is still out in the regard, though it feels like a verdict is near. Keenan is 30 years old, he turned pro in 2013, and he holds a 22-2-1 record. The fighter went 5-2-1 to open his career, and has since gone on a sweet run. A casual fan might hear the name “Carbajal,” see the focus on “Familia Carbajal,” recall Michael’s skill set, hear Keenan’s record and think, Oh, wow, a new generation of Carbajals boxing.

Scrape a bit under the surface, though, and the casual might be confused at seeing how Keenan fought on 0-1 dude in his 21st pro fight? What’s up with that? Keenan doesn’t really have a signature win, and there are no widely recognized scalps on his resume. It looks like he’s not in super tough tonight, either; foe Josean Figueroa-Bonilla is 12-6-2, has been stopped in four of his six losses and has lost two straight, and three of his last five starts. One of the wins came against a person with an 0-8 record. Yes, one can perhaps understand why Michael, who took on a future world champion, Will Grisby, in his first professional outing, grumbles at the thought of Keenan being touted as a chip off his block.

And I’m left puzzling at the screen when I look at Keenan’s Instagram, and see a graphic tagged “Familia Carbajal.” You see Keenan, in “Cobra” trunks, looing up at the sky, with fiery feathers planted behind him, all of it bathed in flames. Should the trunks not say “Icarus” on them?

Keenan fights at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. Showtime will play platform for the main event which spotlights two-time world champion David “El Bandera Roja” Benavídez (age 24; 24-0 record), a super middleweight, facing 16-2-1 Kyrone Davis in a Premier Boxing Champions event unspooling from the home of the Phoenix Suns. Big bro José Benavídez (age 29; 27-1 record) faces Argentina’s Francisco Emanuel Torres (17-3) in a 10-round super welterweight bout in the other Showtime offering. No, Keenan didn’t make the cut to get a TV spot, so to assess how much or little he resembles Michael with his skill set, you’ll have to be in Phoenix.

Journalist Norm Frauenheim has a rock-solid command of all these players.

He did 31 years at the Arizona Republic, covered the Suns during the Charles Barkley run, and is still grinding. This week, he’s been busy doing coverage on the promotion. I touched base with him, because he lives in the area, and so he knows more than the basics. “I picked up boxing for the 1988 Olympics,” he informs me, when I ask how he found himself covering the semi-sweet and more often savage science. Michael scored silver at those Games, and so Norm has had an up-close perch to see it all play out. In fact, he informs me, he came to respect Michael so much, even like him, that he knows the fondness makes it harder for him to maintain a respectable level of journalistic distance from the subject matter. “People loved Michael. He looked bigger on TV, and those eyes, and the punching power…They loved him.” He didn’t see or sense anything untoward between Danny and Michael, he continues, but his eyes got opened when Michael had a scrape with authorities, and got scooped up for being a sheet to the wind in public. “After he retired, and he was calling around for a pro bono attorney. Word was he had like $2.6M banked after the Arce fight.” That didn’t make sense; no one saw Michael scarfing up Rolls Royces, or lighting his money on fire by making careless bets, or whatever. “So Michael was having some problems, and he called me, in tears, angry. ‘I can’t pay my utilities,’ he said.”’

Norm makes an interesting point, noting that the Benavidez boys, especially Jose, have had their share of hijinks, if you want to call getting shot at “hijinks.” In 2016, Jose Jr took on fire, from a mystery triggerman. David stayed out of the papers like that, but still saw the value in a change of location. He moved to Seattle, Washington, and seeks, it looks like, a stable existence, with a wife, a kid, and an overt focus on his craft.

“They did what Michael never did, leave here. Michael used to tell me, ‘I’m never gonna leave.”

That explains some of Michael’s enduring status, that sort of positive stubbornness. Locals see that and know a bold-face name could jet, leave the hood and accumulated memories behind…but he doesn’t. That’s a refreshing humility, a star who doesn’t charter a jet to a snazzier home base.

Norm even apologized to Michael, after word dropped that Danny had not acted in the best interest of his fighter/brother when tasked with handling the money matters for Team Michael Carbajal. “I said, ‘As a journalist, I should have figured it out,’ and Michael said naw, how could you, I didn’t see it.”

We talk some about this “Kid Carbajal.” Norm doesn’t offer an assessment of Keenan’s prospects to make noise in the featherweight division, but he’s a savvy chronicler of the game, and can read between the lines when he looks at Keenan’s BoxRec. We discuss Danny more, too. “Certain guys didn’t need a trainer, almost,” he says. “Michael didn’t need a trainer, he was an instinctive fighter. Even when fighting Chiquita Gonzalez the first fight, there could have been no one there as trainer.” We talk about Laura Hall, who we agree is a full-flavored character, as intense a lobbyist on behalf of a boxers’ legacy as you could find. “Heartfelt thanks has to go to her,” From says, “because without her, Michael would probably be dead.”

And I delved further, asking Norm if maybe Danny’s shadow loomed over Phoenix. I’ve never met Danny, I “know” him from seeing him in video clips. He reminds me of Cedric Kushner, facially, a little bit. He was beefy back in the day, though Michael says medical conditions have whittled him down to the 170s.

Nope, I didn’t get a scary vibe watching him and listening to him, he seems like a big brown bear, mellow, not someone looking for trouble. Norm says in so many words that yes, Danny has a rep, some people versed in the Carbajal story when it got loco would tell you that they respect Danny’s darkside ability to enlist allies for his causes. The unsolved murder of Sally, his estranged wife who worked at banks where it is alleged Danny orchestrated shadiness with signatures and the like, and her boyfriend Gerry Best, comprises a large measure of the Danny shadow. The uncertainty of that cold case killing does influence how much the Danny scandal gets spoken about and written about, it’s clear as I report out this saga.

Norm isn’t scared, he’s an old school journo, but he knows he’s seen as being in “the Michael camp,” so the Keenan crew, he says, isn’t prone to dialing him up to get coverage. “I know what’s happened to Michael, I can’t (pretend it’s just a family matter). Through all of this, Mike, Michael is the Carbajal I’ve known who’s got a real conscience on him. And he believes in his neighborhood. There are a lot of ghosts in that neighborhood, yes. But Michael is sort of the heart-beat of that era, the 80s into the 90s, in the Mexican-American community.”

I asked Norm for his wish list: ideally, what would this attempt at sharing the Carbajal saga do? I admitted to Norm, as I admit to you, it doesn’t feel like justice has been served as well as it could be. Danny did time for transgressions, but he was punished for fraud perpetrated in his dealings with moneys accumulated during his union with Sally, not for malfeasance while acting as Michael’s money handler. “I’d like to see the police re-open the murder case,” Norm told me. “People don’t read books anymore, but this is a story you make a book out of, if not a book, then a movie.”

The Libra in me drifts, and thinks about how appealing it would be if the brothers could see the light, and touch it together. But no, that’s not likely to happen, is it? This matter has some Biblical twists, so I reached out to George Foreman, who’s been a preacher since the late 1970s, to see if he could shed some light on how to properly view the case of the bitterly divided Carbajal brothers. I even shared a pipe dream: How about if the Carbajal brothers got together, in the presence of Preacher George Foreman, who would attempt to gently guide them toward a path to rapprochement. “I’m always available,” George said, his tone giving notes of optimism fashioned by having lived a couple miracles.

But I’m not in the same mode, it’s impossible for me craft a scenario where Danny and Michael Carbajal meet, find common ground, and bury the acrimony. Too much water, too low a bridge…

Danny and Manuel sparred a lot, Michael says. “I know they really didn’t get along,” he informs me, speculating that envy played a part in the sometimes strained dynamic.  I was feeding my curiosity, trying to figure out made Danny tick a different tone than Michael. Danny tried boxing, brothers Alex and Angel, they didn’t have the discipline. “Believe me, they could fight their asses off, they liked to party,” he says. No weed, no boozing, the ex fighter states, as he didn’t even try booze til he got married, at age 27. In my dealings with Michael he was full-on sober, though he has had to use that willpower to put the cork in the bottle on and off. He’s had his rollicking nights, too boozy, and in ’94 he got pinched for shooting a gun into the air.

I wanted to know when, exactly, Michael found out what he came to understand, that his earnings were not sitting in the piles, the IRAs, the properties, the savings accounts, that he’d been led to believe?

“My dad warned me. All he said was, ‘Be careful with your money, son,’ he says his dad, who died in ’93, implored him. “Watch it, you make sure you watch your money.”

Did he name Danny? Yes, Michael shares, he named Danny.

“I trusted Danny, I never, ever thought he would do that. I thought me and him were close!” The fabric tore some after the Jake Matlala fight (in July 1997) , apparently. Danny jetted from Vegas after Michael got stopped by “Baby Jake” in round nine, in his fifth to last fight.

The fighter wanted to know why big brother was acting a little strange, so he asked, and Danny said wife Sally went AWOL, with a couple hundred thousand dollars. The sibling/trainer tracked her down, in Texas, he told his boxer/brother. It seemed shady, but no, he didn’t realize near the full extent of the woes. Danny broke down and cried as he “came clean” to Michael. He activated tear ducts every so often, Michael told me, and he feels that was a manipulation move.

The extent became more clear when he met Laura, they hit it off, and once she hung around his milieu, she sensed that something was amiss. “We pulled (bank) records out from ten years before,” he continues, recalling that he got pissed at Hall, because he didn’t think Danny would be capable of such treachery. When Michael no showed a Hall of Fame function, Danny, casting aspersions at Hall, and him had it out over the phone.

Michael and Danny had a meet up, and the boxer said he pretended to know less than he did, played dumb to see if he could trap Danny in a lie. His brother then asked him if he’d had bank records pulled, and Michael again played a role. He tried to unnerve Danny same, when he speculated aloud if maybe the records puller wasn’t a detective, sniffing around the Sally Carbajal/Gerry Best rubout. “He didn’t know what to fuckin’ say…Did you ever think about the detectives looking at all kinds of fucking records, you’re being investigated for murder! I want to talk about that, too, I don’t know what the fuck’s gonna happen to you. I need my financial stuff, I need all my money,” Michael recalls telling Danny.

I asked if Michael had a theory on what happened to Sally and Gerry. Yes, he said, there was an obvious suspect. NOTE: I emailed Danny to see if he wanted to have his voice in this piece, and sent emails to his daughter Josephine and his daughter Celia, to check if they wanted the opportunity to hear speak up. I will insert any and all of their responses if furnished. I also emailed two lawyers who’d repped Danny during some of his court skirmishes.

Yes, Michael did ask Danny what if anything he had to do with the Sally/Gerry case. Not me, Danny said, before launching into an alternate take. The boyfriend dealt drugs at a place where some cartel guys do deals. That was a partial light bulb moment for Michael: “I knew right then, I said, ‘Oh shit.”’

The fact that Danny MIGHT be capable or responsible for the dark deed, that affected people, Michael told me. “It intimidated people, not me, he knows that too, I already see him at fights, he wouldn’t even look at me.” They crossed paths in a fight night at the Celebrity Theater, locked eyes, Michael says, and yeah, his blood was boiling, he pictured himself laying Danny out. “Right when I passed him, he bowed his head, and I said, ‘Punk ass bitch.” In Danny’s version, Michael scurried away when they got into each others’ orbit.

Now Michael’s mind was open, and he heard from people, friends, relatives, that Danny had a dark side that Michael didn’t catch on too. And it’s ground away at him more than he admits to me. Michael and Hall, especially, seems to hold on to trauma from an incident which occurred in September 2010. A 911 call, a public record, paints a frenetic picture. Hall is heard telling the 911 operator that she’d been attacked, by unknown assailants, and that Michael had been beaten badly, left bleeding, in the assault. She pleads for cops to come to the scene, and annoys the salty operator by asking them to hurry. Her head was ringing from head trauma, she told me when I asked more about this violent altercation. Also, another 911 call is made to report the same incident, this time it’s a male who says he was assaulted by pro boxer Michael Carbajal. It’s he said/she said, but it’s clear the matter hasn’t reached closure status for Hall.

She tells me that Michael deals with after-effects from damage sustained, and that he’s been working with several doctors, including a neurologist, for self care. Danny would scoff at the notion that he could or would have put any type of assault in motion, and authorities did an investigation, but I don’t know of any disposition in the case.

There are more indignities; Michael hopes for the return of his Olympic medal, the silver medal from Seoul. Michael thought Danny had it, Hall did some sleuthing and thought she figured out where the medal might be, but grew frustrated that cops didn’t investigate with sufficient zest.

Michael tells me that it’s weird how an old video clip will come off different, that he sees Danny in that different light, a harsher glare. Here’s one of those moments for me: Al Bernstein queried Michael in the ring after the light fly shrugged off two knockdowns and uncorked two Duran hand rights on Chiquito backed up to the ropes, and then a filthily crisp left hook made it so Mills Lane could have counted to 15. “This is gonna sound like maybe an odd question,” Bernstein asked Danny, standing behind little brother. “Are you extra proud of your brother today?”

Danny edged forward a slight bit, and answered, “Extra proud. God couldn’t have gave us a better brother or better parent. God put this guy,” he said, voice cracking, eyes getting moist, “in a total package.”


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