Entering the bout, Carbajal was a perfect 27-0, with 15 KO’s, while Gonzalez was coming in as the more experienced fighter at 35-1, with 25 KO’s.
By Bill Tibbs
It’s hard to believe this classic was over 27 years ago this past month. It was a matchup of the big, little men in boxing. One very popular Mexican/American and one very popular Mexican in a light flyweight battle of heavyweight proportions; the fight would be the first, and best, of an eventual trilogy.
It was Michael “Manitas De Piedra” Carbajal going against Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez. Carbajal’s nickname translates into “Little Hands of Stone” (referencing the great Roberto Duran) and this would certainly play out later on in the fight.
Entering the bout, Carbajal was a perfect 27-0, with 15 KO’s, while Gonzalez was coming in as the more experienced fighter at 35-1, with 25 KO’s. Both fighters had earned a well-deserved reputation as an action fighter who regularly engaged in great fights, and this one didn’t disappoint.
Michael, fresh off the Olympics, had turned pro in 1989 and racked up a perfect 25-0. He had also won the IBF light flyweight title in 1993 and had made 5 title defences. Gonzalez, turned pro to much less fanfare in 1984 and by 1989 was the WBC light flyweight champion with a record of 24-0. He defended that title 5 times before losing it to Rolando Pascua in Inglewood, California in December of 1990. However, by June of 1991, he had his title back and would make 4 defences of the title before he was to meet Carbajal.
The Fight: While lighter weight fighters were generally respected in the industry, they didn’t command the attention of the glamour divisions like lightweight, welterweight, middleweight or the coveted heavyweight division. Usually buried in a support role to a bigger fight, (literally and figuratively), this one would take centre stage this night in Las Vegas. Carbajal, who had garnered a huge following in his native Arizona, would come in as the popular house fighter. However, Gonzalez, who also had a following among Mexican fight fans, had his share of supporters.
The fight played out as a give and take affair with the shorter Gonzalez working hard to the body and looking to put his combinations together when he got in close. These combinations would come into play in rounds 2 and 5 when Gonzalez was able to deposit the taller Carbajal on the canvas with great combinations from his short, southpaw stance. Heading into the middle of the fight, both fighters had landed some hard shots and both fighters had been effectively aggressive. However, the two knockdowns would certainly play a part in the scoring if the fight was to go the distance.
While Gonzalez had success earlier, Carbajal had been fighting his way back into the bout and was doing a lot of damage. In the 7th round, Carbajal, was doing well on the inside landing hard shots to the head and body. The much shorter Gonzalez loved the in-fighting but it would prove costly. Gonzalez, who was coming in hard to fight the taller Carbajal in close, got caught with a perfect left hook that laid him out on the canvas, and he couldn’t beat the count.
Carbajal had come back to stop him and leapt into his handlers’ arms as bedlam ensued in the ring. As announcer Al Bernstein said, “This has to be the fight of the year”. It certainly was.
The Aftermath: The two fighters would meet twice more, a year later in February of ’94 and then in November of that same year. But, sometimes you can’t relive a once-great moment. The rematch fight, another good bout, was a SD loss for Carbajal. Then, their 3rd (and last) fight was another win for Gonzalez; this time by majority decision.
Gonzalez, who won the title back in the 2nd bout with Carbajal would go on to defend it 3 times (including the third Carbajal bout) and then retire after losing in his 4th defence in the spring of 1995. The Hall of Fame bound fighter would leave the game as one of the most respected lighter weight fighters in the sport of boxing.
For Carbajal, he would defend the title 2 times before losing it to Gonzalez in the rematch. He would then win the WBO light flyweight title in the fight before his third Gonzalez loss. Next, he strung 7 wins together before winning the IBF light flyweight title in the spring of 1996. He would defend that title 2 times before losing to little known (but underrated) Mauricio Pastrana in January of 1997.
After that he would go 4-1 over his next 5 fights before taking one last kick at the crown. He had always said he wanted to win back the world title and then retire. And he did! In the summer of 1999, he stopped fast rising Mexican star Jorge Arce to win the WBO light flyweight title. After the fight he retired, never to return to the ring; Michael Carbajal retired a world champion.
Sadly, after his career in the ring ended, he faced a lot of legal strife over the loss of most of his career ring earnings that had, apparently, been absconded by his brother/manager Danny Carbajal. This was devastating news and a sad end to an outstanding career. Michael had made some good money in boxing and earned, and deserved, every cent of it.
This fight, along with the second that followed, really shone a light on the smaller weight fighters and brought much needed attention to the lighter weight divisions. In that sense they really helped to move the smaller fighters into the spotlight in the modern era.
Carbajal still runs “Michael Carbajal’s 9th Street Gym” in Phoenix, Arizona. The gym, a converted church, is right across the street from the house he grew up in where he still lives today.
In speaking to Carbajal recently, he still carried himself with the same class and dignity that he did throughout his career as a humble, respectful champion. “My late father always told me that regardless of my rise to fame, and success, remain humble, and that I did”, he said. In referencing some of his past difficulties, Carbajal said, “It is never the adversity but how you handle the adversity”, he said. “I was always a true champion and I always win, Hall of Fame style”, he said.
Michael and Humberto – thank you for a great trilogy and for kicking it off with one of boxing’s truly memorable fights on March 3, 1993.
Speaking of champions… This article is dedicated to the memory of New York trainer and cutman Bob Jackson who sadly passed recently. Bob, who ran the Gramercy Gym in New York with legendary cutman Al Gavin, worked with numerus outstanding pro’s and amateurs throughout his years in boxing.
Many notable boxing figures took to social media to remember their friend.
“I remember him from my Gleason’s Gym days in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Bob was a good man. Was always there for a word of advice or to lend a helping hand. RIP” – Paulie Malignaggi
“Salute to a gentle man and a good fight guy. RIP, Bob Jackson” – Bruce Trampler
“It’s with great sadness, we say goodbye to one of the pillars of the Gleason’s Gym family. Bob Jackson wasn’t just a trainer or a mentor, he was one of those rare folks who made everyone around him better. Better boxers and better people. We will miss you, old friend” – Bruce Silverglade.
“Rest in peace and power, Bob” – Lou DiBella
"For the second time in days, I lost a friend, and so has boxing. Bob Jackson passed away today. I first met Bob in the 70’s. Cus D’Amato had given his Gramercy Gym in New York City to Bob and Al Gavin and I would bring fighters down from Catskill to spar. Cus trusted very few people and he trusted Bob. So did I. Will miss you” – Teddy Atlas.
Rest in peace, Bob.