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Scott Ostler

Boxing Is a World That Is Definitely in Palomino's Past

July 10, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

Carlos Palomino, one of the few fighters in the history of boxing who ever really retired, watches a lot of fights on television. He watches with friends, sometimes with his 15-year-old son.

Always, somebody will turn to Carlos and snarl, "You could beat either one of these bums right now."

They're serious. They think Carlos could do it, should do it.

Always, Carlos laughs.

He's serious, too.

He's 36 years old, in great shape, but he'll never fight again. He fought 33 professional fights, successfully defended his world welterweight title seven times, lost his last two fights. Two months short of his 30th birthday, he retired.

Very few boxers in the recent history of the world have ever retired.

Other fighters announce retirements, or threaten to retire, or retire for a decade or so and then come back. The money, the glamour, the action, the danger. . . . Somehow, boxers can never completely tear themselves away.

Has Muhammad Ali ever really retired? Any day now you expect an announcement that Ali and Joe Frazier have signed to fight in Leisure World. George Foreman is talking about making a comeback at age 38.

Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, all are in various states of pseudo-, semi- or un-retirement.

Sometimes fighters really mean it when they retire, but they change their mind when the bruises and cuts heal, or when the bills come in.

Not Carlos Palomino. Two years after Carlos retired, a promoter offered him $6 million for two easy tuneup fights and then a match with Ray Leonard.

In his entire glorious career, Palomino earned less than $2 million, and he took home probably a third of that loot. This is a kid raised in poverty in Mexico. The six mil looked good. Carlos thought it over for three days. He talked to his mom.

"She couldn't relate to $6 million," Carlos says, laughing. "I figured if I get $6 million, I give it to my business manager, and the tax man, and I continue to see my same monthly pay check, live on the same budget, so what's the use?"

This business about fighters fighting well beyond their prime amazes and saddens Palomino. Angers him at times. Like the proposed comeback of Sugar Ray Leonard, against Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

"There's no way a boxing commission can justify sanctioning this fight," Palomino says. "You've got the undisputed middleweight champion of the world (Hagler) versus a guy who hasn't fought anybody in two years . They can get this guy (Leonard) killed. He says he's been sparring for six months, but sparring is one thing, fighting is another."

For Palomino, there is no pull to return to the ring. He invested his earnings well. He has studied acting, and after seven years of hard work he is starting to get jobs. He has a nice part on the season premiere of "Hill Street Blues," and other offers are coming in.

He lives in Topanga Canyon with his wife of two years, a former star gymnast, and their 17-month-old daughter. Life is good. But Carlos watches the boxing scene in amazement.

"Ray Leonard, that goes beyond belief, why he'd want to come back and fight," Palomino says. "(Wilfred) Benitez, I understand. He had financial reasons. But you feel sad. He got battered by David Hilton, and this guy wouldn't have touched Benitez in his prime, he would have been totally devastated.

"It's sad. You want to remember them as they were, and you see them floundering around the ring at (age) 35, 20 pounds over their natural weight. Duran is another one who is hard to understand. You hear he's broke, but he tells me he's not. I saw him fight Robbie Sims. If he's really serious about a fourth title and a shot at Hagler, he'd have to get in tremendous condition. If he'd been in 80% of his condition, he would have knocked Sims out, but he had no gas.

"Maybe it goes through your mind, making a comeback. My son's always telling me I could beat those guys. But I watch my old fights, it seems like another lifetime. When my boy hits me when we're horsing around, it hurts, his punches hurt . When I was fighting I never felt the punches.

"I was never in love with the game. It was something I did well. But this is a sport where you can get hurt. People die in the ring. Any time I think about coming back, all I have to do is watch my first fight with (Armando) Muniz (a 15-round brawl won by Palomino in '77)."

Still, after thinking about it, Palomino can see why someone like Leonard would come back.

"I don't think Leonard was finished with what he thought he could do," Carlos says. "He's seen Hagler get all the attention as one of the greatest fighters in history, and Ray thinks he might have gotten to that point, too, where people say he's one of the best.

"I felt I was lucky to accomplish what I did. I don't consider myself a great, great fighter. I worked hard, I was always in great shape, a lot of my fights I won by conditioning, I had more gas in my tank. But when I was 30, Hearns was 20, Benitez was 21, Leonard was 23 or 24. I knew if I hung on too long, I'd get hurt."

I'm talking to Palomino on the phone. He's at home. His other phone line is clicking, probably with news of potential acting gigs. In the background I hear the sound of his daughter, scolding her father for neglecting his main job, which is playing with her.

"She gets upset when I don't give her all my attention," Carlos says proudly.

The call of the prizefight ring grows faint and fades away.

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