By John J. Raspanti
During his life Frankie Duarte has battled opponents both inside and outside of the boxing ring. He beat them all.
At 15, Duarte discovered boxing through television. He’d sit with his dad and watch the Gillette Friday night fights, and local matches from the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA. He idolized fighters like Mando Ramos, Ruben Navarro, and Frankie Crawford. He’d go in his room and pretend he was a champion--when he got knocked down, he always got up and won. He dreamed of one day fighting at the Olympic.
His parents were worried about him. He liked running with gangs and engaging in nefarious activities. His dad suggested boxing as an alternative. Duarte agreed. They traveled to a gym run by the LA Teamsters Club in downtown Los Angeles.
Once there, Duarte was hooked. Every day for the next three years, he took a bus to the gym.
It didn’t take long for Duarte to get noticed. He overheard a trainer say he was a natural. Durate liked that. He felt good in the ring, as if the squared circle was his second home. He won his fight bout in less than a minute. Other knockouts followed. He captured the Golden Gloves and Diamond Belt amateur titles, but the demons beckoned.
His dream of fighting professionally at the Olympic Auditorium came to fruition in 1973. He fought 11 of his first 16 fights there. He won them all, scoring 14 knockouts. As his name recognition grew, so did the adulation. He loved the ring walk. When the crowd spotted him waiting in the wings, their cheering would build to a crescendo.
Duarte’s first loss was hard to take. He rebounded, but lost again a few months later. He turned to drink and drugs to ease his losses. He battled, but his training habits were poor. His fight with crosstown rival, Albert Davila, was huge. The winner would get a shot at the world title, but Duarte wasn’t training. He took diet pills to help him make the weight. His legs felt weak. The sharp-punching Davila stopped Duarte in Round five.
Duarte was devastated. He hid out. Many of his so-called friends weren’t returning his calls. His new trainer reminded him about his boxing skills. After winning three tune-up fights, he returned to the Olympic to fight Francisco Flores for the California State featherweight title. Duarte prevailed by a majority decision.
His next bout was against future champion Rolando Navarrete. The winner would get a shot at a world title. Though beat-up for 10 rounds, Duarte wouldn’t quit. He disappeared from the ring for two years, his drinking out of control.
By 1984 he was ready to give boxing another try. He’d cleaned up his act, but no trainer would touch him. Then he was introduced to the Goossen family. They believed in Duarte, convinced he still had a lot to offer in the ring.
Duarte trained hard for the first time in years. He knew this was last chance at redemption. He won three fights in a row, before being edged by future champion, Richie Sandoval. Duarte soldiered on. The Goossen’s faith in Duarte was rewarded. In 1986, he captured the NABF bantamweight title by stopping hard-punching Jesus Salud.
The win earned him a shot at world champion, Bernardo Pinango. The fight was close with Pinango winning by decision. Four months later, Duarte was back in the ring against his old foe, Albert Davila. The fight was a bloodbath. Duarte battled from behind to stop the bleeding Davila. Ring magazine named him "Comeback Fighter of the Year."
Duarte earned one last shot at a world title in 1989 when he faced clever Daniel Zaragoza at the Forum in Inglewood, CA. Zaragoza dominated the fight, his fists convincing Duarte that it was time to hang up his gloves. He finished with a record 46 wins in 54 fights, with 33 knockouts.
Duarte’s active boxing life was over. But he was hardly done with The Sweet Science. He’s spent his retirement years teaching young people about boxing and life.
He’s been called an uncrowned champion by many, but in the fight for his life, he’s a champ.
Frankie Duarte will be inducted into The West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame on October 15, 2017 at Garland Hotel in North Hollywood, CA. Tickets are still available. Please call 310-482-1811.