Baptist punches holes in theory of fast boxing starts

February 19, 1992|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,Staff Writer

Looking at Gilbert Baptist's record of a dozen losses makes one question not only his ability, but why he continues in the boxing game.

Nowadays, if a fighter suffers a first loss or hasn't been offered a TV fight or a title shot by his 10th match, he thinks seriously of hanging them up. "Guys like that just don't know boxing," Baptist said. "They have no sense of the game's history and what it takes to be successful."

Baptist, on the other hand, knows the game. He has been in with the best and it's certainly no easy-pickings journeyman with a pedestrian 24-12 record who will be meeting Vincent Pettway (34-4) tonight at the Pikesville Armory for the vacant United State Boxing Association junior middleweight title. The seven-fight card begins at 7:30 p.m., with the main event scheduled for 10 p.m.

Baptist is ranked third in the USBA and fifth in the IBF; Pettway is second in the USBA and fourth in the IBF. Baptist has won 18 of his last 22, and the losses have been to champions.

In fact, Baptist held the USBA belt until late last year when he put it aside to challenge world champion Gianfranco Rosi for the IBF crown. He lost a decision in the champ's home country, Italy.

In addition to Rosi, there were two tough, close-decision setbacks to Terry Norris, the WBC champ who sent Sugar Ray Leonard into retirement for good.

The USBA crown showed up when he hammered Ron Amundsen into submission inside three rounds. That fight was before 7,000 fans at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles and a national audience on the PrimeTicket cable network.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a running back," Baptist said. "I knew all about Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, guys like that. When I

stopped growing, I turned to boxing, especially when I was in the Marine Corps."

He learned slowly but well. Just as he has done in his life away from the ring: "You find in boxing a lot of judges and referees are in law enforcement. One time, one of them asked me what I wanted to do and I said work with kids.

"He told me to meet him at an office in San Diego and he introduced me to a guy named Pat Russell, a criminal investigator in the district attorney's office. I did volunteer work for a year and a half when they finally said to me, 'Hey, why not get paid for your work?' I took the test for probation officer, passed and really love my work."

Baptist now lives in San Diego, but he grew up in Newark, N.J., where he saw plenty of kids who ended up on the wrong side of the law.

"I wasn't really a bad kid, but got in trouble a lot and was fortunate to have people around me who took care of me," he said. "A lot of kids are like that today; I like being the guy who's around helping kids to get going in the right direction.

"I've seen the inner workings of law enforcement and I tell the kids, 'Listen, if they can get Al Capone, they're certainly going to catch up with you sooner or later.' It seems to work."

Pettway, 34-4 and very impressive with a more aggressive style in recent wins over Eddie Van Kirk, Juan Rondon and Frank Montgomery, sees a win, the USBA belt and his ranking getting him a world title shot against Rosi or Norris.

The undercard for the 7:30 p.m. show includes two four-rounders, two six-rounders and middleweights Les Johnson (14-1) and Willie Gallawango (15-1) and welterweights Eddie Van Kirk (23-6) and Jose Torres (11-5) colliding in eight-rounders. WITH-AM is broadcasting the action beginning at 9 p.m.

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