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Thom Loverro: Just hanging on by a thread

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

Juan Carlos Robles doesn't need any additional advertisements to convey the message he's a tough guy.

The cruiserweight boxer from Staunton, Va., looks formidable enough with his tattoos and Mohawk.

But if you take a closer look at Robles, you see something that raises tough to a whole new level - a piece of a finger hanging on a necklace.

"It does draw a crowd," Robles said before his fight Friday at the Maryland Sportsplex in Millersville.

Let's take tough, though, and magnify it by a few degrees. The dried, cured piece of finger hanging around Robles neck isn't from someone else. It is his right pinkie - which he cut off himself.

Who would want to fight this guy?

Robles, 30, is a bona fide tough guy without the amputated digit. But cutting off his finger puts him in the Tough (or Crazy) Hall of Fame, ahead of former NFL safety Ronnie Lott, who had the tip of his left pinkie removed following the 1985 season after it was crushed during a tackle.

Lott had a medical procedure. He had doctors and nurses and surgical supplies.

Robles had a chisel and a 15-pound weight.

"I did a good job," Robles said. "It healed perfectly. The doctors were impressed."

Robles performed the Home Depot surgery to get back into the ring after an April 2007 motorcycle accident put him out of commission for nine months. He was driving home early one morning on his Suzuki 1100 when he skidded going around a curve, and the motorcycle fell down a ravine and hit a culvert.

"I was laying in a ditch with a broken arm and my knee all messed up," Robles said. "We [Robles and his trainer, Bruce Frank] were going to go to the Patriot Center that night to watch a fight."

Robles managed to get his cell phone out and call Frank to tell him he was lying in a ditch all banged up.

"I said, 'Don't call me. I didn't go to medical school," Frank said. "Call the hospital."

He did, and it turned out Robles had a broken right kneecap, dislocated right elbow, broken right forearm and road rash on his right ring and pinkie fingers.

"My pinkie finger was torn up really bad," Robles said. "All the skin on the inside from the very inside crease up to the top was torn up. It stayed all curled up. I told the doctor we had to do something about that."

Robles, though, didn't have insurance and didn't have enough money to cover the cost of the pinkie amputation. Doctors told him of a program at an area hospital in which he could have it done for free, but he would have to wait several months.

"I couldn't wait," said Robles, who works full time for an excavation company. "I was out for a while. I needed money, and I had a fight lined up."

So he went home, put towels over the kitchen table and blocked off a working area with several two-by-fours. He put gauze around the area and twisted soldering wire around his right pinkie to slow the flow of blood.

"Then I put a wood chisel on it and dropped a 15-pound weight on the chisel," Robles said. "The piece shot out about six feet like a missile."

He called Frank and said, "Bruce, I took care of my little problem."

Robles' wife, Ginnie, took him to the hospital to get stitched up. First he told the doctors it came off accidentally. But the doctors had heard about Robles and suspected he had performed amateur surgery.

"It was giving me a problem," Robles said he told the doctors. "If you had took it off in the first place when I asked you to, I wouldn't be here. So I left it at the house so you wouldn't try to put it back on. They looked at me like I was crazy."

Can't understand why they would do that.

Robles had posted a 9-0 record before the accident and quickly gained a reputation as a good, competitive fighter who gave fans their money's worth. So he managed to get a shot at the World Boxing Council Continental Americas cruiserweight title in March, his first fight back since the accident, against veteran Rob Calloway, who had a 68-7-1 mark. Robles was stopped in eight rounds and then lost a six-round decision to William Bailey in August. But he looked good Friday in forcing Tommy Washington Jr. to quit after three rounds.

Robles doesn't want to fight much longer.

"I fight because I enjoy it," he said. "But there's other things I want to do besides fight. I'm getting restless. I want to travel."

He took a trip to Hollywood recently to audition for the Versus boxing reality show "The Contender." Show producers had heard about Robles' story and invited him out. He lasted two days.

"I gathered they thought my attitude would cause conflict for the show," he said.

One of the concerns producers had was about fighting among contestants away from the ring, Robles said. He was asked what he would do if, say, one of the contestants tried to take his finger necklace.

"I said I would cut their finger off and use that as a necklace," Robles said. "I wasn't joking. I went through too much for this. There is only so much I am going to take. I won't allow that. They do a personality profile, and I don't think my attitude, personality and temper was what they were looking for."

He may be better suited for the Do It Yourself Network anyway.