Before Carlos Palomino became a legend in the world of boxing, his life was anything but glamorous. He was born in San Luis V. Sanchez, Mexico (an unbelievably rural town in the middle of the Sonora Desert). His home was nothing more than a windowless shack with dirt floors. He was the third born of what would eventually become a family of twelve siblings. The first-born baby died at 6-months of age due to bronchitis. When Carlos reached this same age, he too came down with this illness. His mother, terrified to lose another child, made an oath to the Virgin Mary which required Carlos to wear long missionary-style robes and grow his hair long. For five years, Carlos was dressed in these missionary robes, and along with his long hair, was often mistaken for a girl.
At the age of eight, Carlos’ very physically abusive father decided the family should move to America because there wasn’t enough money to be made working on the farms in Sonora. In 1958, they piled into a pick-up truck and headed for Tijuana in order to process their immigration papers legally. While living in Tijuana for two years, Carlos had to work at his incredibly young age to help support his family financially. He shined shoes and sold newspapers and Jell-O, yelling “Gelatina! Gelatina!” throughout the dangerous streets of Tijuana. Carlos began fighting on the streets to compete for customers because if he did not return home with enough money to satisfy his father, he would become enraged. Before leaving Tijuana at the age of 10, Carlos was also stabbed and shot in two separate random acts of violence.
In 1960, the Palomino family finally received their legal immigration papers and crossed the border into America. Carlos continued to work to support his family while attending school. He had difficulty making friends due to the rage that existed within him. He fought with the other boys at school on a regular basis (something his father encouraged).
While in high school, Carlos was trained as a welder and soon after graduation began earning more money than his father. He saw this as his opportunity to leave the family residence and live on his own. Unfortunately, his father returned from work early to find Carlos walking out of the front door carrying his belongings. His father, after a fierce confrontation, knocked him out cold with a punch to the face (keep in mind that when Carlos later became a world champion, he was never knocked out in the ring even by greats like Roberto Duran). Once Carlos regained consciousness, he went back to his room and unpacked.
To the devastation of many young men in America, the Vietnam War draft soon began. However, when Carlos was drafted in 1970, he was relieved to be getting out from under his father’s control. After basic training, Carlos was ordered to Fort Hood, Texas, to prepare to be sent to the war in Vietnam. While waiting for this possible death sentence, he came across a boxing gym on the army base. There, he read a sign regarding an upcoming try-out for the Fort Hood Boxing Championship. Before entering the gym, he overheard a conversation that informed him that if he won this title, he would be reassigned to the Special Services Department and would not have to go to Vietnam to fight in the war. With this in mind, he immediately walked into the boxing gym and asked to enter the tournament. If he were to lose even one fight in the competition, he would be ordered to go to Vietnam. Carlos went on to become the All-Army Boxing Team Champion after traveling all around the world winning numerous titles.
In 1972, due to his outstanding boxing record, Carlos qualified for the Olympic trials. Carlos’s dreams were shattered when he was told he could not compete because it was discovered that he was not a citizen of the United States. Carlos was both shocked and utterly disgusted that he could have been sent to Vietnam to fight (and perhaps die) for what he truly believed was his country, but he would not be given the chance to earn an Olympic medal. That year, the Olympic gold medal in Carlos’s weight division was awarded to Sugar Ray Seals, and he had beaten Seals in the National A.A.U. finals in a unanimous decision five months prior to the Olympic Games. To the gold medalist’s credit, Seals also believed this to be true and placed the gold medal around Carlos’s neck at an unofficial ceremony.
After serving his country and being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1972, Carlos began boxing professionally. In that same year, he enrolled in college in order to earn a degree. After establishing a boxing record of 24-1-1 in 1976, Carlos was at an apex in his career. He was going to London, England, to fight for the title of WBC Welterweight Champion of the World. Since he was considered a 10 to 1 underdog, the only two people to go to London to support him were his trainer and his manager. To everyone’s surprise, Carlos knocked out John Stracey to become the one and only Welterweight Champion of the World. Even with the huge victory that made him an instant celebrity, in 1977, he earned his degree, making him the first world champion in history to graduate from college.
After defending his world championship title seven times, Carlos finally retired from boxing in 1979. At this time his younger brother, Paul Palomino, who had been boxing from the age of eight (and who had always idolized his older brother of 12 years) won the California State Golden Glove Championship. This gained Carlos’s brother national recognition. With the 1980 Olympic Games approaching (scheduled to take place in Moscow, Russia), the U.S. Olympic Boxing Committee selected Paul to compete with the U.S. Olympic boxing team in a pre-Olympic boxing match against the Polish Olympic boxing team. When Carlos called the president of the Olympic committee to thank him for choosing his brother Paul, the president (who knew Carlos should have won the gold medal in 1972) said, “We owe you one.” This confirmed, in Carlos’s mind, that the Olympic committee had cost him this highest honor.
To Carlos’s complete surprise, Paul told him adamantly that he was not interested in this opportunity. He said he did not want to compete in the Olympics. Rather, he wanted to turn to professional boxing on his 18th birthday. This infuriated Carlos who believed that competing in the Olympics would insure a successful future for Paul. After many heated battles, Carlos convinced Paul, although reluctantly, to go to Poland to compete. As Paul boarded the plane Carlos told him “You’re going to win a gold medal”. Paul responded, “I’m doing it for you.” On March 14, 1980, the plane carrying Paul Palomino, as well as the entire U.S. boxing team, crashed while preparing to land in Poland. There were no survivors.
In his mind, he felt truly responsible for his brother’s death. Carlos became not only a legend in boxing but a wonderful and kind hearted human being. He nurtured and loved his children and never abused them either physically or mentally. Carlos stopped the cycle of abuse that is so frequently seen in dysfunctional families. Carlos was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004. He is currently working as a boxing commentator and is living happily in Studio City, California with his wife Daliene.