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Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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Max Boxing – Main Lead

California’s Frankie Duarte fought for 16 years from 1973 until his last fight in 1989, facing some of boxing’s best in his impressive 45-8-1 (33 KO’s) career.

After turning pro in the summer of ’73, Duarte would go 18-2 in his first 2 years. In his first 20 bouts, he only lost to undefeated, fellow Californian Joe Guevara and rugged Mexican veteran Tarcisio Gomez. Duarte would also appear at the famed LA boxing shrine, the Olympic Auditorium, in 14 of those 20 bouts. By the time Duarte retired he would have clocked into work 23 times at the iconic, downtown Los Angeles fight venue.

Racking up 10 straight wins, he earned a shot at future world champion Alberto Davila in a WBC bantamweight title eliminator in June of 1977. In a rugged back and forth brawl, Davila stopped Duarte in 5 rounds. Over the next 7 years, (4 fighting, off for 3, from ’81 -’84, due to substance abuse issues) he would go 7-3, only losing on points to future world champion Rolando Navarrete, Philippine’s veteran Neptali Alamag, and world champion Richie Sandoval in a non-title fight.

From September of ’85, until his retirement in 1987, Duarte would fight 13 times posting a strong 10-2-1. In his final stretch, he would draw with world title challenger Fred Jackson, beat future world champion Jesus Salud and beat former foe Alberto Davila. His 2 losses came in title shots, losing a distance decision to Bernard Pinango, in a WBA bantamweight title fight, and to Daniel Zaragoza in a WBC super-bantamweight title bout, in what would be his last ring appearance.

At the final bell, Duarte would walk away with 45 wins in 54 bouts, with 33 KOs, 2 world title shots and wins over some of the best of his era. Impressive stuff.

MaxBoxing had a chance to catch up with the well-spoken, friendly, and very personable Duarte, from his home in Mar Vista, California. We talked about boxing, shaving, and a life full of great memories in the ring.

Bill Tibbs: Hi Frankie. Thanks for taking a few minutes to chat.

Frankie Duarte: Thank you Bill. Nice to speak to you too.

BT: So, how did you get into boxing? Did you have an amateur career?

FD: When I got into junior high school, I do not know, about age 13, 14, I got in with the wrong crowd and started to use drugs. Most people know how I have struggled with drug addiction at times in my life. I liked boxing, and my dad and I would watch it, but he thought maybe that if I got into boxing it would help to straighten me out, get me away from the wrong crowd and the drugs. So, my dad showed me how to take the bus to downtown LA to the gym. I got there and from the first day there I loved it. I started training. I was still getting loaded, I hadn’t stopped using drugs, but I loved boxing and I was going to the gym. I fought amateur, Junior Golden Gloves, Regional Golden Gloves, you know like that. Then, I turned pro at age 18.

BT: Early 70’s, Los Angeles, and the Olympic Auditorium, was such an iconic boxing arena. Did you ever dream of one day fighting there? And, could you ever have imagined you’d fight there as much as you did?

FD: Oh Bill, let me tell you. A soon as I started to box as a young kid, I would shadow box in my bedroom and dream of one day fighting there. I had watched my idol Mando Ramos, and he is my favorite fighter, and I would dream of one day fighting there like he did. The first time I fought there I was very thrilled; I could not believe it was happening.

BT: That was when Aileen Eaton was promoting?

FD: Yes, and Don Chargin was doing the matchmaking. I was her favorite, like here baby for a while, until she gave up on me, frustrated over the drug use.

BT: Did your trainers know you were doing drugs away from boxing?

FD: Oh yeah, you can not hide it from them. They knew what I was doing. I guess I have always had that addictive gene. You can try to hide it, but people know. I was very dedicated when I first stated boxing, but then I’d slip back into the drugs many times.

BT: You fought so many great fighters, who was the toughest you faced?

FD: The toughest fighter is hard to say. My toughest fight was the Rolando Navarette fight because I was at the height of my drug use. He really pounded on me, but I kept going forward. One thing I really feared was the fans booing me, fans thinking I did not give it my all. So, no matter what, I always tried to win, I never took a step back. You know I brawled in so many of my fights, but when I started, I was a boxer-puncher, I had good boxing skills, but I ended up brawling a lot.

BT: You are off for 5 years, except for 1 bout, after the Navarrete bout.

FD: After the Navarette bout, summer of ’79, I wanted to quit. I was done. The drugs were bad, I was not focused and training properly. I had lost my desire and my pride as a fighter. I was done. I took the 1 fight to Honolulu to make some money and go to Hawaii.

BT: What brought you back in ’84?

FD: In those 5 years, my mom had kicked me out of the house, I was living with an aunt. I was strung out on heroin, I thought, ‘what am I doing?’. I dropped to my knees, and I cried. I thought, ‘this is no life’. There were 2 sides to me back then. The side that wanted to be responsible and normal and the other side that wanted to be the bad guy. But, I had the support of 2 people who never gave up on me. Actor Victor French and Al Goosen (father of the famous Goosen boxing family), they never gave up on me. My cousin introduced me to trainer Joe Goosen and he was willing to take me on. He was young and just getting going and he was willing to work with me. I was making a comeback, but it was not handed to me. I had to start back at square one. Nobody was handing anything to me. I really thought I’ll have 2 fights and then make enough to get a car and then get a job and be done with boxing. I really was thinking about having 2 fights and that was it.

BT: You have 3 wins in ’84 to get going and then you jump way up in class and take on world champion Richie Sandoval in a 10-round bout.

FD: I was so ready for Sandoval. I was in such great shape. I was in the 4th bout of my comeback and I’m fighting the undefeated champion of the world. I think he thought, ‘I’ll get this old man out of here’, but I was not going anywhere. He loaded up on me, a lot of shots early, and tried to get to me, but I kept coming forward. I was the aggressor in the fight and even though I lost it was a moral victory for me. I was treated like it was a win after the fight.

BT: I think that fight really announced you were indeed back and then you went on a real hot run from the fall of ’85 into 1987. You beat Mike Moreno, George Garcia Jose Torres – those guys fought everybody. Tearing up that Stroh’s tournament. You beat future world champion Jesus Salud and had a technical draw, because of the accidental cut, with world title challenger Freddie Jackson. Then, you get your world title shot against Bernard Pinango. Tell me about that.

FD: It’s hard for me to look at that fight with a clear perspective because I really thought I won that fight. He was a very difficult guy, slick guy, he never hurt me, never stunned me. With all the points they took away, I thought I won the fight. After dropping him, I thought, ‘I’ll finish him, I’m going to be the champ of the world’. In truth, I was a bit over trained, I was a bit zapped later in the fight. Looking back, I really did fight the wrong fight. He was an awkward guy to fight. He would come at awkward angles, he would hit me with these little shots that kind of just peppered me, never hurt me, but they did score points.

BT: Then you go on a pretty good run, including a win over old foe Davila, and earn another title shot.

FD: I really thought I was done. I was tired, I wanted to stop. I’d had a good career, I came back from so much in and out of the ring. But, I was ready to leave boxing, get a job, get on with my life. But, I get a call from my trainer Joe Goosen who says, ‘Who is the one guy people would love to see you fight? Who is the one guy who you should get back in the ring with? ‘. Before he even finished the sentence, I was saying in my head, ‘let me guess, Alberto Davila’. The money was good, so I thought I’ll do it, but I really did not want to fight him, or fight at all again. But, it was a TV fight, good money, you know. I won the fight, but I do not like looking back on it, I thought I looked terrible in the fight. I never felt good about that fight.

BT: Three more wins and there you are back in the ring for your second world title shot. Turned out to be the last fight of your career. Tell me about the Daniel Zaragoza fight.

FD: Going back to after the Pinango fight I was tired. There was no fire left for Zaragoza, I was not in the greatest shape, I did not feel great before the fight. I mean I was in somewhat good shape, but I just did not have that extra thing you need in a title fight. It’s a world title shot so you are going to take it but, like I said, I was really tired, the fire was gone.

BT: So, let’s talk about life after boxing. As a bald guy, I am jealous of a great head of hair, and you have a great head of hair (laughs). You could give Elvis a run for his money (laughing). You became a barber.

FD: (Laughing). Yes, I did. I did not know what I was going to do. I did not have a college degree. My father suggested maybe I’d like to try to be a barber? So, I went to barber school to become a licensed barber and I really enjoyed it. My daughter is also a barber and so is my son.

BT: You are married?

FD: Yes, I am married. As I said, I have 2 children and I was recently blessed to become a grandfather as my daughter just had a baby.

BT: Congratulations.

FD: Thank you

BT: You sound fantastic. I am so pleased you seemed to have left boxing in good health.

FD: I am 68 years old, and I am blessed. You know before every fight I would always pray, but never for a win. I would just pray that me and my opponent would come out of the fight ok; not get hurt. That is all I ever prayed for.

BT: What is one of your greatest memories from boxing?

FD: You know one great memory I have was after the Pinango fight I was taken on a cruise by Rich Marotta. It was so nice of him to do that. It was like a gift to me for all that I had accomplished in boxing, my comeback and everything. It had such an emotional effect on me, I was so happy he would do this. I filmed the whole thing. Everywhere I went on the whole trip, that was 17 days, I would get stopped and people would ask for autographs or ask me about my career. It was like a reward for my whole comeback. I was not on the ship as Frank the fighter, or Frank the barber, I was “The Comeback Kid” as Jimmy Lennon used to call me. My 15 minutes of fame turned out to be a lot more, like about 20 minutes, (laughs).

BT: How do you want to be remembered by fight fans?

FD: I want to be remembered as a guy who gave fans an exciting fight, a guy who always tried to give the fans good fights, remembered for putting on a good fight every time I got in the ring.

BT: Frankie, I can not tell you how enjoyable this has been. I was a big fan, and it was a real honor and a pleasure speaking with you. I called and asked for a few minutes of your time, and we’ve been talking for an hour (laughs).

FD: Bill, thank you so much for saying that. I really appreciate it.

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