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Francisco's Fortune: Panning for Gold Fists

H1_Drian-Francisco.jpg
H1_Drian-Francisco.jpg


A boxing trainer’s life is not unlike a gold miner’s. You work your particular stretch of stream, sifting the silt, separating out the rocks and rabble in search of that one piece of gold you can ride out of this Godforsaken place - if only for 10-to-12 rounds and some glory at a time. A fighter’s life is lonely. A trainer’s life is insanely anything but. Coach, priest, nutritionist, psychiatrist and all-around man, the trainer’s job is to hone the talent he finds into something not of his own imagination. Rather, it is to help the fighter realize his own potential by simply realizing his nature. Some fighters more than others need help discovering who they are. For trainer Justin Fortune, that rare find is Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental, Philippines native Drian “Gintong Kamao” Francisco, 24-1-1 (19). Francisco, whose moniker translates to “Golden Fists,” will be taking on Chris Avalos in a 10-round battle of 122-pounders at Texas Station in Las Vegas, Nevada for ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”
 
Francisco stands 5’5” with a solid build to go with his 65” reach. He’s an aggressive, orthodox fighter who was trained as a southpaw early on thus comfortable in many modes in the ring.  Being a speedy puncher from the Philippines will bring inevitable comparisons to Manny Pacquiao. But Fortune, who worked with Pacquiao for the first six years he was fighting out of the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA with Freddie Roach, shut that down pretty quickly. He’s Filipino and he hits hard. That’s about as far as the comparison goes.

“He’s nothing like Pacquiao. There is no Filipino style,” Fortune told me as the two men drove from his Hollywood, CA Fortune Gym on Sunset to Texas Station on Wednesday. “With this kid, he can actually box. He has defense. He can change his distance better than Manny. Manny’s a come-forward fighter. Drian has defense. Manny has no defense; you know what I mean? At 122, this f**ker can really, really punch - both hands.”
 
Francisco is educated inside and out of the ring. He took up boxing at age 11 and racked up an amateur record of 79-1.
 
“Before I could go to fights or the gym, I had to go to school and study first. I graduated from college before I turned pro,” said Francisco.
 
Francisco went to college at his father, Joe’s behest. Joe was a featherweight pro boxer himself and now makes his living as a fireman. Francisco’s younger brother, Lloyd, is also a pro boxer in the super featherweight division. Drian majored in business management.
 
“After my college, I went to professional boxing,” Francisco explained. “I couldn’t wait to fight professional.”
 
Francisco turned pro in 2005 and by May of 2011 had racked up a 20-0-1 record, including a WBA interim world super flyweight title by stopping Duangpetch Kokietgym in 10 rounds. But his reign would be short as he dropped a unanimous decision loss to Tepparith Kokietgym in Thailand. Francisco was dropped in the third round; nonetheless the scorecards and the fight were close with two judges scoring the fight 114-113 in his opponent’s favor. The final card sealed it at 117-111.
 
Unbowed by the loss, Francisco has been on a four-fight winning streak culminating in his U.S. debut last November on the undercard of the Brian Viloria-Hernan Marquez card at the L.A. Sports Arena. Francisco was in against Javier Gallo and made short work of him while showing variety, showmanship and real power.
 
Fortune is co-managing Francisco with Glenn Evan. Though there seems to be some dispute with that by Francisco’s former manager in the Philippines, no action has been taken. This is Fortune’s second fight working with Francisco and the two seem very comfortable together. Francisco rooms at Fortune’s house during camp in a quiet Los Angeles neighborhood. In Francisco, Fortune feels he has a natural fighter along the lines of another fighter he worked with at the Wild Card.
 
“It’s like James Toney. Where you have the ability, it comes natural with some fighters,” said Fortune. “They can gauge distance, their defense,” said Fortune. “It’s not something anyone can teach. It’s something in their body. Like with James, his defense was just there.”
 
“I’m an orthodox fighter,” Francisco described himself. “I can make myself in the ring what I want. I can do any style. Whatever style of my opponent, I can adjust in the ring. I think about the strategy of my opponent.”
 
Fortune feels that Drian needs world-class conditioning and a tightening up here and there and he will be ready to dominate from 118 to 122 pounds.
 
“Conditioning and then little bit of refinement. Give him a couple more tools. He’s got natural ability. You can’t change him at 26 fights. But you can point out things, change a couple little things, some angles and stuff so he can be a more complete fighter,” explained Fortune.
 
Fortune’s workouts are brutal. He has a seemingly endless array of core exercises, conditioning work and drills to increase a fighter’s power from the ground up.
 
“It’s hard and nothing like before. Justin is more scientific,” Francisco said of Fortune’s training. “And he tells me how to become stronger and where to place the punch. And mentally be fit, you know?”
 
Two camps in, Fortune is still discovering his fighter’s ability. For instance, this camp, Francisco’s jab emerged.
 
“His jab is ridiculous. His jab opens up everything,” said Fortune. “He could use it a little more but this is our second fight. Three or four fights down the track [things will gel further].”
 
Fortune explained that his fighter is unique not just in that he’s a natural at distance but in his ability to move out of the way of punches. “Being wild makes him hard to hit. If he doesn’t want you to hit him, you won’t hit him.”
 
To prepare for Chris Avalos, 21-2 (16), Fortune brought in “coupla ’35-pounders, awkward like Avalos.” Francisco also got in work with Vic Darchinyan.
 
“Darchinyan was quitting after four or five rounds,” said Fortune. “He was like, ‘Naw, that’s enough.’”
 
After two camps together, the work seems to have paid off though there is only one way to tell. Even still, there are other signs. Fortune himself seems more at ease than I have seen him in years. There’s a confidence, a spark in Fortune’s eye, if you will, that has been there since Francisco first walked in the gym. Trainers are every bit as competitive as the fighters. You have to be in order to sit at a gym’s counter, day after day, working with all manner of folks and hoping to find that one guy whose fighting ability can take you both to the Promised Land. When that fighter appears, the vigilance proves worth it.
 
In Chris Avalos, the two men are facing a born action fighter who is long on right hand and short on defense. His two losses have come in split decision losses to undefeated Jonathan Romero and Christopher Martin, who both used boxing to nullify Avalos’ raw aggression.
 
“[Avalos is] of straight, come-forward Mexican cut,” assessed Fortune. “The two times he has faced quality opponents, they’ve beat him. They weren’t bangers. He is going to face a good old-fashioned banger that can finish you with whatever hand he hits you. Every f**kin’ punch hurts; know what I mean? Avalos is fighting someone who can roll with the shots with either hand. Like James could roll with it and come back and counter.
 
Avalos has a wild, awkward right hand with power that should be respected. But the trajectory and lack of defense he has shown over the years plays perfectly into what Fortune and Francisco have in store. The hook Fortune teaches, which can come from the rear or the front, is shorter, faster and more to the power point than Avalos’ right or his left. At least, that is what they are hoping. This is going to be guns blazing at the Texas Station.
 
“He’s a tough opponent, tough Mexican fighter,” said Francisco. “He thinks he is better than me. He’s a tough opponent. He will be in good condition,” assessed Francisco. “But I am prepared. I am in great condition. I will show I am superior in the fight on Friday. This will be an entertaining fight.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
 
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