Philadelphia has long prided itself on its rich pugilistic tradition, and while the current boxing scene may not be as vibrant as in the glorious past, bantamweight prospect Christian Carto is staking his claim as one who will help make boxing hot again in Philly. The 21-year-old is not wasting any time and since turning pro in July 2016 has notched 15 straight wins. This Saturday he returns to action against experienced Mexican battler Javier Gallo on the big Top Rank card at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City.
It’s been a while since anyone could say this, but in my opinion The City of Brotherly Love, which provided the backdrop to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky films, may have found its new and very real “Rocky” hero because not since the mid-80’s, when many thought decorated amateur Vinny Burgese fit that bill, has there been an Italian-American boxer inspiring this level of interest and popularity. Burgese, it will be remembered, ran into another Vinny, Rhode Island’s Vinny Pazienza, who floored him four times before putting an end to Burgese’s “Rocky” dreams. Anything can happen in boxing, but right now, such an outcome looks unlikely for young Carto.
And while you won’t find Christian Carto running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, or pounding raw flesh in a meat packing plant, or running through the market section of the city’s Italian district, make no mistake: he is Philadelphia through-and-through. In fact, he traces his heritage to a fighting family deeply rooted in South Philly. Joe Carto came first in 1932, and Frankie Carto followed, and between 1941 and ’46 he battled champions Phil Terranova, Chalky Wright and contenders Billy Graham and Lulu Constantino. Nunzio, the youngest of the Carto fighting clan, came next and after two years in the pros retired. And for a time in the mid-1950s Frankie Carto also managed Joey Giardello, who later became world middleweight champion.
“My dad showed me pictures of my grandfather [Frankie Carto] when I was young,” says young Christian. “It was just cool that people knew my grandfather was a real good fighter and my uncles [Nunzio and Joe Carto] were good fighters too. I don’t really think about it too much. It feels good to continue their legacy but I am thinking of making my own legacy.”
Philly fight fans recognize talent when they see it and Carto is already attracting serious attention in his home city. He boasts a solid amateur pedigree, having captured the United States National Golden Gloves light-flyweight title in 2014, a belt annexed by the likes of Johnny Tapia, Michael Carbajal and Floyd Mayweather Jr. Carto has twice topped cards at the SugarHouse Casino and the Arena, as well as playing chief support to more established pugilists Ray Robinson, Tevin Farmer and Joey Dawejko.
Carto began boxing at eight-years-old when he followed his older brother to the gym. Twice weekly workouts became thrice weekly sessions and right through to 2012 he combined it with his love for ice hockey. But following a bronze medal at the junior Golden Gloves he made the decision to focus strictly on boxing. Six years later Carto stands on the cusp of big things in a stacked division as he sets his sights on becoming the first Philly fighter to capture a world bantamweight title since “Joltin” Jeff Chandler 35 years ago.
The hard-hitting boxer-puncher fights with an uncomplicated, no-nonsense fluidity and his performances are full of energy and determination. His shows are sold-out long before fight time and local sponsors are eager to emblazon their logos on Carto’s outfits. The young prospect has refused to sign up with any of the big promoters, believing that the best way forward is to go it alone and benefit from single fight sponsorship packages and his share of ticket sales.
Carto started his pro career in explosive style recording eleven consecutive knockouts, but as the level of competition has toughened Carto has been forced to go the distance in his last four contests. It’s not a point that unduly concerns the ambitious Philly fighter.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he says. “Except for the last fight where I lost two rounds, I think I won every round in the other fights. So, it doesn’t bother me, but I think if I stepped on the gas a little more I can get some of those guys out of there. In two of my last fights, [James] Smith and [Luis Fernando] Saavedra, I had them hurt late. I hit them with pretty good shots and maybe I could have kept the pressure on and forced a stoppage. I am well prepared for each fight with a hard training camp. That’s where I get my confidence from.”
In his last outing back in April on the Magdaleno vs Dogboe card, Carto got a taste of how rough things can get in the pro ranks. Comfortably ahead on all scorecards, and having staggered the respected Edwin Rodriguez in round five, a heavy headbutt in the sixth briefly shifted the momentum in favour of the Puerto Rican.
“In the sixth, when I got headbutted, I was hurt,” Carto admits. “I stayed calm but I shouldn’t have let him win those two rounds. I kept my hands down and I could have moved my head more. A lot of times I was going straight back instead of taking one step back and going to the left or right. I could have put my combinations together better.”
With one eye firmly fixed on the future, Carto believes that the rigours of hard training six days a week will eventually pay off. Of late Christian has been focusing on his elusiveness, speed and foot movement by working with heavier opponents like promising Philly boxers Manny Folly and Stephen Fulton, the latter being Carl Frampton’s sparring partner. Since their last outing, Team Carto has also made a notable change in removing long-time trainer Mickey Rosati, who guided the young gun from the amateurs, and replacing him with new head coach Billy Briscoe, who trains two-time world title challenger Gabe Rosado.
“Billy [Briscoe] has a lot of experience,” says Christian. “We were around him for a couple of training camps and I liked what he said. I learned a lot. Right now it is just me and Billy. A lot of what Mickey [Rosati] was doing has been good but when you’re with somebody for a long time, you get a little stale so we looked to freshen things up. Billy works on my head movement a lot and catching the punches and a whole load of other stuff too.”
The diminutive Carto shuns the limelight for the solitude of fishing and hanging out with friends and prefers to let his exciting style of fighting do the talking for him. “I don’t think I’m shy,” says Christian. “I’m just quiet. If I don’t have anything to say then I won’t say anything. I’m not the one to talk trash at a press conference. I am just there to do my job, weigh in and fight. I don’t need to trash talk. Trash talk hypes fights but that’s not me. I can’t be fake. It’s just not what I do.”
“My long term goal is winning a world championship. My short term goal is really to stay focused and win my next fight. I am not overlooking any fight and I am not rushing into a title fight. We are just taking our time. I believe I am ranked with one of the sanctioning bodies. I train and listen to my brother. We have a good relationship and I know he looks out for me.”
Indeed, manager Frankie Carto is working hard, using his sports management and marketing degree to help build up the Carto brand for his younger sibling.
“They go crazy for Christian in Philly,” says Frankie. “I don’t even have enough room for sponsors anymore. We have sold out the smaller arenas and his fights are like events now. He’s humble and they all like him. Even after the fights are over he’s taking pictures for an hour and a half with everybody. Straight out of the ring he gets mobbed. The SugarHouse [Casino venue] was putting him on billboards and that really gave him a lot of exposure. To the regular person who doesn’t follow boxing or doesn’t know Christian, you’re driving by and you see him on the giant billboard on the main bridges going into the city.”
“Philadelphia is the fifth biggest city in the country, so it’s not like we’re in a small market. We’re building him up in our hometown and outside of Danny Garcia, Christian is already the most popular fighter in the city. When it’s time and he’s ready and when the stars align we will branch out and he’ll be able to get a bigger audience. Before, we didn’t have any sponsors and now we got too many. Before, we had to search and find fights and now we’re getting calls almost every day to do fights. We know we’ll eventually need a promoter to get the TV slots, the big fights and the rankings for international and countrywide exposure but for now we’re just focusing on Christian.”
Sounds like a winning formula for Christian Carto and for boxing in Philadelphia.
— Rolando Vitale