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Curto vs. Chong, in Case You Missed It the First Time

Times Staff Writer

Being an International Boxing Federation champion is not generally considered a license to mint money.

The boxing organization, established largely to accommodate the whimsical matchmaking of former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, does not command much prestige or even attention. The hardiest of boxing fans might be hard pressed to name more than one such titlist.

But, as they might say, the only thing worse than being an IBF champion is not being champion at all. That explains why Vinnie Curto, known principally as the man who would not fight Hagler, will engage Chong Pal Park, the IBF super-middleweight champion, tonight at the Sports Arena. Again.

The two fought almost a year ago in Chong’s hometown--Seoul, South Korea--the champion winning a tough 15-round decision. Curto, and Gemini Productions, got to thinking that maybe a change of venue would improve the decision.

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Al Braverman, longtime manager who is now with the promoter, quotes some history. “I had (lightweight champion) Carlos Ortiz, and he lost his title to Ismael Laguna in Panama City. So we enticed Laguna to come to Puero Rico. Ortiz wins it back.”

That is the logic behind tonight’s promotion, although Chong, a cheerful enough tourist in these parts, does not see it. A promise of more money than he might ever make fighting in the Orient and the chance to see Disneyland were enough to tempt him to enemy territory, where decisions are harder to win.

Anyway, he said happily: “Vinnie Curto is just a sparring partner. I do my job Friday night and then I see Disneyland and Long Beach.”

This suggests a remarkable confidence, not to mention the remarkable job Long Beach is doing in promoting tourism.

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Chong, 26, has been fighting since he was 17 and has a record of 39-3-1. But few of his fights have been against recognizable competition. A name that might be familiar is Fulgencio Obelmejias, a creditable middleweight; Chong was knocked out. On the other hand, Chong did beat Murray Sutherland for the IBF title.

Chong, who says he turned pro after only six fights because he failed to beat the amateur champion in two tries, is actually fairly modest, especially about his goals.

He says he’d like to fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler, undisputed middleweight champion, some day, but that his long-range aim is to buy a rice farm back in South Korea. This one, he says, unlike the one he grew up on, he won’t work.

Curto, 29, is a little more other-worldly. He is described by Braverman as one of those guys out of a Damon Runyon book. “I’ve known Vinnie a lifetime, and the only word I can use is unbelievable,” Braverman said. “He’ll go the heights or the pits; you just never know.”

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Curto has a 78-6-1 record and claims never to have been stopped or even down. However he has been chased. His failure to show for a fight with the pre-Marvelous Hagler has haunted him throughout his career. There is no explaining that, however, or any of his other career moves.

“He is,” Braverman said, “a peculiar duck.”


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