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Between them, Carlos Palomino and his manager, Jackie McCoy, a part-time longshoreman whose real moniker is Warren Spaw, had come up with a plan to protect the WBC welterweight champion's title. The strategy was secret, of course, not to be revealed until the opening minutes of last Saturday night's defense against rugged Mando Mu�iz. "Once the fight starts," said McCoy, "it will be pretty apparent what we are trying to do."
There were many in Los Angeles' Olympic Auditorium who felt that all the champion, a 10-to-8 favorite, would be trying to do would be to survive the back-alley assaults of Mu�iz, whose style is equal parts buzz saw and mugger. "The only fundamental I ever mastered," says Mu�iz, "is to wade straight in and hit whatever is in front of me."
Such tactics had given the 30-year-old college graduate 40 wins in 51 fights, but most of them had been wars, and it was said that Mu�iz' age coupled with all those tough fights would lead to Mando's downfall. Palomino's secret, decided Vein Head, a local boxing character, would turn out to be patience. "He'll run, which isn't his style, and make the other guy chase him. They figure Mando's legs will go."
Still, Mu�iz was the last guy McCoy had wanted for Palomino's first title defense since winning the championship from John Stracey in London last June. But then he had no choice. In order to get the Stracey fight, McCoy had to promise to give London promoter Mickey Duff the options to Palomino's first two title bouts. If he won. With Palomino going in as a 10-to-1 underdog, it was merely a formality.
"We were looking for a nice easy fight for Stracey," says Duff, still shaking his head. "I saw three of Palomino's fights. I figured he had to be one of the easiest guys around."
What Duff thought he saw was a good club fighter working his way through Long Beach State, from which Palomino, 27, graduated last December with a degree in recreation. His record (20-1-3) was impressive; the way he won was not. Hardly famous for his punching power, he was a stand-up boxer with a good jab who liked to stay on top of his opponent. Unlike Mu�iz, Palomino gave some thought to defense.
"His first seven or eight fights, about all I could say about him was that he was a nice kid," says McCoy, who has managed four other world champions. "Then he broke his collarbone and laid off for a year. I don't know what happened. Before he was hurt he looked like a typical AAU fighter. When he came back he started punching a lot harder, looked a lot better."
Moved into the rankings as the No. 9 contender early last year, Palomino got the call from Duff. McCoy admits he wasn't too optimistic. Palomino told him not to worry; the title would be theirs.
"It was amazing," says McCoy. "Just to think that he was good enough to get a title fight gave him tremendous confidence. Then I got confident. I told Duff we were going to win."
"Oh, my God," said Duff, "I hope not." He hoped wrong.