By Gene Pantalone, NJBHOF (Class of 2022) Writer/Historian
For me, the death of Carlos Ortiz on June 13, 2022, represents the end of an era. An era when many boxers trained with other boxers in remote training camps. Carlos Ortiz was the last in a long line of champions that trained at a boxing camp in the small, idyllic town of Chatham Township, New Jersey. It was a camp that was started by a woman, Madame Bey, in 1923, and continued by Ehsan Karadag after her death in 1942. There is no telling how many champions passed through this camp; however, we do know that there were no fewer than 14 heavyweight champions and 80 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees that came to this camp from 1923 to 1969.
When Ortiz first came to the camp, he was following in the footsteps of a pantheon of great boxers. From the first to train here in 1923, middleweight world champion Johnny Wilson, to the last, Carlos Ortiz. Others in the forty-seven-year history that trained here were Gene Tunney, Max Schmeling, Mickey Walker, Henry Armstrong, Lou Ambers, Tony Canzoneri, Floyd Patterson (the last heavyweight champion to train here in 1959), and many other world champions. Other greats that had retired just came to the camp to watch their successors. Greats like Rocky Marciano, James J. Corbett, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Benny Leonard, James Braddock, were among them. Along with the fighters, many great trainers, managers, and promoters accompanied them, like Cus D’Amato, Ray Arcel, Whitey Bimstein, Chris Dundee, Joe Jacobs, Mike Jacobs, Jimmy Jacobs (Mike Tyson’s co-manager), etc.
In 1966 and 1967, the last world champion came to use Ehsan’s camp as a base for his training. Like Freddie Welsh, who had brought boxing to Chatham Township in 1917, he held the world lightweight championship. His name was Carlos Ortiz, born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on September 9, 1936. He came to mainland America in 1947. Ortiz had eyes that lit his face, even white teeth, tightly curling brown hair, and thick eyebrows dominating his tiny features. His face remained unmarked after eighteen years of fighting as an amateur and professional.
Ortiz held the world junior welterweight championship from 1959 to 1962, followed by two reigns as the world lightweight champion, from 1962 to 1965 and from 1965 to 1968. Most champions were training elsewhere. Some were in hotels like those in the Catskill Mountains. Muhammad Ali, world heavyweight champion, preferred to do his work in a midtown gymnasium, where the “people can come to see me,” thought later is his career he, too, would train in a remote camp in Pennsylvania.
“The Garden wanted to put me up there somewhere, too,” Ortiz said, “but there’s too many people there. I don’t like to be bothered when I’m training.”
Ortiz was to defend his world lightweight title against Gabriel “Flash” Elorde from the Philippines at Madison Square Garden. It would be the first lightweight title bout at the Garden in almost thirteen years—since Paddy DeMarco, the Brooklyn Billy Goat, dethroned Jimmy Carter on March 5, 1954.
The camp owner, Ehsan, was seventy-seven years old. He used to have many fighters training, sometimes over thirty, but now he was lucky to have three—Ortiz and two sparring partners. Ortiz also spent a few weeks at Ehsan’s earlier that year prior to his title bouts with Sugar Ramos and Johnny Bizzarro. Other than that, Ehsan’s Camp had been quiet.
The white, clapboard farmhouse at the camp that had housed a great many champions was weather-beaten. Inside, you could find Carlos Ortiz playing cards, which had been a tradition through the years. It was time to relax and forget about boxing for a while. Their game of choice that day was Hearts.
“Carlos is leading,” said Teddy Bentham, his trainer, looking up from the score pad.
“You've got to lead the spades to me,” Roger Gerson, a friend of Ortiz, said across the table to Willie Munoz, one of the sparring partners. “Then I can lead the spades to Carlos, and he can’t get off the hook.”
“I'm a good counter puncher,” Ortiz said, seriously, referring to the card game and not his boxing skills.
“Carlos wins a ten-dollar,” Bentham said, after the game concluded.
“Another big purse,” Carlos said, smiling.
At the conclusion of the game, Ortiz’s manager reminded him it was time to get back to work.
“I love this place,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want to train at those resorts. Too many people. That’s like going to Coney Island.”
Ortiz dominated the fight against Elorde at the Garden on November 28, 1966. He scored a knockout at two minutes, one second in round fourteen of fifteen. All scorecards showed Ortiz ahead before the knockout. Referee Jimmy Devlin eleven to two, Judge Joe Armstrong thirteen to zero, and Judge Artie Aidala twelve to one. The unofficial Associated Press scorecard was twelve to one, and the unofficial United Press International scorecard was eleven to zero with two even.
Arriving back at Ehsan’s in 1967, Ortiz came to prepare for another lightweight title defense. He would defend against the tall Panamanian, Ismael Laguna, a future lightweight champion.
“When I was a kid,” Carlos Ortiz said, “I promised myself I would make this title worth more money than it ever was worth before.”
With this fight, Ortiz would be able to fulfill his promise to himself. He was to fight for a guarantee of $83,000. When added to his lifetime earnings, it would eclipse by $500 the record for money earned by a lightweight, still held by Lou Ambers, who frequently used the camp to train for his fights thirty years before.
“But the money hasn’t changed Ortiz, said journalist Dave Anderson who was at the camp. “He trains the way champions used to, in seclusion and in simplicity. Other champions like their luxury these days.”
When asked what he would do with his purse, Ortiz said he would buy Ehsan’s Camp, and appeared serious.
“… I got to like it. I enjoy walking around here and the little town down the road, New Providence, is a nice place.”
On August 16th, Ortiz won a unanimous fifteen-round decision over Laguna at Shea Stadium in New York City, retaining his world lightweight title.
Ortiz would lose his title in his next fight against Carlos Teo Cruz in a fifteen-round split decision. He did not train at Ehsan’s for it. It took place on June 28, 1968, in Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Ortiz would go on to win his next ten fights after that loss. In 1972, he was scheduled to fight Roberto Duran, who was the lightweight champion, but Duran withdrew ten days before the fight. Ortiz fought Ken Buchanan instead.
“I had trained for a completely different fighter and was very frustrated. I felt I had nothing to gain and everything to lose,” Ortiz said.
On September 20, 1972, thirty-five-year-old Ortiz fought Buchanan at Madison Square Garden. Ortiz did not get up from his stool after the sixth round. He lost by a technical knockout. For the first time in his career, he did not finish a fight.
“I knew this was going to be my last fight,” Ortiz said.
It would be his last fight. One month later, Ehsan Karadag died at the age of eighty-two.
Carlos Ortiz finished his career with a record of 61-7-1 and one no contest. Ortiz is considered among the best Puerto Rican boxers of all time by sports journalists and analysts. He holds the record for the most wins in unified lightweight title bouts in boxing history at ten. In 1991, Ortiz was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2002, Ortiz was voted by The Ring magazine as the 60th greatest fighter of the last 80 years. He held 21st place in BoxRec ranking of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time.
In 1969, Willie Ratner, the journalist who coaxed Madame Bey into assuming Freddie Welsh’s business forty-six years before, came to visit the camp. Where the sign that used to hang for a passerby to read “Training To-Day” was a new sign— “For Sale.”
During its existence, the camp was the best known in the world. Time, economics, suburban sprawl, and a changed world of boxing took their toll. Its past popularity was undeniable. The once sparsely populated farmland was now surrounded by suburban homes and a large apartment complex down the street.
In 1972, the farmhouse on the grounds was razed, and the gymnasium was remodeled into a ranch-style house to blend with the surroundings. The extraordinary events that occurred at the camp live on because of fighters and sportswriters of the past, like Carlos Ortiz.
Gene Pantalone and his three brothers visited the historic camp in the mid-60s to see the likes of boxers Carlos Ortiz, Rubin Hurricane Carter, Jose Torres, Benny Kid Paret (he trained for his fatal fight there), Issac Logart, and Doug Jones. His books include Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends and From Boxing Ring to Battlefield: The Life off War Hero Lew Jenkins.
Gene Pantalone has compiled the following alphabetical list of known boxers, trainers, managers, promoters, and celebrities that attended the camp based on photograph and newspaper archival evidence. The following is an alphabetic list of people associated with boxing that were in Chatham Township, New Jersey, where Madame Bey's camp resided:
Georgie Abrams, Lou Ambers, Fred Apostoli, Red Applegate, Ray Arcel, Freddie Archer, Henry Armstrong, Buddy Baer, Max Baer, Joe Baksi, Sam Baroudi, Billy Beauhuld, Tommy Bell, Steve Belloise, Paul Berlenbach, Melio Bettina, Carmine Bilotti, Whitey Bimstein, Jimmy Bivins, James Braddock, Jorge Brescia, Jack Britton, Freddy Brown, Al Buck, Red Burman, Mushy Callahan, Victor Campolo, Tony Canzoneri, Primo Carnera, Georges Carpentier, Jimmy Carter, Rubin Carter, Ezzard Charles, Kid Chocolate, Gil Clancy, Freddie Cochrane, Jimmy Carrollo, James J. Corbett, Lulu Costantino, Cus D’Amato, Jack Delaney, Al Davis, Red Top Davis, James P. Dawson, Jack Dempsey, Gus Dorazio, Carl Duane, Chris Dundee, Johnny Dundee, Vince Dundee, Sixto Escobar, Tommy Farr, Abe Feldman, Freddie Fiducia, Jackie Fields, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billy Fox, Humbert Fugazy, Charley Fusari , Tony Galento, Kid Gavilán, Frankie Genaro, Billy Gibson, Joey Giardello, George Godfrey, Arturo Godoy, Charley Goldman, Ruby Goldstein, Bud Gorman, Billy Graham, Frank Graham, Rocky Graziano, Abe Greene, Gus Greenlee, Emile Griffith, Babe Herman, Steve Hostak, Ace Hudkins, Herbert Hype Igoe, Beau Jack, Tommy Hurricane Jackson, Jimmy Jacobs, Joe Jacobs, Mike Jacobs, Joe Jeanette, Ben Jeby, Lew Jenkins, Jack Johnson, James Johnston, Doug Jones, Ralph Tiger Jones, Phil Kaplan, Jack Kearns, Frankie Klick, Johnny Kilbane, Solly Krieger, Jake LaMotta, Tippy Larkin, Benny Leonard, Gus Lesnevich, King Levinsky, John Henry Lewis, Isaac Logart, Tommy Loughran, Joe Louis, Joe Lynch, Eddie Mader, Nathan Mann, Rocky Marciano, Lloyd Marshall, Eddie Martin, Bat Masterson, Joey Maxim, Jimmy McLarnin, Mike McTigue, Jack Miley, Bob Montgomery, Archie Moore, Tod Morgan, Dan Morgan, Walter Neusel, Kid Norfolk, Lou Nova, Jack O’Brien, Bob Olin, Lee Oma, Carlos Ortiz, Ken Overlin, Benny Kid Paret, Floyd Patterson, Willie Pep, Billy Petrolle, Willie Ratner, Grantland Rice, Gilbert Rogin, Maxie Rosenbloom, Al Roth, Andre Routis, Irving Rudd, Bobby Ruffin, Damon Runyon, Sandy Saddler, Lou Salica, Johnny Saxton, Max Schmeling, Flashy Sebastian, Marty Servo, Jack Sharkey, Battling Siki, Eric Seelig, Freddie Steele, Allie Stolz, Young Stribling, Herman Taylor, Lew Tendler, Sid Terris, Young Terry, Jack Thompson, Jose Torres, Gene Tunney, Pancho Villa, Mickey Walker, Max Waxman, Al Weill, Charlie Weinert, Freddie Welsh, Harry Wills, Charley White, Johnny Wilson, Chalky Wright, Paulino Uzcudun, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ike Williams, Teddy Yarosz.
Anderson, Dave. Ortiz Prefers Simple and Secluded Training. New York Times. November 27, 1966.
Hissner, Ken. Carlos Ortiz the Hall of Fame Junior Welterweight and Lightweight Champion! Doghouse Boxing. April 28, 2009.
Ratner, Willie. Ehsan’s Training Camp on the Ropes. Newark Evening News. April 23, 1969.
Norton, Mark. Letter to the Summit Historical Society. Summit: 2008.
Smith, Red. Carlos Comes High. Binghamton Press. August 11, 1967.
Wha a terrific well written article learning things I never knew again and again reading it. Carlos Ortiz was my all-time favorite boxer whom I met at the IBHOF on my only visit.ReplyDelete
Excellent article about an often overlooked all time great!.ReplyDelete