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Baldomir a 'Cinderella Man' of sorts

11/1/2006 - Boxing

For 71 years, James J. Braddock was the only fighter known as the "Cinderella Man," but now the former heavyweight champion has worthy company.

After Carlos Baldomir upset Zab Judah in New York -- Judah's hometown -- to win the welterweight world championship in January, Baldomir's handlers at Sycuan Ringside Promotions took to calling him "Cinderella Man," too. A modern-day version, anyway.

The nickname couldn't have fit Baldomir any better than a comfortable boxing glove.

The movie that chronicled Braddock's rise from dirt-poor journeyman trying to support his family on meager purses and odd jobs to his monumental upset of heavyweight champion Max Baer in 1935 had come out six months before Baldomir met Judah.

Braddock's rise was the ultimate rags-to-riches story. It is one Baldomir replicated almost to a T so many years later.

"When I saw [the movie], I couldn't wait to tell Carlos, 'You have to see this. I want to see what your thoughts are,'" said Sycuan's Scott Woodworth. "As soon as he saw the movie, he came back and told us, 'This is my life. This is how I lived.' He's the Cinderella Man."

Baldomir has embraced his new nickname.

"There are a lot of things similar between my life and the real 'Cinderella Man,'" he said. "That's the reason why they call me that."

Baldomir will try to keep his unlikely run going -- he also upset Arturo Gatti in July -- when he meets pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. But even if Baldomir can't pull the upset hat trick, it won't diminish boxing's feel-good story of 2006.

He's certainly confident that he will win.

"I am strong," Baldomir said. "I wasn't able to knock Judah out because he kept holding on the whole time. This guy, he's fast, but I will be able to knock him out. I'll be throwing punches throughout the whole fight and I will know when I hurt him. If I do hurt him, he will end up going down."

Baldomir's rise was as unexpected as Mayweather's was seemingly ordained.

Mayweather was born to be a champion. He grew up in the gym. His father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., fought Sugar Ray Leonard. His uncle, Roger Mayweather, won two major world championships.

"I don't think there's ever been a boxer that was being groomed to be a boxer like Floyd Mayweather Jr.," Hall of Fame trainer and HBO analyst Emanuel Steward said.

Mayweather likes to talk about how his father put baby boxing gloves on him the day he came home from the hospital.

"When I was a kid, I punched everything," Mayweather said. "I used to punch the doorknob for so long, it would come loose."

His career path was obvious. He became a decorated amateur and received an Olympic bronze medal in 1996. Two years later, he became junior lightweight world champion by easily defeating the No. 1 fighter in the division, Genaro Hernandez.

Mayweather (36-0, 24 KOs) would add belts from three more divisions -- lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight -- to his growing collection while assuming the lofty perch of No. 1 fighter in the world.

Aside from a close first fight with Jose Luis Castillo, Mayweather has been almost flawless as a professional.

He's also been well-paid for his fights, earning millions per bout for the past several years, thanks to a lucrative contract with HBO.

And Mayweather enjoys talking about his taste for the finer things in life. He'll tell you about his Las Vegas mansion -- the one with 10 bathrooms -- and about his seven cars that range from a 2006 Bentley GT to a 2006 Ferrari to a 2006 Rolls-Royce Phantom. Guess he'll be back for a new batch in 2007, right?

Baldomir (43-9-6, 13 KOs) couldn't be more different, although his unlikely path to the top is about to intersect with Mayweather's.

Baldomir grew up in poverty in Santa Fe, Argentina, the same city that produced all-time great middleweight champion Carlos Monzon, who died in a car crash in 1995.

"We were very humble, very poor," Baldomir said. "My father sold feather dusters in the streets and we lived on what he earned."

Monzon was a hero to the nation, and particularly in Santa Fe. As a child during Monzon's 1970s title reign, Baldomir did what everyone else did when he fought: He watched and dreamed of being like him.

"When Monzon fought, my relatives and friends would all gather, like 50 or 60 together in a house, and we would watch the fight," said Baldomir, who began boxing when he was 13. "And that's what made me want to become a fighter, watching Monzon fight. I said, 'That's what I want to do. I want to be like this guy.'"

Unlike Mayweather's pro debut, Baldomir's in 1993 came with no fanfare. Although he dreamed of being like Monzon, the stark reality was that he boxed because he was in desperate need of money to support his wife and their four children.

"It didn't go well for me in the beginning," said Baldomir, who sometimes would take fights without training at all.

He would simply show up on fight night and box the best he could.

"Carlos had all those losses when he wasn't training properly," said Javier Zapata, who began managing Baldomir a few years into his pro career. "When he started training good, he started winning. Sometimes you have to struggle in the early part of your career. Then you change things and you become a winner. That's the key."

Once Baldomir began to take boxing more seriously, he started to win more consistently, especially after starting to train with Argentine icon Amilcar Brusa, who had also trained Monzon.

"I am reminded of Monzon's greatness every day in the gym because my trainer was Monzon's trainer and teacher," Baldomir said. "Monzon was a legend and so is [84-year-old] Amilcar."

The pairing worked. It's been almost eight years since Baldomir's last defeat, an eight-round decision to Alberto Cortes in Argentina on Dec. 11, 1998. Since then, Baldomir is 19-0-2, including a victory against Cortes in their rematch, the unanimous decision against Judah and the ninth-round destruction of Gatti.

Baldomir's improvement came "basically because from 1999 to 2006 I just trained much harder," he said. "I dedicated myself much more and I took it more seriously."

He fought all over the world, traveling to eight countries on four continents looking for an opportunity to better his family's life.

"When I get in the ring and fight, I am doing it for my family," he said. "Every punch I take is for my wife and kids, so that they never have to have the life that I had growing up."

Finally, in May 2005, the still-anonymous Baldomir outpointed Miguel Rodriguez in Chicago in a title elimination fight on the undercard of the heavyweight title bout between Lamon Brewster and Andrew Golota. The victory earned him the January fight with Judah, who already was looking ahead to fighting Mayweather in April.

A distracted Judah was no match for a fit and prepared Baldomir, a massive underdog who nearly knocked out Judah and won the decision. He said he never had a doubt he would win, even if the rest of the world gave him virtually no chance.

"I was very confident because I knew that Judah was making a mistake," Baldomir said. "He was thinking about Mayweather and not me."

Then came the Gatti fight -- and another upset.

"Going into the Gatti fight, everybody said that the Judah fight was a fluke, that Zab overlooked our guy," said Sycuan's Glenn Quiroga. "Ask Arturo Gatti how much a fluke it was. And after that fight, people said we won because Gatti was getting old. So now, what will be the excuse after the Mayweather fight? These naysayers might want to start brainstorming their excuses now, because our guy is coming."

Their guy is also getting richer than he could have imagined. When he fought Judah, Baldomir made $100,000, his biggest purse to that point. As champion, Baldomir earned more than $1 million to defend against Gatti, another fighter he beat on his home turf, this time in Atlantic City, N.J.

Although Baldomir won't make close to the $8 million Mayweather will earn, his $1.5 million-plus purse to fight Mayweather in his hometown still will be his biggest ever.

Talk about rags to riches. Baldomir has come light-years from the days when he sold feather dusters to make ends meet, like his father had. Sometimes, Baldomir even brought a batch of dusters to the small arenas where he fought in Argentina. He tried to sell them to the crowd after he fought.

"I would dream about boxing when I was selling door-to-door," he said. "I would be walking and I would see fancy homes and nice cars and would think to myself, 'If I ever made it, I would buy myself that new car or that house.'"

For a time, Baldomir actually made more money selling the feather dusters than he did fighting. Money was very tight.

"They would cut my power off. My children only ate meat once a week," he said. "I was never fully dedicated to training. I had to work and I was making more working than what I earned boxing."

Selling feather dusters was not very lucrative, either.

"Each [handmade] duster cost between 10 and 15 U.S. dollars in Argentina," he said. "Argentina doesn't have a strong economy. It's hard to sell. It was really hard to sell the dusters. To tell you the truth, I don't want to sell a duster again in my life. I really don't want to think about it. But when I step into the ring, I remember the times when I was selling dusters, and that really is a motivation not to lose."

"Cinderella Man" is motivated to keep the clock from striking midnight.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.