- Robert Morales
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LOS ANGELES -- Chango Carmona stood inside the no-name gym in the basement of a house in downtown Los Angeles, where he trains young boxers in the evenings after finishing his day as a parking lot attendant.
Carmona was asked to recall the biggest fight of his career, and the second-best day of his life. His eyes got big and he smiled widely.
Carmona took his listeners back to Sept. 15 -- the eve of Mexican Independence Day -- in 1972.
That night, the native of Acapulco, Mexico, squared off with tremendously popular Mexican-American Mando Ramos, the lightweight world champion from Long Beach, Calif., who passed away in July. Before a large, raucous crowd at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Carmona beat the daylights out of the typically undertrained Ramos, stopping him in the eighth round of their scheduled 15-round fight.
Carmona won the title on that night, but he lost it to countryman Rodolfo Gonzalez less than two months later in his first defense.
Judging by the way Carmona's face lit up when he spoke about lifting the title, he couldn't care less about losing it these days. He had his big night, one that left an indelible mark on boxing -- and in Carmona's mind.
"There are two marvelous things in my life," said Carmona, 63. "The first one was when my boy was born and the second one was when I got my title on Sept. 15. It was a happy party in Acapulco when I won."
The atmosphere at the fight was some kind of experience for Carmona, who pioneered the "Mexican fighting on Mexican Independence Day weekend" tradition.
"It was incredible," he said. "The Mexican fans in the United States, they follow a Mexican fighter for a world title. It was a huge thing. There were plenty of people. It was a very special night."
The promotion of the bout was both special and somewhat humiliating for Carmona.
On one particular day, a public workout was held with both fighters.
Ramos was known as a ladies man and a party animal. When a lineup of beautiful women were sent into the ring to flirt with Ramos, Carmona became happy with anticipation.
"There were 20, 25 nice ladies, beautiful ladies," Carmona said. "They gave a little kiss on Mando's cheek. One did it and another did it and me I was just waiting. And I was thinking, 'Oh, this is nice. Hey, are going to do the same thing with me.'
"But no, only with Mando. I went up to the ring to do my shadow-boxing and everybody left. They only stayed for Mando. Mando was a good-looking guy and very gentle; he was very handsome. Mando was a huge fighter. I had a lot of admiration for him."
Once the fight began, all that admiration went out the window. Carmona dropped Ramos early and often throughout those eight rounds.
Carmona (52-13-2) had 42 knockouts in 67 career fights, a decent enough 62 percent knockout ratio, but he did not have tremendous power. And Ramos, who was known as a fighter who partied more than he trained, made Carmona look like a heavier hitter than he was.
Carmona said he thought referee Rudy Jordan should have stopped the fight in the fifth or sixth round. By the time the fight was stopped in the eighth, Ramos had sustained a severe thrashing that would land him in the hospital for a couple of days.
"He was in bad shape," Carmona said. "When I dropped him for the first time, he didn't look too good. I didn't hit too hard, but I threw so many punches in bunches. I always was in great condition. I didn't drink, I didn't smoke. Nothing.
"Mando, unfortunately he did drugs. It was his mistake."
Don Fraser, a promoter/matchmaker/publicist inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005, was not involved in that fight in an official capacity. But Fraser, who has been in the game for more than 50 years, never missed a big boxing event in Los Angeles.
"There were more Mexican nationals rooting for Carmona, and Mando was not in shape," said Fraser, 81. "I think he took the fight lightly and he took a beating. A bad beating."
After the beating, things got ugly.
"They took Mando out in an ambulance and the Mexican nationals were trying to turn over the ambulance," said Don Chargin, the fight's matchmaker for legendary Olympic Auditorium promoter Aileen Eaton. "They were pounding on it. When the fight was stopped and that many people rush the field, you are not going to stop it. Those days, we had a lot of those electrifying fight nights."
Carmona knew a celebration in Acapulco was awaiting him. Instead of joining the festivities, Carmona stuck around in Los Angeles and paid a visit to the hospital where Ramos was staying. He did not go home until Ramos was released.
Carmona fought five more times (including the loss to Gonzalez), and retired after a second-round technical knockout of Moy Mendez in Mexico in March 1975.
Carmona found himself back in the ring for one more fight in December 1979 in Acapulco as sort of a favor for the local police department, for which he worked as a traffic cop.
Interestingly, Carmona's job as a traffic officer in Acapulco continued to give him fond memories of his boxing past. When he pulled drivers over, every sob story he heard also included some high praise.
"One guy said, 'Chango, I didn't see the light because I was looking at you,'" Carmona said. "Then he said, 'Oh, you are going to give me a ticket? How can you do that when my mom used to pray for you?'"
What could Carmona do? He usually just smiled and laughed.
These days, Carmona doesn't have a lot of money. But he has no regrets that he fought at a time when few boxers were making big bucks. He's married with a son and three daughters and they have lived in L.A. since 1993.
Carmona's job at the gym -- which is filled with posters of present-day fighters as well as those of yesteryear -- is what brings the biggest smile to his face.
Make no mistake, Carmona is not easy on the youths he trains. It's either his way or no way.
"These are the rules: No drinking, no hangovers," said Carmona, who is assisted at the gym by David Sotelo, another former Mexican fighter. "I don't want none of that in this gym. If you want to be in this gym, you have to obey all of the rules. If they want to be successful, this sport is giving you everything."
One night, 36 years ago, gave Carmona everything. That it happened on Mexican Independence Day weekend made it that much sweeter.
Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Chango Carmona might not have earned enough in his boxing days to live like a king, but he's still happy. Robert Morales catches up with the former lightweight champion and finds out why.