Michael “Little Hands of Stone” Carbajal – the Ultimate Warrior! - Interview
Interview by Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Aug 18, 2009)    
It was a special night of boxing at the Atlantic City Convention Center on February 24, 1989. It would be a night to remember in many ways. There would be seven 4 round bouts underneath an anticipated main event. In the feature bout was the champion Iran “The Blade” Barkley of New York defending the WBC middleweight title he won six months previously while cut badly and behind on points knocked out Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns. His challenger, the legendary former WBC/WBA lightweight, WBC welterweight and WBA light middleweight champion Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran of Panama who was gunning for his fourth divisional title. Barkley was knocked down in the 11th round in what Ring Magazine would call “the 1989 Fight of the Year” as Duran won the title by split decision!

On the undercard making their debut were two Olympic teammates who would be future world champions. In the opening bout was Ray “Merciless” Mercer who would later win the WBO heavyweight title. In another bout was Kennedy McKinney who would later become the IBF super bantamweight champion. Another Olympic team member on the card was Andrew Maynard who would later challenge for the WBC cruiserweight title.

In the bout before the main event were two fighters who would also become world champions. In one corner was Will “Steel Will” Grigsby 1-0 (1), who would become the IBF light flyweight champion, making his second appearance in the pro ranks. In the other corner from Phoenix, Arizona, was the one they called Manitas DePiedra, “Little Hands of Stone”, who was a silver medalist in the 1988 Olympics, Michael Carbajal! “My favorite fighter was Roberto Duran,” said Carbajal. Little did those at ringside know that night it would be the making of the “Ultimate Warrior” who seventeen months later would win the IBF light flyweight title in his 15th fight! “I knocked Grigsby down in the 4th round to win the decision,” said Carbajal.

“My father taught me how to box at the age of 6, but wouldn’t let me have my first fight until I was 13 or 14,” said Carbajal. Carbajal was the national Golden Gloves champion in 1986 and the silver medalist in the 1987 Pan American Games. In the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, he defeated hometown favorite Oh Kwang Soo in the first round. He had lost to Soo in 1987. He would defeat a Vietnamese fighter in the next round and then the Canadian Scotty Olson whom he would fight years later as a pro. Then he defeated the Hungarian and in the finals lost to a Bulgarian. Those at ringside said along with Roy Jones, Jr., they were the two worst decisions of the Olympics. He would end up with a 94-9 amateur record.

Carbajal would go on to win his first 14 fights, 8 by knockout, while capturing the NABF title in his 12th fight. The stage was set at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, in Phoenix, where their hometown favorite would challenge the IBF light flyweight world champion Muangchai Kittikasem, 11-0 (7), of Thailand, making his 4th title defense. It was a wild fight with the champion hitting the canvas four times before the bout was stopped in the 7th round at 0:14 declaring a new world champion in Carbajal! “He was the hardest puncher I ever met and that includes Humberto Gonzalez,” said Carbajal. “His jab was like a right hand,” he added. This was July 29, 1990. Five months later Kittikasem would move up to flyweight and capture the WBC title.

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, told Ring magazine that Carbajal would be the first junior flyweight to earn one million dollars for one fight. That would come true in his 28th fight in making his 7th title defense. Prior to that Carbajal would knock out Leon Salazar of Panama and Macario Santos of Mexico. In his 3rd defense he won a 12 round decision over Javier Varguez of Mexico on St. Patricks Day in 1991. “He was a tough fighter,” said Carbajal. Title defense wins over Hector Luis Patri of Argentina, Marcos Pacheco of Mexico and a knockout over Robinson Cuesta of Panama would follow.

This set the stage as Gonzalez, 36-1 (28), would be defending his WBC title and Carbajal, 27-0 (15), his IBF title in a unification match at the Hilton Hotel, in Las Vegas, on March 13, 1993. This would be the first time a light flyweight world title bout would be shown as the main event of a Pay PerView fight card. There were approximately 20,000 fans at the event in the parking lot.

In the 2nd round a right hand sent Carbajal to the canvas for a short count. “The first knockdown was a flash knockdown,” said Carbajal. In the 3rd Carbajal was starting to land harder punches, but had a cut over an eye. The 4th and 5th rounds were fought at a furious pace until another right hand dropped Carbajal. “I was hurt by that second knockdown,” said Carbajal. He was able to get through the round. In the 6th round it was Carbajal who was landing more punches with Gonzalez suffering swelling around the eyes. Behind on all scorecards 58-54 going into the 7th round Carbajal knew he had to turn this fight around in order to win. A right uppercut had Gonzalez out on his feet. He followed with a hard left that put Gonzalez on his back for the count. “I think he punched himself out,” said Carbajal. This would earn Carbajal Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year award for 1993.

“My next fight I stopped the 1988 flyweight Gold medalist Kwang Sun Kim,” said Carbajal. This was followed by stopping Dominican Domingo Sosa in Phoenix at the end of 1993. This would set the stage for the Gonzalez rematch in February of 1994 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood. Gonzalez decided not to make this fight a war like their first fight and won a split decision to regain the WBC/IBF titles. “I really thought I was robbed in this fight,” said Carbajal. It was his first loss after 30 victories.

Two fights later Carbajal would gain the WBO light flyweight title almost shutting out the champion Josue Camacho, of Puerto Rico, in July of 1994 in Phoenix. In November the rubber match would be made in Mexico City with Gonzalez. “He ran the entire fight and the people in Mexico do not like it even when it’s one of their fighters and let him know it,” said Carbajal. Carbajal would lose by majority decision.

Carbajal would win his next seven fights from April of 1995 until March of 1996 when he met Melchor Cob Castro, for the vacant IBF light flyweight title in March of 1996 in Las Vegas. “This was not a tough fight, but Castro could really take a punch,” said Carbajal. He would regain the title and make title defenses by knockout over Julio Coronel of Colombia and Tomas Rivera of Mexico. In January of 1997 he would lose his title to Colombian Mauricio Pastrana by split decision in Las Vegas. “He fought a good fight and he had me wobbled in the 3rd round,” said Carbajal.

Two months later Carbajal had his rematch with Olson, whom he beat in the 1988 Olympics. “I stopped him with a body shot in the 10th round,” said Carbajal. This was for the IBA light flyweight title. In July of 1997 he would have a problem making weight. “After the weigh-in I drank three 12 ounce protein drinks hoping to regain my strength. They only slowed me down,” said Carbajal. The fight was stopped on cuts in the 9th round, losing to South African Jacob Matala. “I should have stayed inside instead of boxing him,” said Carbajal.

“I was off for nineteen months and knew I didn’t want to end my career like that,” said Carbajal. He came back in 1999 and won three fights including the WBO Latino super flyweight title in Tucson on July 2nd. At the end of the month he would have his final bout against the 20 year old WBO light flyweight champion Jorge Arce of Mexico, in Baja California, Mexico. Well behind on points going into the 11th round, Carbajal landed a right hand stopping the champion and regaining the title he once held. Arce would win his next 26 fights, 23 by knockout, including winning the WBC light flyweight title. “I knew it was my last fight and that I would retire on top. I told Acre not to quit,” said Carbajal. “He hit me with a punch I have never felt before or after,” said Acre recently.

I told Carbajal when I was in Phoenix in 1992 that I saw him on television handing out turkey dinners to the poor at a local church. “That was a long time ago. God has given me pure love,” said Carbajal. “Without that you are nothing,” he added.

In his 53 fights, of which he won 49, 33 by knockout, Carbajal had been unbeaten in all 15 appearances in Arizona. In 2006 he and Gonzalez together entered the IHOF in Canastota, New York. “We had three great fights. We put on a show and showed that the little guys could hit as hard as the heavyweights, both of us,” said Carbajal. He wept as he received his award. “I thank my good friend Michael Carbajal. We had three great fights,” said Gonzalez. Upon receiving their Hall of Fame rings the two fighters embraced.

Today, Carbajal still runs the 9th Street Gym in Phoenix and lives with his fiance Laura Hall, Executive Director of the Laura Hall A-S-P-I-R-E Foundation. Hall has helped him uncover some of the reasons for his financial failings that came to light in 2007. He has brought suit against his brother Danny and his daughters Josephine and Celia Carbajal. He claims they have caused him to become impoverished and not have access to his property. He claims they have forged his name on checks and documents. Carbajal’s ring earnings were at least $7 million dollars. The hardest thing for Carbajal to understand is he would have given his brother Danny anything he wanted for the asking. One thing Michael Carbajal has never ducked and that is a fight. Today, he is fighting to get back what is rightfully his.

I can still see that 108 pound ultimate warrior with the red band tied around his head as he entered the ring with his trainer/brother Danny, as I waited for the fireworks to begin! Michael Carbajal paved the way for all the lower weight boxers who followed him! Long live the biggest little man of the ring, “Little Hands of Stone”!

Ken at: kenhissner@yahoo.com

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