Admirers who run into well-preserved former fighters often extend a typical compliment out of fondness: “You look like you’re in fighting shape.” In the case of Carlos Palomino, though, nothing could more accurate.
The former welterweight champion is 61 going on 31, the only hint of the aging process being some gray hairs. He was fit and well dressed (as usual) when we ran into him at a news conference to promote the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-Matthew Hatton fight on March 5 in Anaheim, Calif.
In other words, he looks pretty much as he did when he stunned John Stracey and millions of Brits by winning the WBC 147-pound title in 1976 in London.
And it’s no surprise. Palomino has been a diligent runner for many years, although he acknowledges that his knees are starting to feel the effects of constant pounding. He has run a number of marathons, peaking at an impressive 3:04 for the 26.2-mile run.
“I’m addicted to running,” he said.
Palomino, a terrific boxer-puncher, successfully defended his title seven times during an era deep in talent before losing it by a split decision to the great Wilfredo Benitez in 1979 in Puerto Rico.
The Mexican-born Angeleno “retired” after losing a one-sided decision to Roberto Duran in 1979 but made one of the more-remarkable comebacks in boxing history in 1997 –- when he was 47.
Palomino went 4-0, including a first-round knockout of former two-time junior welterweight titleholder Rene Arredondo, before calling it quits for good after he gave a credible performance but lost a decision to title contender Wilfredo Rivera when he was 49.
Today, Palomino makes appearance at boxing events and autograph signings and does charity work.
And, oh yeah, what does he think of Alvarez? Palomino saw the 20-year-old Mexican sensation knock out Carlos Baldomir in September at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“I love the kid,” he said. “I think he has a lot of potential. I think he’s still learning. He’s a counter puncher. I think he needs to initiate a little bit more. It might’ve been who he was fighting, though. He was backing up most of the time and countering.
“That was the only time I saw him fight, though. I’m looking forward to seeing this fight [vs. Hatton].”
Palomino said he understands all the hype surrounding Alvarez so early in his development. The fighter is promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.
“That’s what you have to do today,” he said, “because there aren’t enough stars. When you have one coming up, you have to take advantage of it. Oscar knows that. He was in the same position.”
Now on to Palomino’s “The Best I Faced.”
Best overall: “It has to be Roberto Duran. I always had the idea that he was just a brawler. What surprised me was that the guy could really box –- going in and out, the feints, it was just a surprise to me. It impressed me how quick his shots were and how much power he had. And his movement surprised me.”
Best boxer: “It would have to be Andy Price. I fought him when I was like (10-0-1) and he was like (12-1-3). I lost a split decision to him (in 1974). He was very much like Sugar Ray Leonard, very quick. I think from a boxing standpoint he was the best I faced. He was also a good puncher. You had to worry about that. He later beat Pipino Cuevas.” Leonard stopped Price (33-8-3, 13 KOs) in the first round in 1979.
Hardest puncher: I fought this guy in the amateurs, Norman Goins from Minnesota. He did pretty well as a pro. He was a tremendous puncher. I fought him the finals of the Pan American (Games) trials and was knocked down three times, once in each round. I still won the fight — it was the amateurs -– but I got dropped three times. I’ll never forget that.”
Fastest hands: “It would be a tie between Benitez and Price. Wilfredo was just so cagey. He could hit you from different angels and very quickly, especially his jab. Most of the punches he landed against me were jabs.”
Fastest feet: “Duran. Watch him in his prime, with Ray Leonard or my fight with him. Watch him as a lightweight. He had the ability to move in and out so quickly. I’ve said that Manny Pacquiao reminds me a lot of Duran.”
Best jab: Benitez. It was a very quick, snapping jab, a lot like (Muhammad) Ali’s jab.”
Best chin: Armando Muniz. You could hit him with a ring poll and nothing would happen. [Laughs.] I nailed him all night long and hurt him. He had a chin.”
Smartest: Benitez or Duran. Maybe Benitez was natural boxer. It was almost like he had a sixth sense. I don’t think I caught him solid in my fight with him. It seemed like he knew what was coming all the time.”
Strongest: Muniz. He would just walk in, walk you down. He was a wrestler in high school so his head was attached to his shoulders. He had no neck. He was that kind of guy. Strong.”
Best defense: I would say Benitez and Duran (tie) again. As I said, it was like Benitez had a sixth sense, like he knew what was coming. Duran was hard to catch also. I was trying to counter what he was doing but I couldn’t because of his quickness. They were both good defensive fighters.