from the Mike Casey Archives...
Hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em fast: When roaring Tiger blew down Hurricane Carter at the Garden

By Mike Casey

Part of the fun of being youthful is that we know so little. Cold logic and cynicism has yet to be poured on our innocent picture book of life as we wander through each newly discovered wonderland and believe everything we see and hear.

Like so many other young boys getting interested in boxing for the first time, my simple and thrilling yardsticks of new and exciting fighters were the vivid pictures and purple prose that came with them. Plenty of both came with Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.

To most people at that time, Sonny Liston was the most frightening fist fighter on earth. Liston seemed huge in that more gentle era, a giant among pygmies whose great bulk and brooding features spilled across the pages of every popular boxing magazine. No man could beat Sonny. Everyone said he was invincible.

Then I saw that picture of Rubin Carter. I was six years old and there he was, shaven-skulled and mandarin moustached, fists cocked and snarling as he towered over the stricken Florentino Fernandez at Madison Square Garden. Fernandez, one of the most vicious middleweight punchers of the day, had been shot down by a new gunslinger and was draped helplessly over the ropes as Carter hovered menacingly. Rubin had arrived on the big stage. Two knockdowns in one minute and nine seconds of action, and Florentino Fernandez was all done for the night.

I kept looking at that wonderful picture, one pulsating moment captured forever. Carter was the most frightening man I had seen and the purple prose gushed in torrents as excitable scribes raved about the big hitter from Paterson, New Jersey.

One veteran ringsider that night was quoted as saying, “This guy Carter would give Liston one hell of a fight.” Now, of course, ‘veteran ringsiders’ are never identified and are always extraordinarily present and plentiful at such times. One or two even claim to be the long lost, illegitimate sons of Jack Dempsey. But a young impressionable boy sucks up such tasty treats like a chocolate milkshake.

Man, I thought, this guy Hurricane Carter is going to cut through the middleweights like a knife through butter. And for a while, that is exactly what mean old Rubin did. He was tailor made for TV, a wrecking ball of a puncher with an intimidating appearance that was almost unique in the sixties. With the likes of Bennie Briscoe and Marvin Hagler yet to come down the trail, Hurricane Carter had a virtual monopoly on the chrome-domed look. Like so many men with fearsome reputations, Carter seemed physically bigger than he was, much in the way of Liston. In fact Rubin stood just five-feet-eight and never had trouble making the middleweight limit, scaling between 155 and 158lbs on average at the peak of his powers.

But he was a powerful man who could hit, the latest golden boy in boxing’s historically golden division.

That snarl of Rubin’s was the snarl of a lion. But he would later meet a tiger that would feast on him at the Mecca of boxing and send him down a wholly different path.



Much later on, when Rubin Carter stopped fighting in the ring and began the fight for his right to be a free man in his trial for the infamous Lafayette Grill murders, his past would come back to haunt him. As a teenager, he was convicted of assault and a stint in the Army failed to curb his wild ways. A 1957 conviction on robbery and assault charges resulted in a prison sentence, where his fellow inmates learned quickly that Rubin could do one thing very well: fight.

Carter had impressed his coach on the Army boxing team, compiling an impressive record and a string of knockouts. Rubin made the decision to dedicate himself to the professional game and soon began to make significant strides. Making his debut in September 1961, he won his first three fights and then split a couple of decisions with Herschel Jacobs at the Gladiators Arena in Totowa.

Rubin had moved his record to 10-1 by the time of his Madison Square Garden debut, which Ernie Burford spoiled by taking a decision from the Hurricane in June 1962. Carter gave us a hint of things to come just two months later when he avenged the Burford defeat with a second round TKO and followed up with a fifth round stoppage of Mel Collins. Rubin had just fourteen fights on his slate when he exploded in earnest by ripping apart Fernandez, but the best of the Hurricane’s fleeting fury was still to come, though not before a lull in the storm.

Cooling his heels, Rubin failed to add to his knockout tally in his next six fights. He registered a couple of quality points wins over Holly Mims and Gomeo Brennan, but suffered an untimely backward step against tough cookie Jose Gonzalez, who opened a big cut over Carter’s right eye and stopped him in the sixth round. Rubin had to work hard in his next outing to take a split decision from the artful George Benton and had to go the full route again to bag a points win against Farid Salim.

Then Carter ran into one of the great spoilers of the age. New York stylist Joey Archer was a thorn in everyone’s side in the mid to late sixties, a clever sharpshooter who could ghost his way around the big hitters and drive them to exasperation. Carter chased Joey all night long and certainly ran him close, only to come out on the thin end of a split decision. Rubin got the vote of judge Al Berl by five rounds to four, but referee Arthur Mercante and judge Tony Castellano sided with Archer.

Carter’s career seemed to be spluttering after the Fernandez breakthrough, and Rubin was doing little more than treading water as 1963 drew to a close.  From his frustration, he fashioned a bomb that stunned the boxing world. On December 20, at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, the Hurricane did a big loop and unleashed its full force. In just two minutes and thirteen seconds, Carter floored welterweight champion Emile Griffith three times for an automatic TKO. It was an awesome performance. Never before had the tough and wily Griffith been so obliterated. Emile’s hopes of moving up and challenging for the middleweight crown had been brutally swept away in less time than it takes to boil an egg. Carter was on a roll and now apparently unstoppable.


Title shot 

Buoyed by the huge Griffith victory, Carter had moved up a gear and pushed himself into the top elite of the world rankings. In his next fight, he floored and outpointed future WBA heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis, before heading west to destroy Clarence James in one round at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Rubin had earned his spurs and secured his now famous fight with champion Joey Giardello. Those of you who saw the movie Hurricane will no doubt recall Hollywood’s fanciful version of Carter’s challenge. We see Giardello being royally pounded as Rubin (Denzel Washington) steams ahead to what seems a sure victory: only to be robbed by the officials.

True? Not on your life. This was all grist to the Carter publicity mill at a time when Rubin was the hip cause for those who feel the compulsion to jump on every bandwagon that rolls into town. Rubin might well have been tragically wronged for the great many years that he languished in prison. But distorting the truth of other events never wins you any friends, whether your name is Rubin, Denzel or Fred. Not surprisingly, Joey Giardello was more than a little miffed by this impudent re-interpretation of one of his greatest wins.

The facts are these: All three officials voted emphatically for Joey on that December night at the Convention Hall in Philadelphia, with scores of 72-66, 69-64 and 70-67. Giardello was also the overwhelming choice of the ringside reporters. It wasn’t a runaway victory, but I vividly recall the reports of the time and nobody was screaming that Carter had been unfairly treated. Rubin gave Joey a rough night, but it was the challenger who came up short.

The second big myth perpetrated by the Hurricane movie is that Carter was in the prime of his fighting life when he and he and his alleged accomplice, John Artis, were arrested on suspicion of committing the murders at the Lafayette Grill. This is patent rubbish. By the time of the murders on June 17 1966, Rubin’s career as a fighter was seriously on the slide. It had reached its apex with the Giardello fight and Rubin never hit those heights again.

Two fights in particular took the eye out of the Hurricane, two fights a month apart that he should have won comfortably against English journeyman Harry Scott.

Scott was a tough man from the tough town of Liverpool, one of those quietly dangerous plodders who would lose two or three in a row and then pop up to spoil somebody’s party. Harry didn’t have much regard for other people’s reputations and he never took the ten count. He bulled into Carter in the same way that he bulled into everyone, and Rubin soon discovered that he was batting away at an immovable object. Scott was the George Chuvalo of the middleweights, possessed of feet that seemed to anchor him to the canvas. Trying to dislodge Harry was as fruitless a pursuit as attempting to uproot a fire hydrant with an uppercut.

Carter was very lacklustre in the first fight and trailed on points before stopping Scott on a cut in the ninth round. In the return match, Rubin started fast and did indeed uproot the fire hydrant, if only temporarily. Decking Scott in the first round, Carter seemed set to put the record straight and get his faltering major league career back on track. But he didn’t. Rubin never did figure out the peculiar conundrum that was Harry Scott and lost the decision. Nothing dodgy about that verdict either! Now the word was going round that Rubin Carter was something of a bully- boy who wasn’t so fearsome in the face of adversity.

Carter was now drifting, albeit still in the biggest ocean, and he badly needed to blow hot again and beat a big name. He got his chance against the one warrior nobody else wanted to fight.



Dick Tiger was a brooding and dangerous man by the time he got to Rubin Carter. A slow starter who had been plying his trade since 1952, Tiger had worked long and hard to climb the greasy pole and haul himself to the top. Starting out in his native Nigeria, Dick had fared well in his early fights but soon found the going a lot tougher when he moved his base of operations to England. For the life of him, he couldn’t string together a consistent run, losing four straight at one low point and appearing destined to be filed away as nothing more than a tough and reliable journeyman.

But Tiger was a man of immense fortitude and perseverance. He kept plugging away and his fortunes took a dramatic change for the better when he made America his hunting ground. Dick fought the toughest available opposition, notching first class victories over Gene ‘Ace Armstrong, Hank Casey, Henry Hank and that quality contender of the era, Ellsworth ‘Spider’ Webb.

Tiger hit the jackpot in November 1962, when he out-hustled the brawling Gene Fullmer to win the WBA middleweight crown at  Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Gene confused Dick and just about everyone else in their Las Vegas rematch by going against type and cheekily boxing his way to a draw. But Tiger saw off Gene in their rubber match to win the plaudits of the boxing press as a very formidable world champion.

Then a couple of guys called Joey spoiled everything. Joey Giardello, who had earlier split a couple of decisions with Dick, went 2-1 over his old opponent by taking Tiger’s crown in December 1963. Giardello, a teak-tough and wonderful old pro, called on all his vast experience to finally land the big one after fifteen up-and-down years of campaigning.

Tiger redoubled his efforts, confident of a quick return match with Joey. Dick beat Jose Gonzalez and took another swipe at the Fullmer family by outscoring Gene’s younger brother, Don.

Then along came Joey Archer with all his infuriating smarts. Tiger never did excel against the clever men who could move and feint and dance. A year after taking a split verdict over Rubin Carter, Joey scalped Dick in the same fashion. Suddenly Dick’s long awaited return with Giardello seemed over the horizon and out of sight. Tiger was not at all happy with the Archer verdict. Not normally a greatly demonstrative man, Dick leaned through the ropes that night and made some very forceful comments about trying to win a fight in New York against a New Yorker. He rebounded quickly to savage the tough Rocky Rivero, but it was Rubin Carter who would sample Tiger’s most ferocious bite on the night of May 20 1965 at Madison Square Garden.



The thrashing that Dick Tiger administered to Rubin Carter couldn’t have been more single-minded or comprehensive. The breathtaking performance was arguably the masterpiece of Dick’s career, and he wasted little time in establishing his authority. He was the superior man in every department of the game and presented his first chilling evidence in the second round. He was pounding Rubin from a distance and pounding him just as emphatically at close quarters. A left hook suddenly dropped Carter for the mandatory eight count, and Rubin’s famous snarl was now blending with a wide-eyed look of disbelief. He had lost his share of fights in a tough life but nobody had batted him around like this. Carter wasn’t on his feet for long before another whiplash left hook put him over again just before the bell. Referee Zach Clayton counted to eight before realising the round had ended, and Rubin headed for the wrong corner before correcting his mistake in that certain unconvincing way that shaken fighters do.

Carter was cautious in the third, employing his jab more and steering clear of Tiger’s left hook. Dick just kept stalking and punching, as if powered by a sure knowledge that he could not be beaten. If Rubin thought he had found sanctuary, his hopes were shattered in the fourth round. He was jabbing and moving nicely when Tiger found the mark with a left and a right to the head. Another right-left combination spilled Carter onto his back and now it seemed to everyone in the house that Rubin was on the way back to his dressing room.

But the Hurricane wasn’t quite blown out. Bravely, Rubin met Tiger head-on in an exciting fifth round and began to outpunch his opponent for the first time. Carter fired off some tremendous blows to the head and body and Dick seemed hurt and a little confused by the sudden turnaround. But the Nigerian warrior was a tremendously tough and durable man. He had never been knocked off his feet and only the freakish Bob Foster would put him down for the count in his 81-fight career.

Carter was done. Even before the fifth round was out, Tiger had resumed command, punching and whittling away with his ceaseless aggression. Rubin gave it one last try in the seventh, mastering Dick briefly in a two-fisted exchange, but Tiger launched a punishing body attack that had his foe wilting and on the verge of going down again.

By the tenth and final round, Dick Tiger had people saying that he was the best middleweight on the planet, whatever the claims of Joey Giardello. Tiger closed the show in style against Carter, controlling the last of the exchanges to ease his way over the finishing line. It had been a thrilling and intriguing fight, despite its one-sidedness. Tiger hadn’t pitched a shutout but had done the next best thing on the scorecards of the officials. Referee Zach Clayton saw it 6-2-2 for Dick, while judges Jimmy Riccio and Johnny Dean tabbed the fight 9-1 and 8-1-1 respectively.

After the fight, the two combatants would head off down very different roads. Dick Tiger would get his shot at Joey Giardello and regain the middleweight championship by way of an overpowering, unanimous decision just five months later.

Rubin Carter would commence the longest fight of his career to prove his innocence in the ongoing investigations and trials of the Lafayette Grill murders. The original indictment charges against him and John Artis were finally dropped in February 1988, but neither man, to my knowledge, has ever been officially pardoned.

Did they do it?


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