Once a week, Ralph Citro, 63, a retired insurance agent from Blackwood, N.J., loads his black salesman's sample case with an economy-sized jar of Vaseline, an enormous bottle of Maalox, Q-tips, pliers, a screwdriver, several objects that look like dollhouse irons, a jar of Avitene, three bottles of Thrombin and a vial of Adrenalin. Then he gets in his station wagon and drives 45 miles to Atlantic City.
It's not the gaming tables that draw Citro to the hotel-casinos there. Atlantic City is one of the busiest sites in the country for professional boxing matches. When a boxer gets "busted up," in the parlance of the fight community, Citro goes into action. He has 60 seconds between rounds to coax a young man's nose back to the center of his face or to seal a split eyebrow so the fight can continue. Citro is a cutman.
"I have no formal training whatsoever," he says. He learned his trade through his involvement with the fight game over the years, first as an amateur boxer himself, watching men at work in the corner, and later from physicians. His skill and reputation now keep him busy in the ring about eight days every month, and he has worked 54 world championship fights. In addition, Citro keeps a central database of records for all registered fighters in the world—the only comprehensive record considered official by all the international boxing associations—which he publishes every year as Computer Boxing Update. He is far from the boredom of a retiree's life.
On a Tuesday afternoon in April, Citro pulled into Atlantic City at 2:30 for that evening's four-fight card at the Showboat Hotel & Casino. The bouts wouldn't start until 8:30 p.m., but Citro likes to take his time and schmooze in the hotel coffee shop, where he is joined by other Atlantic City cutmen. They include 79-year-old Milt Bailey, who says he learned the finer points of the job during his career as a hospital maintenance worker; Leon Tabbs, who owns a launderette in Philadelphia; Don Nelson, a semiretired contractor; and, of course, Eddie (the Clot) Aliano, an ex-railroad man who is most frequently in the corner opposite Citro.
Led by Citro, a nonstop talker, they debate the same topics over and over again. What, for instance, does Don King have up his sleeve? What were the worst cuts in boxing history?
"Just pick any fight Vito Antuofermo's ever been in," Citro says. "What a challenge."
"What about Chuck Wepner's fights?" responds Aliano. "The Bayonne Bleeder, oooh, the man was human hamburger."
"What about the cuts in Rocky Marciano's fights?" someone chimes in.
"What about Jake La Motta's fights? What about Jake La Motta's fights with his wife? Now there was a challenge."
Citro thinks of himself as a technician. "The toughest cut occurs in the middle of the forehead or at the hairline," he says. "The skin is thin there, and the blood will flow directly into the eyes. A cut inside the mouth tends to bleed a lot. Cuts on the cheek aren't too bad. You use the cheekbone as leverage to press against. Cuts on the eyelids and eyebrows are real, real tough to fix. You need to break out your coagulants for those. You can't press too hard. There's not a lot holding your eyeballs in your head to begin with, you know."