Many people are familiar with the saga of Rubin Carter. Tried not once but twice (and convicted) for the murders of three people at the Lafayette Bar & Grill in Paterson, NJ in 1966, Carter spent nearly two decades in prison and became something of a cause celebre for prominent members of the boxing community, before having his second conviction overturned in 1985. His story became the subject of a hit song by Bob Dylan, as well as a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington. He now heads up an organization that is devoted to helping those wrongfully accused of crimes.
Carter is famous for his post-boxing career alone, but perhaps much of the general public is not aware of what kind of fighter he was.
The truth is, he was one of the hardest-hitting middleweights of his time. Turning pro in 1961, he was already 24 years old, and in those days if you were black and lived in the Northeast, it was not likely that you were going to be a “protected” fighter. Carter took some lumps early, but started to turn a lot of heads when he marched into Madison Square Garden just eleven months into his pro career and viciously took out former world title challenger Florentino Fernandez in 69 seconds.
He followed that up with wins over respected veterans Gomeo Brennan and Holly Mims before getting a March 1963 fight with Jose Monon Gonzalez stopped due a very deep cut over his eye. He was able to come back just a couple of months later to score a split decision over craftsman George Benton, who later became a storied trainer, and then in December of 1963, after just 26 months as a pro, he scored what was his biggest win as a pro, when he scored a shocking one-round knockout over Emile Griffith, the reigning welterweight champion who would later go on to win the middleweight crown.
Carter was able to keep the momentum going, winning a unanimous decision over future WBA heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis just two months after the Griffith win. This brought a #3 world ranking, and led him into his championship opportunity, as he was matched with Joey Giardello for the world middleweight title, in Giardello’s hometown of Philadelphia, in December of 1964.
Carter’s account, and that which is depicted in the “Hurricane” movie, paint a picture of him being robbed by the judges in that fight. But newspaper reports at the time do not indicate the outcome was one of much dispute. In Pennsylvania, there was a five-point must system, and indeed, on the judges’ scorecards, he lost the 15-round decision by three points, five points and six points.
Carter lost most of his fights after that, and was brutalized by former middleweight and light heavyweight champion Dick Tiger in 1965, going to the canvas three times. He was also beaten twice by former welterweight champ Luis Rodriguez. After a while, he was just traveling around as an opponent, and in what proved to be his last pro fight, he lost a decision to Juan Carlos Rivero. Interestingly, this fight took place almost two months after the Paterson murders, and in Argentina no less, so it could be argued that if he was guilty and looking to make a clean getaway out of the country, he had every opportunity to do just that.
Carter’s final pro record was 27 wins and 12 losses (six of which happened in his last twelve fights, after the title shot) and a draw, with nineteen of his victories by knockout. He received an honorary title belt in 1993 from the World Boxing Council (WBC) and is also a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.