The Lure of the Ring

Former champ Frank Otero needs to sell real estate to make a living. But he needs boxing to live.

The kid is a giant heavyweight: 6' 8", 270 pounds. He just moved down from North Carolina. Can he fight? Well, sure he knows how to fight, he can box, and with the right opponent, he can win. Even better, he's white. It's just a fact in the boxing trade A everybody knows a white heavyweight is valuable because he's so rare, so prized by the predominantly white male boxing audience. The Broward manager-trainer team of Tommy Torino and Roger Pinckney has signed the kid right up, and Torino wants Frank Otero to come out and look at him. Otero is putting together a card for that Friday night, April 23, in Miami Beach. It's Tuesday already, but the way things are in club boxing, half the fights aren't firm and the rest haven't even been imagined yet.

"He needs a fight, Frankie," the voluble Torino says as he ushers Otero to a worn couch in his office in the gym at the Jewish Community Center in Plantation. Pinckney and the kid haven't arrived yet. Otero nods. He's not smiling but his countenance is so pleasant he gives the impression that he is. Otero is thinking of pairing this kid with an Italian fighter, not as big, but it should be a good fight. Of course, first he's got to see him. As the two men wait in the tiny office plastered with fight posters and photographs, they exchange news, and Torino gives Otero suggestions for publicizing Friday's "Explosion on the Ocean," to be staged at the Miami Beach Auditorium in the heart of the Ocean Drive neon madness.

"What really works," says Torino knowingly, his eyes indiscernible behind opaque sunglasses, "is if you hire a few girls to skate up and down the street and hand out flyers. Two girls for three hours. You want to get that South Beach crowd." Otero nods again. Torino is talking about girls on Rollerblades and Otero hasn't yet even arranged hotel rooms for the out-of-town fighters.

Friday night's event is, as sports announcers like to intone, a moment of truth for Frank Otero. He's the matchmaker, the one who decides which fighters will face each other in the ring. He makes the card. It's a complex job infected with politics, insecurity, double-crossing, and backstabbing. In this case, the pressure to stage entertaining bouts is magnified because Telemundo will be there. The Spanish-language television network will air the main event and a co-feature live, tape the other fights, and later broadcast the ones there's time for. Otero is bringing in a little something special for the main event: Oba Carr, an unbeaten welterweight from Detroit, and Miguel Angel Dominguez from Mexico City.

But apart from the status accorded by television coverage, the event holds special significance for Otero. If it's successful enough financially, he says he will return to the boxing world full-time, at age 45. It's been more than twenty years since Otero was the North American junior lightweight champion, the modest, long-haired Hialeah boxer loved madly by South Florida fight fans, especially by a fellow generation of young Cubans exiled to the U.S. in the Fifties and Sixties. In his corner were the renowned Dr. Ferdie Pacheco and Luis Sarria, both of whom worked with Muhammad Ali. His trainer-manager was Richard "Richie" Riesgo; another mentor and promoter of most of his fights was Chris Dundee, brother of legendary trainer Angelo Dundee. "He was the purest example of a local favorite you use to get sellouts one after another," Pacheco recalls.

But Otero's history isn't written all over him. He is a pacific, soft-spoken man with round brown eyes; his nose, as a mild reminder of past injury, is only the slightest bit askew. The deep cut over his right eye that marked the beginning of the end of his boxing career is barely noticeable. Otero seems well-suited to selling real estate, a job he began before his official retirement from boxing in 1977, and he has made the transition from sports idol to businessman comfortably. But like everyone who acquires the boxing virus, Otero will never get it out of his blood. "I don't know how much you know about real estate," he says. "It's about as secure as you can get, but, well, it can be a little boring."

Otero made a short-lived comeback in 1983, when he was 37. He fought only two bouts, both out of town, he explains, because his parents and wife disapproved, and because "I realized I didn't have it. After I looked at my face in the mirror, I knew I was deluding myself." He won those comeback fights anyway, though not easily. His last bout was in the Bahamas in 1985. In the course of winning a six-round decision over a Puerto Rican kid more than ten years younger than he, one of Otero's eardrums was busted and twice he had to be roused with smelling salts.

By then he had been dabbling in matchmaking. In 1982 his friend Walter Alvarez, a civil engineer and on-and-off boxing promoter, called Otero for help in staging a program at the Orange Bowl. The main event was the famous fight in which junior welterweight Aaron Pryor denied Alexis Arguello his fourth world championship. Otero went on to collaborate with Alvarez and Detroit promoter Bill Kozerski on several matches for ESPN and NBC, including a Thomas Hearns-Roberto Duran bout at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 1988. It was fun, but Otero wasn't inclined to give up the stability of his real estate job.

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