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SMALL WONDER
Ron Fimrite
March 05, 1990
With a new TV contract, 108-pound Michael Carbajal is earning respect in the U.S. for boxing's little guys
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March 05, 1990

Small Wonder

With a new TV contract, 108-pound Michael Carbajal is earning respect in the U.S. for boxing's little guys

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In his free time Carbajal has been taking courses in youth counseling at nearby South Mountain Community College, "I know what it's like growing up in a neighborhood with gangs and drugs," he says. "So I want to do anything I can to help kids in that situation."

Carbajal is also a keen student of his craft, poring over films that Danny has acquired of such legends as Duran, Alexis Arguello and even Joe Louis. Carbajal has the perfect temperament for a fighter. "I never put pressure on myself," he says. "I know there are world titles out there, but I never look past the fight I'm training for. I never tell myself, 'You gotta win, you gotta win.' "

And in Danny he has a manager he can trust. Their affection for each other is real and obvious. Danny is as garrulous as Michael is quiet, and he clucks over his prot�g� like a mother hen. "I started training Mike in that little gym I built for him in the garage," says Danny. "I was with him in the Olympics, and the exposure he got there—all in prime time—was really a help. He learned to deal with pressure and with the media. Mike and I have always gotten along just fine. If I tell him to do something, he'll do it and never complain."

The ring in the cramped garage behind the Carbajal house on East Fillmore Street is only 10 feet across and is reached by adroitly maneuvering past the family's pit bulls, Nueve and Puma, who seem far more menacing than any of the boxing Carbajals. The ring has no mat, just rugs to break falls. "You learn to fight in close with this thing," says Danny. "Here, look at these old gloves. These were the first ones I bought for Mike. Got 'em at K Mart."

Beside the ring hangs a heavy bag that is Michael's weight. The walls are plastered with photos of old fighters. The house itself is in part a trophy case for father and sons. Manuel, 58, a retired surveyor for Arizona's Salt River Project, proudly displays Michael's Olympic medal and the first award the boy ever won, as runner-up in the 1981 Southwest Optimist boxing tournament. Not quite 14, Michael fought at 60 pounds.

Danny watches Michael stow away a lunch of rice, beans, beef and tortillas only a few hours before they are to return to La Mancha for Michael's daily public workout. "Mike eats and I put on weight," says Danny, patting his midsection. "It's not fair. He can eat anything he wants and never put on a pound."

Temporarily sated, Michael rises from the table and gives a boxing lesson to his nephew Danny, Alex's two-year-old son. "Jab," says Michael, and the boy shoots out a passable jab. When Michael says, "Hook," Danny flails away, crooking his left arm. Suddenly the youngster is on his own, shadowboxing in the living room, filling the air with his tiny fists as Michael looks on in avuncular approval.

The kid looks good. Put a few more pounds on him and, presto, another Manilas de Piedra. But in this family, he'll have to wait his turn. Uncle Mike has a championship or two in his future.

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