By Keith Idec
Lou Duva doesn’t know what happened during the early morning hours of June 17, 1966, the night that forever altered the life of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
What Duva does know is that Carter, no mattered how it was portrayed in the Academy Award-winning film “The Hurricane,” did not beat Joey Giardello in their 15-round fight for the middleweight championship Dec. 14, 1964, in Philadelphia. Like Carter, who died Sunday at 76 after a long battle with prostate cancer, Duva is from Paterson, N.J. They knew each other well, as Carter spent most of his professional career training at a since-demolished Market Street gym in Paterson that Duva once operated.
Duva was proud that a fighter from his hometown reached such heights during boxing’s glory years, but the International Boxing Hall of Fame trainer also was Giardello’s manager. He watched the fight from a ringside seat at Convention Hall and is convinced the three judges who scored the WBA/WBC middleweight championship match for Philadelphia’s Giardello got it right.
“Joey fought his heart out, but so did Carter,” Duva, 91, said. “It was a good fight, but Joey won. He beat Carter. It was proud night for me because it seemed like I had both guys. I figured Joey would beat Carter in a good, tough fight. He did, but he had to watch himself because Carter was such a dangerous puncher.”
The intimidating, muscular Carter’s career crumbled once Giardello defeated him. He went just 7-7-1 in the 19 months following the Giardello loss. Facing three murder charges, a 29-year-old Carter’s career was abruptly cut short after a 10-round decision defeat to Argentina’s Juan Carlos Rivero on Aug. 6, 1966, in Santa Fe, Argentina.
Carter completed a brief but successful pro career with a 27-12-1 record and 19 knockouts. The Ring magazine rated him among boxing’s top 10 middleweights from August 1963 through June 1966.
“Rubin Carter was a very good fighter,” said Duva, who later worked with such legends as Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker. “He could punch like hell.”
Though Bob Dylan’s song would lead you believe Carter “could’ve been the champion of the world” had he not been imprisoned for the three murder convictions that eventually were overturned by a judge in November 1985, Carter’s career was in decline by the time the incident occurred.
He was, however, one of boxing’s most powerful punchers of his generation and thus a legitimate threat to most he fought. Henry Hascup, a noted sports historian and president of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, followed Carter’s career closely as a youngster in Paterson.
“He was a devastating puncher,” Hascup said. “He had one of the best left hooks in boxing at one time. He was a fearsome individual. He would always talk about stare-downs. When he came into the ring, he had that hood up and he looked like he was looking right through you. He scared some guys half to death, just by coming into the ring, looking like that.”
Hascup acknowledged, though, that time and Hollywood might’ve made Carter out to be a better boxer than he actually was, especially among those more familiar with the his legendary legal ordeal and Denzel Washington’s portrayal in “The Hurricane” than boxing history.
“He was good,” Hascup said. “He wasn’t great, but he was a great puncher. If you were fighting him, you would stay away from him for maybe the first four rounds, and then maybe you’d have a pretty good shot. But he beat some of the best. He did knock out Emile Griffith in 1963 and Emile Griffith was voted ‘Fighter of the Year’ that year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.”
Carter dropped Griffith twice and stopped him in the first round of their Dec. 20, 1963, fight at Pittsburgh’s Civic Center. Their fight occurred after the BWAA voted that year.
While a setback for Griffith, an eventual Hall of Famer who won welterweight and middleweight world titles, the most noteworthy win of his five-year pro career propelled Carter toward his shot at Giardello. Carter dominated eventual heavyweight contender Jimmy Ellis in his next fight two months later, and challenged Giardello 9½ months thereafter.
To read more about Carter’s career, prolonged legal battle and life after boxing and jail, use these links:
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.