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The Baleful Look of a New Liston
Leonard Shecter
October 14, 1963
One recent day while Middleweight Rubin Carter {right) was preparing for his fight with George Benton, he stood in front of the gym at Ehsan's training camp in Summit, N.J., a .22-caliber rifle resting easily on his arm, and searched for a target on the sunny hillside that rises behind the camp.
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October 14, 1963

The Baleful Look Of A New Liston

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This is the way of a number of today's boxing champions. Sonny Liston came up this way, via the Missouri State Penitentiary. The psychology is simple enough: frustration, the lot of most Negro children, breeds hostility, which in turn broadens the area of frustration and in many cases produces increasingly violent reactions to it. When hostility is successfully channeled into a socially acceptable and yet violent activity like boxing, it has a soothing effect upon the personality, in the opinion of Dr. Victor B. Elkin, a psychologist. "The tension isn't being built up as much," Dr. Elkin says.

Not that anyone can predict what will happen once the ring career is over. If a man does not understand the roots of his hostility, Dr. Elkin points out, he will not shed it easily. It makes one wonder what is in store for a man like Carter. The immediate future is as shiny as a new dime. A month ago, on nationwide TV, he easily beat Farid Salim, taking every round. In two weeks he fights fourth-ranked Joey Archer.

When he fought George Benton, Carter was coming off a fight with Jose Gonzalez that he had lost because of deep cuts above both eyes. "Butts," Carter said bitterly and was not believed. So he told Tedeschi: "No more fights with this kind of guy. If I get beat I don't want to get beat by a nobody."

Tedeschi got him Benton, a man hardly anybody else would fight because of his reputation as a skillful boxer and hard puncher. Carter went in a 12-to-5 underdog, came out with a split decision and his challenger's claim well established. The people around Carter say they were not surprised. "If you were going to order up a fighter," says Tommy Parks, who is Carter's trainer and the only college-graduate social worker with a second's license, "Rubin would be it."

Carter has a compelling ring presence. Part of the reason for this is his general appearance. He is somewhat short for a middleweight, carrying his 155 pounds solidly on a 5-foot-8 frame. He is imposingly muscled. He shaves his bullet-shaped head but not his upper lip, and his mustache drips down the sides of his mouth, giving him the look of a Hun. He cultivates a malevolent stare in the ring, what he calls a " Sonny Liston smile," which not only intimidates his opponents but stirs everybody in the arena into an expectation of immediate mayhem. And there is also the knowledge that behind this warlike appearance is an electrifying punching power. Carter may not be able to put an opponent away with a harsh glance, as Liston seems to, but he can do it with one punch or a flurry, and nothing quite like it has been seen in his weight class since Tony Zale. Counting his amateur fights, he has knocked out 47 opponents.

After only 14 professional fights Carter was in nationally televised main events in New York's Madison Square Garden, home of whatever glamour is left in this business. Since there is a minimum $4,000 fee involved in such activity, the wise guys were saying nobody comes along that fast unless the Garden has a piece of the action. It would take a Senate investigating committee to dig the truth out of this charge. But astute Teddy Brenner, the Garden matchmaker, says: "The Garden's got a piece of nobody. Carter is an explosive puncher. He excites people. You get a fighter like that, you want to move him."

Just how exciting Carter was going to be even Brenner did not know until he matched him with Florentino Fernandez, a Cuban puncher out of the well-connected Dundee family stable, last Oct. 27. Carter, fighting his first main bout in the Garden, was considered then to be a one-hand (left) puncher. So he put a glaze on Fernandez' eyes with a right hand and battered him senseless with a left and another right. This took just 69 seconds.

Since then Carter has had five fights, losing only to Gonzalez and bringing his record as a professional to 17-3. In beating Benton, he showed a versatility that many thought he did not have. Benton, though the third-ranked middleweight, was getting his first big chance after 11 years in the ring. He had planned his fight around a counter to Carter's left hook but, except at rare moments, Carter refused to throw it. Carter obviously had absorbed some of the instruction he received from the expensive retinue of fight brains Tedeschi had assembled. In this group were Holly Mims, a wily old middleweight; Charley Goldman, an even older and wilier ex-bantamweight; and Joe Washington, a young man who grew up with Benton and could ape his style perfectly. The result was too much for Benton, who seemed paralyzed with anxiety and could not adjust to Carter's adjustment.

It is ironic that success should come to Carter that way. One thing he has shown through his tumultuous young life is a severe lack of ability-or desire—to adjust. Carter has not faced life, he has reacted to it, mostly with violence—at least, paradoxically, until he became a fighter.

He was born in Clifton, N.J. on May 6, 1937. His earliest recollections are of Passaic, N.J., and when he was 7 his family moved again, to Paterson. He is next to the youngest in a family of seven children. None of the others were ever in difficulty with the law. But Rubin Carter was a stutterer. Rubin Carter was a delinquent. No one understands why.

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