Carter has the unusual distinction of being best known for two, if not three things that he himself did not do. Denzel Washington played him in a film, Bob Dylan wrote a song about him, and perhaps most famously (given that it is the reason for those two artistic acts) he was twice convicted of murders, only for those convictions to be later quashed.
You can read all about his legal escapades at his Wikipedia page (and indeed about aspects of his character which, shall we say, were not the most genial) as that’s not what I’m going to discuss here. Instead, I’m going to dispel one myth perpetrated by both the aforementioned film and song. Dylan may say that ‘he could-a been the Champion of the World’ but that isn’t quite true, at least not at the time of his conviction.
Carter was a fine boxer, of that there is no doubt. He won 27 of 40 fights, while that record was an even more impressive 20-4 when he challenged for the World title held by Joey Giardello. However, Carter was handily beaten in that fight (despite his claims to the contrary) and he would never get a shot at glory again, as he went on to record seven more losses within the next two years.
Despite this, Carter was a decent banger, particularly early in his career. For me, his most impressive win came over Emile Griffith, about a year before the fight with Giardello. Griffith had been welterweight champion at this point (following his memorable and tragic win over Benny Paret) and would later clinch the middleweight crown as well. However, in December of 1963, a month after the assassination of JFK, Rubin Carter knocked him out in the first round of their fight in Pittsburgh.
Carter was no stranger to short nights’ work – indeed this was his eleventh win within three rounds – and the popularity earned through this explosiveness was in part what would earn him a shot at the title. Perhaps more importantly however, it also earned him his greatest asset, the nickname of ‘Hurricane’ as he is best known to this day.