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Interview with Carlos Ortiz: "If I could box today, I would!"

Mar 15, 2004 
Carlos Ortiz learned how to fight early in life, in the streets. He turned pro at the age of 18 in 1955, and won his first twenty fights before becoming a world champion in 1959, avenging an earlier defeat to Kenny Lane by second round knockout. He would go on to win another world title in 1962, defeating Joe Brown, and went on to make four successful defenses of that crown, and then losing the title to Ismael Laguna in 1965. He would defeat Laguna in a rematch, regaining the title, and make five defenses. Ortiz retired in 1969, but made a comeback in 1971, winning nine straight fights, and was then halted in six rounds by Ken Buchanan in his last fight.

Ortiz, the former junior welterweight champion and one of the greatest lightweight champions who ever lived, graciously sat down to talk to Doghouse Boxing about his career and what he has been doing recently. This is what he had to say:

DB: How did you get involved in boxing?

It’s a long story. I got into a little trouble, I did something mischievous and the police department caught me. I was about 10, 11 years old. They brought me up to this little dark room in Macy’s, the famous store. They scared the shit out of me by threatening to take me to my mother. I was more afraid of my mother than the police. They told me that if I didn’t join a boys club or the PAL, that it would be very bad for me. The following day, I went to the Madison Square Boys Club, which was a block away from where I lived. I went inside and waited in line after school, but I didn’t have any money to join the club.

They sent me over to the manager, his name was Reilly, and he asked me what the problem was. In my broken English I told him I got into trouble with the police and that I had to join the boys club but I didn’t have any money. He said it was 25 cents a month, which at that time was all the money in the world. He told me he would let me in if I would give one cent or two a day that I came in, to prove that I wanted to get out of the streets.

I started working in the street to gain the money for the dues. Mr. Reilly was such a beautiful person, a nice man, and he showed me the boys club. It was big, about four floors, and had a lot of rooms for basketball, billiards, a movie theater…it was beautiful. He took me upstairs to the gym where the kids were playing basketball, which I didn’t really take to. Then, all of a sudden, there was a noise in the beyond that I heard, it was the sound of the light bag. When I heard that noise, it mesmerized me. What a beautiful noise, I thought. I told Mr. Reilly, ‘why don’t you take me where that noise is?’ He took me up to the mezzanine, and I saw this kid punching the light bag, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

It was something I had never seen before, and right away I wanted to learn how to punch that bag, because the noise got to me. Two days later I came back, and the trainer asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted to learn how to punch that bag. He showed me how to punch the bag, and little by little I got the hang of it. So I decided, ‘I’m coming back,’ because the noise, the rhythm of that bag got to me. I went to the gym for another week, and then I started to like the way the kids were boxing and training. I said, ‘this is beautiful.’ The trainer asked me if I wanted to learn how to box, and that was the time of my life. I said, ‘yes, yes!’ He started training me, and from that day on, it was history! It was like tasting a piece of pie, or a scoop of ice cream, and the taste is still here, fifty years later!

DB: How did it feel to win your first world championship?

There’s no way to explain the feeling of winning a fight, never mind winning a title. It was the most surprising thing in my life. I had been waiting for such a long time to get a title shot, that when I got it, I just couldn’t believe it. I was so surprised that I didn’t think it was real. This was my first title shot against Kenny Lane, after spending four or five years ranked at number one, and I just couldn’t believe it. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, winning the junior welterweight title. I have three greatest moments of my career: starting boxing, winning the junior welterweight championship of the world, and then, to top it off, winning the lightweight championship from Joe Brown, one of the greatest fighters who ever lived.

DB: What was the toughest fight for you?

My toughest fight was probably not in boxing. Getting out of poverty and out of the street was my toughest fight. The streets are like a magnet, and they keep you and swallow you. It was tough getting out of the streets, but when I met boxing, this great sport, that topped it off. I think boxing was more powerful than the streets, because I stayed there for 22 years. It was the right thing for me to do…thank God that I didn’t get hurt, and I became one of the best, so they say. I was glad that day that I went to Macy’s and got sent to the gym, because that probably saved my life. If I could box now, I would, but I’m too old! (laughs)

DB: I’ve been told a story that you actually came into a fight drunk once. What was that like?

Well, I don’t think that was the right thing to do. I had a bad habit. It was my last hurrah, and I had been champion for a long time and I got into things I shouldn’t have gotten into, and a habit formed that I couldn’t get rid of. That’s the worst thing, once you acquire something into your body, it’s very tough to get it out. Thank God that I was able to withstand the pressure, I was used to the pressure of life. It was a tough battle, but I won. Today I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do anything that’s going to harm my body, because that’s the only body I have. I’m close to 68 years old, and my body is as strong as ever. I’m not going to let anything get between me and my body.

DB: How did it feel to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York?

(Laughs) That’s the most beautiful question. The Hall of Fame, how do you feel? You can’t describe it. A little kid comes from Puerto Rico to the United States, not knowing what the heck is going to happen. One day you’re up there, getting this reward, they’re putting you into the boxing hall of fame. Being the first Puerto Rican to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is amazing. It’s laughable, because you never think that could happen. I’ll never forget that day, and I’ve never missed one year since that day. It’s the glory of my life, and I always feel that magnetism when I go there that draws me to that place, saying ‘Carlos, this is where you belong.’ It’s one of the greatest moments of my life.

DB: What are you doing these days?

I’m very young at heart, but I’m sad to say I can’t do too much today because I’m getting old. Boxing takes a lot out of you. You have to have a strong body for boxing, and if you are in boxing for 15 or 20 years, that’s a lot of pressure on your body, and sooner or later you’ll start to feel it. I’m happy today, people know me, they know more about me than they did before, and I love it. I’m traveling, going to the movies, going dancing, and enjoying myself.

DB: Who are some of your favorite boxers of the past and of today?

You know something, I’ve never had a favorite in my life. I was never a fan of anyone. I was a fan, I guess, of Carlos Ortiz. (laughs) And I’m still that way today. I used to love Joe Louis when I first saw him fight, my father brought me to see Louis fight Jersey Joe Walcott. Imagine me getting to meet Joe Louis about five or six years after that, it was tremendous. I’m not really a follower of boxing today. I like boxing, when I go to see a fight, I watch styles, professionals. Today, I don’t see much of that. I see the fights, but not as much as I used to.

DB: Anything you’d like to add in closing?

I’d just like to say thank you, and anytime you need a punch in the nose, just let me know. (laughs)

DB: (Laughing) I’ll certainly do that. Thanks for your time, Mr. Ortiz.

Carlos ORTIZ

Professional Record:
70 fights; 61+ (30 KO), 1=, 8-
1959-1960: World Junior Welterweight
1962-1965: World Lightweight
1965-1968: World Lightweight
- 1955 -
+ (Feb-14-1955, New York) Harry Bell ko 1
+ (Feb-28-1955, New York) Morris Hodnett ko 1
+ (May-13-1955, New York) Danny Roberts kot 3
+ (May-30-1955, New York) Juan Pacheco kot 2
+ (Jun-24-1955, Syracuse) Jimmy De Mura 6
+ (Aug-10-1955, New York) Tony De Cola 6
+ (Aug-22-1955, New York) Armand Bush 6
+ (Sep-19-1955, New York) Hector Rodriguez 6
+ (Oct-3-1955, New York) Leroy Graham ko 2
+ (Oct-29-1955, Boston) Al Duarte kot 4
+ (Nov-12-1955, Boston) Lem Miller 8
+ (Dec-10-1955, Paterson) Charley TITONE kot 2
- 1956 -
+ (Jan-9-1956, New York) Ray Portilla 8
+ (Feb-17-1956, New York) Ray Portilla 8
+ (May-25-1956, New York) Johnny GORMAN 6
+ (Jul-30-1956, New York) Tommy Salem 10
+ (Oct-27-1956, Hollywood) Mickey Northrup 10
+ (Dec-15-1956, Hollywood) Philip Kim kot 9
+ (Dec-31-1956, New York) Gale KERWIN 10
- 1957 -
+ (Jan-23-1957, Chicago) Bobby Rogers 10
- (Mar-2-1957, Hollywood) Lou Filippo disq.9
+ (Apr-9-1957, Hollywood) Lou Filippo kot 7
+ (May-29-1957, Chicago) Felix CHIOCCA 10
+ (Sep-7-1957, Miami Beach) Ike Vaughn 10
+ (Sep-23-1957, New York) Harry Bell 10
- 1958 -
+ (Feb-28-1958, New York) Tommy TIBBS 10
+ (May-9-1958, Hollywood) Joey LOPES 10
- (Jun-27-1958, New York) Johnny BUSSO 10
+ (Sep-19-1958, New York) Johnny BUSSO 10
+ (Oct-28-1958, London) Dave CHARNLEY 10
- (Dec-31-1958, Miami Beach) Kenny LANE 10
- 1959 -
+ (Apr-13-1959, Philadelphia) Len MATTHEWS kot 6
+ (Jun-12-1959, New York) Kenny LANE injury 2 (World, Junior welterweight)
- 1960 -
+ (Feb-4-1960, Los Angeles) Raymundo Torres ko 10 (World, Junior welterweight)
+ (Jun-15-1960, San Francisco) Duilio LOI 15 (World, Junior welterweight)
- (Sep-1-1960, Milan) Duilio LOI 15 (World, Junior welterweight)
- 1961 -
+ (Feb-2-1961, Los Angeles) Cisco ANDRADE 10
- (May-10-1961, Milan) Duilio LOI 15 (World, Junior welterweight)
+ (Sep-2-1961, Miami Beach) Doug Vaillant 10
+ (Nov-18-1961, New York) Paolo ROSI 10
- 1962 -
+ (Apr-21-1962, Las Vegas) Joe BROWN 15 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Aug-1-1962, Manille) Arthur Persley 10
+ (Nov-7-1962, Tokyo) Kazuo Takayama 10
+ (Dec-3-1962, Tokyo) Teruo Kosaka ko 5 (World, Lightweight)
- 1963 -
+ (Apr-7-1963, San Juan) Doug Vaillant kot 13 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Sep-18-1963, Honolulu) Pete Acera kot 7
+ (Oct-22-1963, London) Maurice CULLEN 10
- 1964 -
+ (Feb-15-1964, Manille) Gabriel Flash ELORDE kot 14 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Apr-11-1964, San Juan) Kenny LANE 15 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Dec-14-1964, Boston) Dick Divola ko 1
- 1965 -
- (Apr-10-1965, Panama City) Ismael LAGUNA 15 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Nov-13-1965, San Juan) Ismael LAGUNA 15 (World, Lightweight)
- 1966 -
= (Apr-7-1966, Buenos-Aires) Nicolino LOCHE 10
+ (Jun-20-1966, Pittsburgh) Johnny Bizzarro kot 12 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Oct-22-1966, Mexico City) Ultiminio Ramos injury 5 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Nov-28-1966, New York) Gabriel Flash ELORDE ko 14 (World, Lightweight)
- 1967 -
+ (Jul-1-1967, San Juan) Sugar Ultiminio RAMOS kot 4 (World, Lightweight)
+ (Aug-16-1967, New York) Ismael LAGUNA 15 (World, Lightweight)
- 1968 -
- (Jun-29-1968, San Domingo) Carlos Teo Cruz 15 (World, Lightweight)
- 1969 -
+ (Nov-21-1969, New York) Edmundo Leite 10
- 1970: inactive -
- 1971 -
+ (Dec-1-1971, Las Vegas) Jimmy Liggon ko 3
- 1972 -
+ (Jan-8-1972, Miami Beach) Bill Whittenburg ko 7
+ (Jan-20-1972, Portland) Terry Rondeau kot 4
+ (Jan-31-1972, Waltham) Ivelaw Eastman kot 2
+ (Feb-19-1972, San Juan) Leo Di Fiore ko 2
+ (Mar-20-1972, Ponce) Junior Varney ko 2
+ (May-1-1972, Los Angeles) Greg Potter 10
+ (Jun-3-1972, Chicago) Gerardo Ferrat kot 3
+ (Aug-1-1972, Oklahoma City) Johnny Copeland ko 3
- (Sep-20-1972, New York) Ken BUCHANAN retiring 6

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