Chatting with the champ: Michael Carbajal
Former junior flyweight world champion and Hall-of-Famer Michael “Manitas De Piedra” (“Little Hands of Stone”) Carbajal turned pro in 1989 against future two-time world champion Will Grigsby to kick off an outstanding 10-year, 53-bout career.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Carbajal would win the NABF title his 11th fight and the IBF world junior flyweight title in his 15th, by stopping previously undefeated Muangchai Kittikisem at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in his hometown.
Over the next two years, Carbajal would fight 12 times, making six successful defenses of his world title.
Then in 1993, Carbajal KO’d Mexican legend Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez, who was making the fifth defense of his title in his second run as WBC champion.
The warriors would go on to have two more epic battles over the next year-and-a-half in what would become a legendary trilogy in the division.
In 1996, Carbajal would regain the IBF light flyweight title and defend it twice before losing it in a close split decision to Mauricio Pastrana. After stopping rugged Canadian Scotty Olson two months later he was stopped by Jacob Matlala in the summer of 1997.
Carbajal would take 1998 off before deciding he “didn’t want to go out that way,” returning in February of 1999, running off four straight wins to close out his career.
In his final bout, Carbajal would defeat Jorge Arce to capture the WBO junior flyweight championship. Carbajal, a champion once again, would retire after the fight and never return to the ring.
Carbajal, a father of four children and grandfather of seven, lives with his wife Lara in the same house in which he was raised.
UCNLive.com had the pleasure of chatting with Carbajal recently outside his 9th Street Gym, located in the same neighborhood where he has lived his whole life.
Bill Tibbs: Thanks for chatting, Michael. Let’s step out here, out of the gym; it’s an oven in here.
Michael Carbajal: No problem (chuckles). Yeah, it’s hot in there.
BT: How many amateur fights did you have?
MC: I had 150 as an amateur and lost 10 of them.
BT: You had a great professional career. When you look back, were the Humberto Gonzalez fights the highlights?
MC: The biggest highlight for me was winning the world title for the first time when I beat Muangchai Kittikisem. He was the hardest puncher that I ever faced as well, by the way. I had always dreamed of being a world champion. When I was six, my dad told me I’d be a world champion one day and ever since then, I always wanted to win a world title and retire as a world champion. My Dad would take me to the Golden Gloves as a little boy and that is all I dreamed of and wanted. The first Chiquita fight was great, the “Fight of the Year” in ’93 but the biggest highlight was becoming a world champion for the first time.
BT: You probably left some serious money on the table when you walked away in 1999, after beating Jorge Arce to win the world title. Were you ever tempted to come back?
MC: It was never about the money for me. It was always about winning the title. I took some time off before I came back in 1999 because I was home and I said to myself that I didn’t want to go out like that. It was always my goal to win a world title and retire as world champion, so that is what I did. I beat Arce and then I could retire content that I had done everything I set out to do in the sport. I didn’t want to stay too long in the sport. I had my health; I felt good and it was time to retire.
BT: You have had your gym since 1993 – wow, 25 years. And you’re still here coaching the kids.
MC: The gym is right across the street from my house (points across the street). It is the same house I have lived in my whole life. It’s important for the kids to have something in the community to keep them off the streets and keep them away from the trouble out there.
BT: You must be a great inspiration to a young boxer. You are a living example of what hard work and desire can do.
MC: Well, I tell the kids you have to love the competition and the boxing. You have to want to be the best and want to be willing to work as hard as you have to if you want to achieve your goals. Lots of the kids want to become pro boxers because they want fame and the money. But I tell them if you don’t have the desire to compete, the desire to be the best, you won’t make it. Wanting to be famous and rich isn’t going to help you make it; you have to have the drive to compete.
BT: Any regrets?
MC: None. No regrets. I wanted to win the world title and retire as a champion and I did that.
BT: Thanks for the chat, Michael.
MC: No problem, my pleasure.