By John Goralski
It was almost like a flashback when a figure darted from the crowd to confront Luigi Camputaro at a recent event at Mohegan Sun, and the former boxer almost broke into his stance in self-defense until he saw the smile from his old friend. A steady string of fans began to shower the Southington resident with congratulations and praise.
“For what?” he asked in confusion.
That’s when he heard the news that he would be inducted into the CT Boxing Hall of Fame in an induction ceremony this fall.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I think it’s very nice. I think that all the hard work I did came through.”
Camputaro, or “Kid Lightning” as he’s known in boxing circles, never set out to be recognized by boxing organizations or halls of fame. He was simply a boxer trying to fight his way out of his brother’s shadow. As the younger brother to an Olympian, it’s no surprise that Camputaro entered the boxing world. But how he landed in Southington is a totally different story.
His brother made a splash at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal as a young Italian boxer, and a young Luigi tried to follow in his steps eight years later. He fought as an amateur in Switzerland, but didn’t reach the Olympic Games. In the meantime, his brother was enjoying success in Italy as an up-and-coming professional, so Luigi tried to follow suit. He was quickly turned away for his age.
He never hesitated. Luigi jumped on a plane for America determined to raise the bar on his brother’s career.
“After he became pro, my brother was an Italian champion, but he can never admit to being a European champion,” Camputaro said with a smile. “I wanted to get it before him, and that’s why I came to the USA in 1984. In Italy, you need to be 22 or 23 years old to go pro, but I was only 20 years old.”
In America, it made little difference, and Camputaro threw himself into whatever fight he could find. He opened in West Hartford with a decision over Felix Rodriguez on June 19, 1984. One month later, he scored a TKO in the rematch. Over the next year he fought four local matches, scored a decision, a knock-out, and a pair of technical knockouts to earn his first major fight in Atlantic City against former Olympian Steve McCrory.
Mike Tyson was fighting on the undercard. Kid Dynamite scored a knock down in the third round, but officials called off the fight after six rounds. For Camputaro, the controversial decision was his first professional loss and a quick lesson about boxing politics, but the young Southington fighter captured the notice of the boxing establishment.
“I felt bad about it. I was crying. It was my first fight, and I lost. But I knew I could beat him. That just wasn’t right,” he said. “I asked why they stopped it in the sixth round, and they told me that they were stopping it at six rounds. That’s the problem with not having anybody behind you. They can do whatever they want. It’s a lot of politics.”
It was only a bump in the road because Camputaro wasn’t down for long. He closed out 1985 with two more victories before hopping on a plane and returning to his homeland. In 1986, Kid Dynamite fought eight fighters in Italy, scored eight consecutive wins, and finished the year with a win over Roberto Cirelli to claim the Italian Flyweight title.
Camputaro was far from finished.
“I never refused nobody,” he said. “I would fight anybody because I wanted to see where I stand. A lot of people, they didn’t want to fight me. Maybe a week before the fight or two weeks before the fight, they didn’t want to fight me.”
In 1987, he won a decision against Kenny Mitchell that sent him to the hospital with a gash over his eye. He needed 42 stitches as a result of that fight, and a rematch was quickly scheduled for the following February. Camputaro was ready to go, but Mitchell was not.
Even though he had cut Camputaro in the first fight, there wasn’t going to be any rematch.
“I was training in Florida, and a week before the fight and the TV said that the fight was on. Then it was off. This guy didn’t want to fight me no more,” he said. “Two weeks later, he fought for the title against Orlando Gonzalez from Mexico and he won the world championship. That was supposed to be my championship. But it was two days before my wedding, so in some ways it was good. In the last fight, I got 42 stitches. At least I was clean for my wedding.”
For 13 years, Camputaro never refused a contest. He battled some of the top lightweights in the business. He fought championship matches in Las Vegas, South Africa, and Great Britain. He began to earn a reputation for fighting anybody at any time and any venue.
In 1989, he lost a flyweight title fight against Ray Mede in Colorodo but returned to Italy four months later for a bantamweight title fight against Vincenzo Belcasto. In 1990, he returned to the USA to fight for a WBA Inter-Continental Bantamweight title against Sugar Baby Rojas and earned a shot at the USBA Super Flyweight title against Johnny Tapia at the end of the year.
“A few weeks before the fight, I got cut on my right eye. It was the same spot [as the 42 stitches],” he said. “I was worried that they wouldn’t give me the fight again. We tried to put make-up on. We tried everything. I was lucky. We went 12 rounds, and it never opened up. When it didn’t open up after two or three rounds, I knew I was good.”
Pundits predicted that Tapia would score a knock out, but Camputaro wouldn’t budge. He lost the decision, but never got a second chance. Perhaps Tapia realized how tough Kid Dynamite was.
In 1992, Camputaro and Cecilio Torito Espino set a CompuBox record with 637 total punches in an all-out slugfest for the NABF Bantamweight title. That was typical for the hard-hitting Camputaro. He would meet anybody toe-to-toe.
Camputaro went on to claim the European Boxing Union’s Flyweight title with a win over Salvatore Fanni. He won it again in 1994 against Mickey Cantwell in the United Kindgdom and defended it successfully against Darren Fifield a few months later. 1n 1995, he tied Fanni in another title bout but won the next fight a few months later. Camputaro would go on to fight three more times, but retired in 1997 with a 29-10-1 record.
“A lot of things happened. I got married. I had to get a job. We just bought a house, and I thought I had to start working,” he said. “Now, it was a lot of young guys. I was 35 or 36 years old, and for a little guy, it’s all about reflexes. It was very hard for me to get out of boxing, but it had to stop.”
That’s why Camputaro was so surprised at Mohegan Sun when he was approached by a friend. It had been a long time since he was in the ring, but boxing enthusiasts haven’t forgotten him.
A few days later, Camputaro received the letter. The CT Boxing Hall of Fame will induct him at the 9th annual event on Saturday, Nov. 9 at Mohegan Sun. Tickets cost $90 and are available through Kim Baker at the Mohegan Sun, (860) 862-7377).
“I’m proud of what I did,” said Camputaro. “I could have done a lot better, but you need the right people in back of you. It’s a lot of politics. There were two or three championships that were supposed to be mine, but they changed my fight just two or three weeks before the fight. They’d give me another guy. That’s just the way it is. That’s boxing, but I think every sport is like that.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.