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Original Issue

Gored by a sagging bull

Weak from making weight, Mando Ramos still hooked hard enough to keep his lightweight title from Pedro Carrasco, a sometime matador

Mando Ramos, a star-crossed fighter whose luck over the past few years has been consistently bad, had mixed fortune last Friday night in Los Angeles. He won one version of the lightweight championship of the world—and then got roundly booed by viewers who had been seduced by his opponent's pitty-pat punches.

Ramos walloped Pedro Carrasco of Spain for most of the 15 rounds, yet was given only a split decision when one nearsighted judge scored the fight eight rounds to five for Carrasco, a spidery fighter with a feather punch and unlimited courage. Carrasco kept his left hand in Ramos' face most of the night, but with no more authority than if he had been using a powder puff to prepare Ramos for a TV appearance.

Mando, on the other hand, scored often with long and jarring left jabs and shook Carrasco in several rounds with smart right-hand crosses that slowed the Spaniard but never discouraged him. At the end of the fight Carrasco had a puffy, discolored left eye; Ramos' tender eyes, recently relieved of scar tissue by plastic surgery, were swollen but he never once took a punch that remotely disturbed him.

Unfortunately, Ramos is a natural welterweight. For several days before the Carrasco bout he was struggling to get down to the 135-pound weight limit, and finally he had to take off two pounds on the morning of the fight, a process that left him weak and too tired to eat. Had he been at full strength, there is little doubt that he would have knocked Carrasco out, as he nearly did in Madrid last November.

"My problem is water," he said. "I got to drink lots of water, always. If I don't drink all that water, I can make the weight. I know I had Carrasco in trouble over and over again, but I didn't have the zip to take him out."

Early in the fight Ramos fired a series of left hooks to the belly to bring Carrasco's guard down, then shifted to the head and puffed Carrasco's right ear with the same left hooks. Later on he banged Carrasco with a short, smarting right cross to the head and once, in the 13th round, when Carrasco was beginning to flag, he hit the Spaniard with three fine right hands and a flailing left hook, any one of which might have meant the end had Mando this night been a stronger man. But Carrasco is an amateur bullfighter in Spain and he fought Ramos with all the bravery his avocation implies, despite his modest armament.

After the fight Carrasco emerged from the shower, his midriff still pink from the early body punches, his eye swollen. "The public knows who won the fight," he said in Spanish, "but I would not mind fighting Ramos again. I think I am the better fighter. I won on a bad decision in Madrid. He won a bad one here. Now we fight somewhere else to see who is the better of us."

No doubt the two will fight again, because this was a lovely, ferocious battle between a bull and a matador, and if the bull won this time there is always the chance that in the next outing the matador's skill will prevail.

Carrasco is wonderfully able, a picture fighter in the model of the best of the Europeans, reminiscent of Nino Benvenuti at the top of his clever game. There surely will be only one rematch, however, since Ramos has come along so fast, in size and attitude. If he maintains his new straight-arrow image and continues to train as seriously as he has lately, it is not inconceivable that he can also win the welter and middleweight championships in the years to come. In the years just past—young and irrepressible years for Ramos—he squandered his fine natural talent. He was one of those early maturers physically, and maybe too much was expected of him too soon. Friday, with the crowd booing him, it was obvious that at least he was growing up, a process that may have begun after the first fight in Madrid.

From all accounts, that was a fight. Ramos put Carrasco down either four, five or six times, depending upon who is telling the story, and he did most of that damage after being deprived of his best punch, a left hook to the liver.

"I knocked him down in the first round with a left hook to the head," Ramos said last Thursday. He was sitting in the small, cluttered living room of his apartment in Long Beach, fending off the advances of his 2-year-old son, Mando Jr. "Carrasco said he didn't remember anything after that punch. He missed me with a left hook and I hit him good and down he went. He never hurt me in that fight."

Later on Ramos got to Carrasco with his favorite shot, the left to the liver. "It was a good hit," he said, "but the referee told me I hit him low. Carrasco bent over like I hit him low, but I didn't. I got him over the belt. He was hurt. I know he was. But when I came back to the corner, they told me to quit body punching and go to the head."

The liver, on the North American continent, is located north of the equator, or just above the belt line. The referee in Madrid was a Nigerian named Samuel Odubote and possibly he is a better referee than an anatomist, although, in view of what happened later, that seems doubtful. Odubote disqualified Ramos after the 11th round—when Mando was leading on all cards—for either pushing or throwing Carrasco to the floor; it was never clear which.

"I hit him with a left hook to the head a round or two before the time I got disqualified," Ramos said. "He fell into me and wrapped his arms around me and began to slide down to the floor. I twisted away from him so he could fall and then the referee warned me for pushing him. In the 11th I hit him again and the same thing happened. When I came out for the 12th the referee gave him the fight."

Later Carrasco, who admits being hazy after the first round, said that he did recall being hit low and hit behind the neck, things that Ramos denies. "How can he remember those shots and not the other ones I hit him?" Ramos says.

The decision was so bad it infuriated even the Spanish fans at the arena. The World Boxing Council, which had earlier vacated Ken Buchanan's lightweight title because he did not accept a bout with Carrasco, then 124-1-1 and the No. 1 challenger, obviously agreed with the fans. The WBC eventually overruled Odubote and decided that the fight was a no-decision affair. The World Boxing Association, the other and no more or less authoritative governing body, still considers Buchanan the lightweight titleholder, and the resultant confusion is only the most recent of the contretemps that have crowded an extraordinary mélange of misfortune into the short, mercurial life of Mando Ramos.

He was the child of a broken family; his father was an alcoholic and Mando was raised by his grandparents from the age of three. He quit school in the 10th grade to work in the Mexican restaurant owned by his mother and stepfather. After some years of experience he has become a fine cook, admirably preparing such dishes as beef zucchini that owe nothing to his Mexican heritage. He thinks that when he quits fighting he will go into the restaurant business.

Ramos turned pro with an altered birth certificate at 17, and by 1969, when he was a little over 20, he was the lightweight champion of the world. In the next couple of years he earned well over $200,000—and managed to spend a good deal more than that.

"I don't know where it went," he said. "Lots of bad advice, lots of bad friends. I was drinking a lot, getting into trouble all the time. Now I am through. I am through because of him"—nodding at his son—"and because I saw Raul Rojas not long ago. I remember when Raul was on top. He would call people at four in the morning, say, 'Hey, amigo, come get me.' And they came and got him. Now he's down, they don't say hello. I don't want to be like that."

Ramos went on a spectacular spree after winning his title. Not long after Mandito was born, Mando was arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana. He was arrested again for drunk driving, had his boxing license suspended and then his driver's license after he had several auto accidents. Later his wife left him and, in his own opinion, he became an alcoholic.

"Now I go to the Alcoholics Anonymous two, three times a week with my dad," he said, nuzzling Mandito, on loan from his mother. "I don't drive a car. I ride a bicycle. I don't think I will ever drive again. I'm in the best shape I've ever been. I'm serious. I want to make a lot of money fighting, pay my debts, be a big man when it's over."

Now all he has to do is convince tough characters like Pedro Carrasco and Kenny Buchanan.