SI Vault
Mark Stuart Gill
December 04, 1989
Once a week, Ralph Citro, 63, a retired insurance agent from Blackwood, N.J., loads his black salesman's sample case with an economy-sized jar of Vaseline, an enormous bottle of Maalox, Q-tips, pliers, a screwdriver, several objects that look like dollhouse irons, a jar of Avitene, three bottles of Thrombin and a vial of Adrenalin. Then he gets in his station wagon and drives 45 miles to Atlantic City.
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December 04, 1989

Cornerman: Helping Boxers Survive The Cut

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Years ago, cutmen used any coagulant available. A lot of them preferred flexible collodion, a syrupy compound that dried to the color and consistency of mothball flakes and sometimes had to be surgically removed. Now the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, like most local commissions, allows only Avitene, Thrombin, and adrenaline chloride 1:1000. Adrenaline causes broken blood vessels to constrict; Avitene, an expensive, chalky-white synthetic fiber, and topical Thrombin, a colorless liquid, are applied directly to the wound and enhance the body's natural clotting process. (The Maalox Citro carries is for managers and trainers with nervous stomachs.)

"These are the real secret to stopping cuts," says Citro, holding up his thumbs. They are strong and calloused. "Blood comes from valves in your head like a faucet," he continues. "You identify the valve and apply pressure. I learned that from my doctor, Ralph Skowron, who is a cousin of Moose Skowron, the old Yankee slugger."

Citro's first fight of the night is the main event, Doug (Cobra) DeWitt versus Robbie Sims for the WBO middleweight championship. Citro crouches near the corner of the ring next to DeWitt's manager, Tommy Gallagher, and his second, Ray Pallilo. Citro is dressed in his street clothes—sneakers, Sergio Valente jeans and a white terry cloth shirt with a light blue collar. Over the shirt, he wears a silk jacket with embroidered red letters that read, DeWitt.

"DeWitt is a $1,000 cut job," Citro whispers to an observer. If Citro is lucky, he earns 2% of a fighter's purse for a bout. Often the purse is so small that he works for nothing.

DeWitt doesn't start well. In the first round, he gets his face in the way of an uppercut, and a nasty slice opens under his chin. A few rounds later, a right jab by Sims cracks DeWitt's eyebrow, near his left temple. Blood washes down his cheek. The crowd sees this and releases the type of whoop that makes you think civilization still has a way to go.

Citro fights his battle with a clock that is the opposite of his boxer's: one minute of frantic activity, three minutes off. As the round-ending bell rings, Citro dips through the ring ropes to do his damage-control work. Out come the gauze pads and the brown vial of Thrombin. Out come the Enswells, those miniature flatirons that Citro keeps on ice and applies to the boxer's face to keep swelling down. The bands of nervous tension in DeWitt's neck and face loosen as Citro's thumbs close those leaky valves.

Twelve rounds later DeWitt wins a split decision. He is swept from the Mississippi Pavilion by a wave of reporters, die-hard boxing fans, and high rollers who have been "comped" by the casino and are trying not to spill their plastic cups of whiskey. In the turmoil, Citro is left behind, forgotten. This is not unusual. He shrugs.

Citro has always had too many interests to let little things get him down. Through high school in Gloucester City, N.J., and a hitch in the Marines during World War II, he fought as an amateur boxer. He worked as a letter carrier in Blackwood, while attending the Columbia School of Broadcasting in Philadelphia, from which he graduated in 1951. He also took business courses at the Wharton School. Since then, he has been a theatrical booking agent, a substitute high school teacher and an insurance agent, and is the author of a booklet, So You Want to Be a Cornerman. All the while he has been involved in boxing in a variety of roles.

Why didn't all this experience lead to a more visible and lucrative position in boxing? Citro looks wistful. "I used to train a white fellow in the '70s named Gaetan Hart," he says. "Gaetan was the lightweight champion of Canada, but he was unlucky. He knocked out one opponent, the guy went into a coma and eventually recovered. The next guy he fought went into a coma and died. Gaetan's career went into a downslide.

"When you train a fighter he becomes like your son, and I already have five kids of my own. The thing people remember about Hart is that he was a bleeder in the ring and I was the guy who kept him going. Pretty soon whenever I came around everyone would say, 'Hey, Ralph Citro. Hey, cutman.' "

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