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'Tough guy' Frankie Crawford: How good could he have been?

If Jackie McCoy had been guiding him, it would have been a completely different story 


Jeff Crawford son of Frankie 


By John J. Raspanti

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Frankie Crawford
Frankie Crawford

If wasn’t for my grandfather, I wouldn’t have known much about the Southern California boxing scene back in the 1960’s and ’70’s.


On Saturday nights, my grandfather watched boxing televised from the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The Olympic was a mere 20 miles from his driveway, but going there was out of the question. His routine was set for Saturday night.


Every few months, he’d call me, or drop me a line, (I was living in Oklahoma at the time) with information on fighters who impressed him.


I remember him mentioning Mando Ramos, Ruben Navarro, and “Irish” Frankie Crawford, who all had just begun their careers. He had an eye for talent.


A few years later, we were chatting about Armando Muniz, Zovek Barajas, Carlos Palomino, Tury “The Fury” Pineda, Danny Lopez, and Bobby Chacon.


During one of our many phone calls, he mentioned Crawford again.


“Crawford is so gritty,” said my grandfather.


Yes, he was. A few weeks ago, during a discussion with former welterweight contender, Randy Shields, the subject of Crawford came up.


"My dad (Sunny-Shield’s trainer) told me that Frankie Crawford was the toughest little guy he ever met."


Crawford was one helluva of a fighter. The question will always be: How good he could he have been if he had been handled differently?


Sadly, we’ll never know.


Growing up in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California, the scrappy Crawford was first noticed when he captured the Cleveland Golden Gloves in reportedly his third amateur bout. Advised to turn professional, Crawford hitchhiked to California where smaller fighters were more respected.


He turned professional a day before his 20th birthday. Due to his aggressive style, Crawford immediately became a crowd favorite at the Olympic, fighting 10 times in eight months.


Then he hit the road, boxing in San Jose, San Diego, Tijuana a few times, Mazalton, and even Ecuador. Heady stuff for a rising fighter but perhaps not the best way to go.


Said Jeff Crawford, “He fought tough from day one.”


Yes, he did, and often. Crawford had won 21 of 27 fights when he was matched against rising superstar Mando Ramos at the Olympic on October 5, 1967. Crawford, outweighed by seven pounds, and a big underdog, opened up a huge gash over Ramos right eye in the early going. The two youngsters went tooth and nail for 10 hard rounds, with Crawford winning the fight by majority decision. A rematch went down four months later. This time Ramos controlled the action, keeping Crawford on the end of his jab all night. The decision for the teenager was unanimous.


Crawford was accepting of the loss.


"Outside of feeling embarrassed, I feel pretty good,” Crawford told AP after the fight. ”Mando fought a smart fight.”


Crawford hit a rough patch after the Ramos bout. He lost a fight in Hawaii, and was stopped, for the first time in his career, by Dwight Hawkins.


Prior to the Hawkins bout, actor Robert Conrad (star of"The Wild Wild West") signed on as his manager, but that partnership lasted only 18 months. Crawford never trusted Conrad, feeling the Hollywood big shot was stealing from him. A story goes that Conrad liked to have Crawford train at the studio. He loved the publicity. Conrad also liked to get in the ring with Crawford and spar, though not seriously.


Apparently, according to the story, Conrad thought of himself as a real fighter. Before a quick spar, he was asked how he would do in a “real” fight against Crawford. Conrad complimented Crawford’s boxing skills, but he felt, since he had a substantial weight advantage, the fight would be close. Crawford, sitting nearby, overheard the entire conversation. He didn’t react and said nothing. Once in the ring, the friendly sparring immediately turned deadly. Crawford fired his left hook, knocking Conrad into dreamland. After gathering his senses, Conrad spotted Crawford standing a few feet away. Crawford wagged his finger in Conrad’s face.


Crawford and Conrad soon parted ways. Crawford fought seven times after the Haskins match, winning four, and drawing in two others, highlighted when he captured the USA state featherweight title. Still ranked in the top ten, and only 24, Crawford felt like his career was stuck in neutral. He needed to make a change.


In 1970, he made a good one, hooking up with future Hall of Fame trainer, Jackie McCoy.


“He could have been much better than what he was if he had had Jackie McCoy from the start,” said Jeff Crawford. “He would have been a world champion for years.”


Crawford traveled to Japan to fight for a world title in 1970. The bout got off to a promising start for Crawford when he floored defending champion Shozo Saijo with a perfect left to the jaw. The hometown hero beat the count and battled back, seemingly hurting Crawford late in round nine. Every round was close, making it difficult to judge. Many gave Crawford the edge, but the decision went to the champion by split decision.


Trainer McCoy summed up how many felt after the match.


“When you fight in the other guy’s hometown, you have to figure you have a couple of points going against you. I think when hometown officials have it that close, that kind of tells the story.”


They fought again eight months later in Japan. Crawford gave it his all, but Saijo, sharper this time, retained his crown by unanimous decision.


Crawford was devastated.


“That’s when I lost my will,” Crawford told writer Jody Berry in 1977.


The facts speak for themselves. Due to financial reasons, Crawford had to let McCoy go. He fought 16 more times, losing as many as he won. Some of his loses were notable: former champions Vincente Salvador, and Eder Jofre, and future title holders, Ben Villaflor, and Bobby Chacon. Some were not. They all stung.


Crawford was in the midst of a comeback in 1976 when his new trainer shot him in the back. He survived but fell into a deep depression. His weight dropped to 90 pounds. He told friends he’d walk again—fighting the thought of being paralyzed for life, but he couldn’t beat it.


In 1982, it was reported he shot himself. He was dead at 36.


It was all over, but many who saw him fight will always wonder how good he could have been if...


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