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'Rocky' Road Propels Boxer Toward Games : Inspired by Stallone Films, East L.A.'s Frankie Carmona Is a 'Pit Bull' in Quest for Atlanta Slot

June 11, 1995|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As Frankie Carmona shadowboxed inside the ring, backpedaling while throwing an assortment of combinations, he shouted out to his trainer.

"What's my nickname gonna be when I turn pro?" Carmona asked.

"Pit bull," Manuel Montiel responded.

At 5-feet-6, 127 pounds, Carmona certainly has the stature appropriate for the moniker; and as he showed in winning the featherweight division gold medal at the National Golden Gloves last month, he also has the toughness.

"Frankie's one of the best boxers I've trained," said Montiel, who has coached Carmona for nine years. "He is a tough, inside fighter that throws lots of body shots."

Sounds a lot like silver-screen icon Rocky Balboa, one of Carmona's boxing inspirations.

" 'Rocky' movies are what got me started," said the 19-year-old Carmona. "I got frustrated with playing baseball and so I put down my mitt for a pair of boxing gloves."

Carmona's interest in the sweet science was also stimulated by other fighters from some of America's boxing hotbeds.

"When I was younger, I used to go on boxing trips where I met fighters from Pennsylvania, Texas and New Jersey," Carmona said. "I never hung out with my friends at Schurr High. The other boxers were my friends, either on the trips or at the gym."

Carmona (49-23) is currently the No. 4-ranked featherweight in amateur boxing. He had climbed to No. 1 earlier this year before losing in the Pan American Box-Offs to Diego Corrales, who is currently ranked No. 2 in the lightweight division.

"I'd beaten [Corrales] twice before and got cocky," Carmona said.

Last year was sterling for Carmona, who won gold medals in the U.S. Championships and Goodwill Games Box-Offs. He is hoping for a similar outcome in the 1996 Olympics.

"My goal is to win a gold medal," Carmona said.

Carmona's journey to Atlanta begins with a trip to Colorado Springs and the Olympic Festival next month. "If I can win there and improve my ranking, then do well in the following tournaments, I have a good chance of making it," he said.

Carmona, an East Los Angeles native, trains for two hours a day, Monday through Saturday. He said he is motivated by the notion that boxers are among the most fit athletes in the world.

"I like being in the profession that people consider to have the best athletes," Carmona said. "I also like the challenge of boxing. You can never say you're the best, because someone out there can beat you. It's a big gamble."

That's why Carmona takes few risks in the ring.

"Frankie is a good defensive fighter and is constantly moving," Montiel, 33, said. "He doesn't stand there and give his opponent a target to hit."

If there is a trait that Carmona would like to be remembered for, it's determination.

"I love Julio Cesar Chavez and Evander Holyfield because they both have lots of heart," Carmona said. "They are also good people and good role models."

That label is one that Carmona may soon wear himself, like East Los Angeles residents Paul Gonzalez and Oscar De La Hoya did before him.

Said Carmona: "I'd like to do something that kids could look up to me for."

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