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Rising Bantamweight Contender Christian Carto is Capitalizing on his Rockyesque Roots

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  • Rising Bantamweight Contender Christian Carto is Capitalizing on his Rockyesque Roots

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    If cultural and culinary diversity is your thing, there’s some of that to be found along the South Philadelphia business corridor that runs along Washington Avenue from Grays Ferry to the Delaware River waterfront bordered, appropriately enough, by Columbus Boulevard. There are places where you can order bowls of Vietnamese noodle soup if that is what suits your taste, as well as Mexican restaurants that serve authentic tamales and not just some chain outfit’s knockoffs, but South Philly always has been identified as a staunchly Italian-American enclave. A blind man by scent alone could probably find his way to dozens of neighborhood establishments that serve world-class Stromboli, and whose clienteles lean heavily to paisans with last names ending in vowels.

    There has been a resurgence of boxing interest in Philly’s Little Italy not seen since Joey Giardello – nobody there much cares to remember that the late, great former middleweight champion (real name: Carmine Tilelli) was born and raised in Brooklyn before mustering out of the Army and resettling in the area to be near the love of his life and future wife, Rosalie – was adopted as a hometown hero. Picking up where Giardello and his celluloid equivalent, the fictional Rocky Balboa, left off is bantamweight Christian Carto, whose local popularity has thus far exceeded his actual accomplishments in the ring. Handsome in a boy-next-door sort of way and not lacking in personal charisma, it will be up to Carto to demonstrate that he is the real deal and not merely a reflection of fierce ethnic pride and his hardcore fans’ need to elevate and celebrate one of their own.

    “He can help bring Philly back to the way Philly used to be when boxing was really big here,” J Russell Peltz, the longtime Philadelphia promoter, said of Carto’s potential to replicate the city’s 1970s glory days as a fight capital. “We’ve had world champions in recent years from Philly. I get that. But Philly boxing has to get out of the warehouses and catering halls and back into the big arenas. That’s where Christian’s strength is. I know it’s a lot to put on his shoulders, but I really believe he can do that.”

    Interestingly enough, the 22-year-old Carto (17-0, 11 KOs), who squares off against veteran Mexican southpaw Victor Ruiz (22-10, 15 KOs) in the eight-round main event Friday night at the 2300 Arena in South Philly, again will be performing before the standard sellout crowd in a cozy venue (capacity: 1,100) which he might soon outgrow. It doesn’t cost anything to dream large, and Carto and his brother-manager, Frankie Carto, have an idea that the future might soon hold world title bouts in the Wells-Fargo Center, the South Philly home of the 76ers and Flyers that can accommodate 20,000-plus spectators.

    “I want to have big fights in Philadelphia,” Christian Carto said of his rosy vision of what lies ahead for him. “I also want to fight in Madison Square Garden, and in Vegas. I want to fight everywhere. But if we can have fights at the Wells-Fargo Center, that’s be great. Who knows?”

    Who knows, indeed? But the steps up from Ruiz, a decent journeyman who has been stopped five times as a pro, and the world’s truly elite 118-pounders, such as Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15 KOs), Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25 KOs), Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs) and Zolani Tete (28-3, 21 KOs), are many and fraught with peril. Carto has yet to participate in a scheduled 10-rounder – the Ruiz bout marks his eighth appearance in an eight – and his name is not listed by any of the four most widely recognized world sanctioning bodies among their top 15 contenders at bantamweight. And he has not won any of his six most recent fights inside the distance, after winning his first 11 by knockout.

    None of that has stopped Carto’s most ardent supporters from daring to compare him to other highly accomplished Italian-American fighters from South Philly, as well as to the justifiably celebrated “Joltin’” Jeff Chandler, the South Philly (albeit non-Italian-American) legend who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000.

    “I don’t think about it too much,” Carto said of those who are already are mentioning him as a possible heir to the sort of legacy crafted by Chandler. “I’m hoping just to leave my mark as a bantamweight. I have met Jeff Chandler. He came to one of my fights and I’ve talked to him a couple of times. He fought someone who used to be in the gym with us, Johnny Carter. I like Jeff Chandler. He’s nice. I’ve watched some of his fights (on tape).”

    Although there have been a number of regional promoters who have sought to sign Carto, he and his brother have thus far elected to go the independent route, in the hope that Christian will become enough of a draw to score a more lucrative deal from one of the sport’s heavy hitters when it suits their purpose. The promoter of record for Friday night’s card is Michelle Rosado of Raging Babe Promotions.

    “Christian is personable,” Rosado said. “People like to like him. We haven’t seen anything like him in a really long time. He really has all of South Philly behind him. He’s become a big attraction not only because of who he is, but because of the way he fights. He’ll probably outgrow the (2300) Arena soon, if he hasn’t already. Eventually he’ll be headlining at the Wells Fargo.”

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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