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.

"Kids come here for one reason and one reason only," Richard says. "To become a good fighter. They sometimes get angry because I won't put them in the ring right away. But Carlos just did what I told him to do. He never argued." He smiles. "He's a very quiet kid, as you can see. You can hardly get a word out of him. But he can fight."

Tarin had been training for only three months when he entered the local Copper Gloves tournament. He lost his first organized fight on points. His opponent was the experienced Ramon Olivas, who went on to become a national champion.

I sit in the office at Madison Square Garden and talk to Tarin through an interpreter. His older brother, Jose, is beside him. His cousin, a little boy, clings to his leg and jumps on his lap. His father, Urbano, a quiet, dignified man, leans against a wall, laughing from time to time but saying little.

How did it feel to lose his first amateur fight?
Tarin shrugs. "It gave me more faith in myself. He was experienced, and I still gave him a good fight. When we fought again, I beat him."

What about the fight with Pirtle?
Another shrug. "I watched the tape, and I know I could have done better. I was nervous because it was my pro debut and I wanted to do well. I was looking for a knockout. I was tired, and the guy was riding on me. I got head-butted three times. But I felt in control."

What does he want from boxing?
Shrug. "I want to make a career out of it. But I'll probably retire if I lose a bad fight."

So that's something he thinks about?
"No. I always have it in mind that I'm going to win."

But he must think about it, because he knows it can happen. He's been there already. He was TKO'd as recently as April, in an amateur fight in Las Vegas. It's the only fight he has lost inside the distance. And it was his own lack of discipline, not his opponent, that beat him.

It was a tournament. Having made weight, and after knocking out his first opponent, he took off for hours and went on an eating binge. He came back and fought his next match stuffed with food. He was going well until the third round when his opponent, Daniel Felix, dropped him. He got up, but the referee stopped it. Tarin was disgusted with himself, because he knew he had the fight won. He swears that it won't happen again, and Richard Rodriguez believes him. "It's the one time he's ever disobeyed me," he says.

Richard knows his protege will have to be watched carefully.
"Against Pirtle, he showed that he still has the amateur in him," he says. "When his opponent was holding on to him, he was waiting for the referee to break it up, instead of fighting his way out of it. But he's gonna learn from his mistakes."

The plan for the immediate future is simple: Tarin will fight a four-rounder every month until January, when he'll step up to six. In June, he'll start fighting eight rounds.

At this stage of his career, Tarin can only expect to make about $100 for each scheduled round.

"His family helps him," says Richard. "He was working with his brother in construction, but his brother sent him home to train full-time. A few months ago, a brick fell on his face. I don't want that, and the family doesn't want that. Our goal is to make him a world champion."

The next step on that road is his second pro fight. It's on October 13 at Midnight Rodeo.

Outside the gym, the owner of the taco stand is cooking for a customer. I ask him how business is going, if it looks like it will work out. He says it's good so far, but you can never be sure how something's going to work out. He's simply doing his best.

Just like Carlos Tarin.

Contact Barry Graham at his online address: bgraham@newtimes.com

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