Raw Shark

19-year-old Carlos Tarin possesses unrefined but devastating boxing skills. In entering the pro ranks, he'll rely on his predatory instincts--and Mexican pride--to survive.

I mean "explodes" almost literally. When Tarin throws his concussive hooks, he seems to expand, to grow bigger. He throws four to the body, and Pirtle avoids being cut in half by taking them on his arms. But this brings Pirtle's hands down, and Tarin somehow knows the opening is coming. It's a myth that a fighter sees an opening and strikes at it, because as soon as a good fighter leaves an opening, he quickly closes it. You have to strike at the opening before it appears. You have to sense that it's coming. Tarin sensed this one, and is throwing an arcing left hook over the top as Pirtle's hands come down. It nails Pirtle on the side of the head. He grabs Tarin, turns him and dances away. He's smiling, shaking his head, trying to laugh it off. But he didn't like it.

Round two. Pirtle fights cleverly in a peekaboo style, but Tarin won't let him into the fight. Pirtle lands some snappy jabs and a couple of solid hooks, but Tarin doesn't blink. Halfway through the round, Pirtle is reduced to spoiling--holding on, waltzing, roughing up in the clinches. Tarin is relentless, throwing punches all the time, his face expressionless.

Things are different in the third round. Tarin suddenly seems tired. More and more of his punches are thrown out of distance, and Pirtle is scoring with his jab. When Tarin tries to get into distance, Pirtle dances aside easily. For the first time, Tarin holds on to Pirtle. But then he opens up from the clinch, banging a couple of hooks at Pirtle's body. One of them lands, and Pirtle spends the last 10 seconds of the round clinging like a leech.

In the fourth and last round, both fighters are exhausted. Pirtle has an excuse--he's taken withering punishment. But Tarin hasn't paced himself. Even though this fight is only one round longer than the amateur distance he's used to, Tarin has all but punched himself out.

And Pirtle wants to win. Sensing his chance, he fights back hard. When he needs a rest, he ties up Tarin. Pirtle has the look of a seasoned pro--he knows how to use the ropes, how to lean on his opponent, how to use his head in the clinches. Tarin's cornermen suddenly look concerned. "Arriba!" Richard Rodriguez yells, as Tarin stands in front of Pirtle, trying to decide what to do next. Tarin's aggression is rekindled, but his punching is now more like pummeling. When the bell ends the fight, both fighters seem relieved. But Tarin doesn't look happy.

The unanimous decision goes to Tarin. Ricky Ricardo grabs him around the waist and hoists him into the air. Tarin's face still has no expression.

When Tarin leaves the ring, he walks through a line of supporters who chant his name (he'll have to win some world titles before they chant the name of his homeland). A small kid with a shaved head lectures him in Spanish.

In the barroom/dressing room, Tarin looks bemused as a reporter from a daily paper interviews Ricky Ricardo. As Ricky Ricardo answers the guy's questions, Tarin gazes into space, rubbing his head. Then he turns and starts talking to his friends.

After the reporter leaves, Ricky Ricardo and Tarin huddle in a corner together and say a prayer. "I always say a prayer for my boys," Ricky Ricardo tells me afterward. This is unsurprising. Both Rodriguezes are devoutly religious. One wall of their gymnasium is adorned with a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Ricky Ricardo prays before and after a fight. Not for victory, he says. "But just that neither of the boys gets hurt, that nobody ends up in the hospital." After the fight, he says a prayer of thanks that both winner and loser are all right.

Is he disappointed with Tarin's performance?
"No. I'm very pleased. You've got to expect ins and outs. It was his first time as a pro. He needs to run hills. I'll have him running South Mountain. He needs to strengthen his lungs. Tonight he was tired, trying to breathe for more air. . . ."

Why did he get so tired?
"He was trying too hard. He needs to relax. He was trying to knock the kid out. The other kid was strong, he was in good shape. I told Carlos to relax, and come up to the jab. But he was nervous."

I say he didn't look nervous.
Ricky Ricardo laughs. "I'm very proud of Carlos. He's still got a long way to go. But he could be another Chavez if he puts his mind to it. He's come a long way."

It's been a long way in a short time. Carlos Tarin has only been in the United States for five years. He came from Chihuahua, Mexico. He started boxing at the age of 16. The reason is the typical one, the one given by so many boxing champions--he was always getting into fights. He loved to fight, and was constantly being sent home from school.

When he came to Madison Square Garden, Richard Rodriguez could see his potential almost immediately.

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