- The Fraternity Of Forgotten Fighters
As he walks through the corridors of the arena where he once fought, passing the restrooms and snack bars where hundreds of people are coming and going in all directions, he goes unnoticed. As he walks down the aisle, passing row after row of seats filled with fight fans in celebration, eating pop-corn and drinking beer, he goes unrecognized. And as he sits in his seat, with a slight smile – and a tear – he reminisces of a time when it wasn’t so.
In his day, he fought to standing ovations as the chant of his name echoed throughout the arena. If you wanted his autograph you had to wait in line because others wanted it too, and on any given day, there might be a write up on him in the news-paper because at that time he was a local hero.
But that was a long time ago, today, his life of glory has made an abrupt turn down the lonely road of reality. No more cheers from admiring fight fans, no more requests for his autograph and no more headlines in the sports pages of todays news-papers.
Tonight he’ll be parking cars for a sleazy night club owner in the downtown area of Los Angeles, and two month before that, he was working as an unarmed security guard in one of Los Angeles’ most notorious gang infested neighborhoods; just to earn minimum wages. At places where men tend to gather, bars, sports clubs and gyms, nobodies heard of him, at best, he’ll get a polite, “Your name sounds familiar.”Regrets? He has many. Regrets for not doing the things that he should have, and regrets for doing the things that he shouldn’t have, such as accepting that first beer that led to many. He dwells in a life of shoulda, coulda, and with a little more discipline, and perhaps, a little more guidance, woulda made it to that group of elite fighters who’s names will live on forever. Instead, he belongs to a fraternity of forgotten fighters who’s only signs of accomplishments are flat noses and scar tissue where eye-brows once grew. Its a fraternity where most fighters are designated to; soon after their last hurrah, and this! is the fraternity to which I belong.
I was watering my lawn when Rick Farris phoned me, Rick was a pretty good Bantamweight back in the late 60’s to mid 70’s. Today, he’s an astute historian on boxing and a lover of the sport, and I believe that’s what motivated him to start the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame.
Even though I hadn’t heard from Rick in a few years, I recognized his voice immediately. My adrenaline started pumping because I knew that at any moment I would be taking a trip down memory lane. When Rick and I get to talking boxing, there’s no stopping us. We must have talked for, at least, 45 minutes about the good old days of the Olympic Auditorium, the Main Street Gym in downtown Los Angeles, and on the south side, the Hoover St Gym. The Main Street Gym, and the Hoover St Gym, besides being known for (most of the time) having backed up toilets, had some of the best fighters of all time train there. And the stories we shared about those old school trainers are priceless. Jackie Mccoy, Canon Ball Green and Jake Shugrue. These guys were so cool; they trained you in their street clothes, you know the look, shiny leather shoes, slacks with a sharp crease; and a button up shirt. They would lace up your boxing gloves with a lit cigarette dangling from their lips, and the great part about is that nobody complained Towards the end of our conversation, Rick told me the reason he was calling me was because he would be inducting me into the W.C.B.H.F on October, 15, 2017, at the Garland Hotel in Studio City. He asked me if I would appear to receive the induction, to which, of course, without hesitation, I said yes.
On the morning of the function, I must have spent the first 45 minutes staring at the clothes hanging in my closet. Casual or formal, which way should I go. I decided to compromise and go in between with a semi-formal look. I chose a pair of light grey slacks thats been hanging in my closet for the past twenty years waiting to be worn. I only have one sports jacket, so that made it a lot easier for me to choose which one to wear. It’s a light beige wool with a bluish grey tweed running throughout, all brought together with a light blue shirt and a beige tie with feint blue stripes. Oh yea, I mustn’t forget to mention my dark brown European leather shoes, made in Paris California. I looked in the mirror, and gave myself a thumps up. I gave Agnus the address to the venue, and then I was on my way. By the way, Agnus is my GPS. My wife, Lourdes and my two kids, Katrina and Frankie, were also attending, but they were going in a separate car.
While I was driving to the event, the entire time, I couldn’t stop thinking, “What if nobody knows me?” I kept thinking of how disappointed that my kids will be when they realize that their Father wasn’t as popular as he said he was.
As I entered the driveway of the Garland, I began to scan the parking lot in hopes that I would see some of my old boxing friends, and if I did, then I could be confident that i’ll get at least a few cheers upon my induction. I parked my car and reached for my coat that was laying across the back seat of my car. When I got out of my car; from a short distance away, I thought I heard somebody say “ Thats Frankie Duarte”. I froze and my ears perked up. I tried to figure out how I should respond, or maybe I shouldn’t respond at all, but how could I not?
I slowly turned my head in the direction from where I heard the voice come from, and I saw a man and a woman approaching me at a fast pace, the man was smiling from ear to ear. The man didn’t even ask me If I was Frankie Duarte, he just introduced himself to me, and then his wife. He told me of how much he enjoyed watching me fight, and continued with “you were a real warrior.” He handed me a pen and the program for that days events, and then asked me for my autograph. He thanked me, and I thanked him back, I was flabbergasted. Before we departed, I asked him where the event was taking place. He pointed across the parking lot, and told to go through the double doors, then up the stairs. I began walking across the parking lot, and by the time I got to the double doors, I had been asked for my autograph two more times, one woman asked me if she could take a picture with me, and a picture was taken.
When I got up the stairs, I walked across the corridor then through the double doors that opened onto the terrace. There had to be at least a couple hundred people out there.
Right away, I recognized former world champions Carlos Palomino, Danny ‘Little Red” Lopes, Albert Davila and Paul Banke; they were standing together talking and laughing. more fighters continued to come.
I spent much of the time talking to my old boxing colleagues, but most of the time, I was signing autographs and taking pictures, I was overjoyed.
The event was about to start, so we all started making our way to the venue. when I got inside, I saw some notables sitting near the podium. there was movie actors Ryan O’Neal who was accepting the The Tom Kelly Lifetime Achievement award, and actor, Paul Le Mat. Paul was there in support of his long time friend Albert Davila, Albert was also being inducted. Although, Paul’s, played in a lot of movies, he’s best know for his portrayal of John Milner in the classic movie American Graffiti.
The late Dick Enberg was also being inducted for his outstanding work as a boxing commentator. Dick is also a big part of The Olympic Auditorium history, as he commented alongside Micky Davis when they first started airing the fights in 1965.
Rick Farris, at the podium, had kind words as he told of my history as a fighter. He called me up to the podium, and congratulated me as he handed me my plaque. I approached the microphone, and I said a few words before thanking the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame for accepting me as being worthy of the honer of being inducted into their establishment.
The highlight of the day, for me, was knowing that my kids witnessed, first hand, me in my celebrity status. Until then, they had only heard me brag about it, again and again.
I left the event with a new outlook on my life as a fighter, and spent the rest of the evening re-hashing everything that happened that day.. The next morning I woke up extra early, and I went straight to my desk. I turned on my computer and began typing a letter to the Fraternity of Forgotten Fighters. It was my letter of resignation.