The Lure of the Ring

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

Then last summer he, Alvarez, and Felipe Savoury, an investigator for a Miami Beach law firm, began teaming up on a series of local club cards with an eye to getting good TV coverage A the key to turning a profit, or at least a better profit, in boxing. Part of the plan, too, was to manage and develop promising local boxers, such as dazzling but untested junior lightweight Sandtanner Lewis, an alternate at the 1992 Olympics. Lewis made his pro debut on an Alvarez-Otero card this past March. He knocked out William Santos in the first round and will be looking for his second professional victory at the Explosion on the Ocean. Alvarez and Otero have a handshake management agreement with Lewis and figure they'll soon sign a formal contract A depending, of course, on how everyone feels after the Miami Beach event.

Juan Arroyo, another local fighter signed for the Explosion, is a major project for Alvarez and Otero. Until his arrest four years ago for robbery and burglary (to support a drug habit), the charismatic, Puerto Rican-born welterweight had been close to a championship match. Last November, at age 28, he got out of prison early for good behavior, drug-free, born-again, and in fighting shape. Three weeks later Arroyo knocked out his opponent in the fourth round at Club One in the Miracle Center. Thus far into his comeback Arroyo has won four bouts in a row, all matched by Otero. As a measure of the popularity he's recapturing, the City of Miami declared April 20 "Juan Arroyo Day." Later he was honored at Roberto Clemente Park in Wynwood, where he gave a pep talk to the inner-city kids there and fought a few exhibition rounds.

Arroyo's curly dark locks have been shaved into a mushroom, making him appear older and tougher than his angelic-looking, pre-prison self. He also has acquired a new thoughtfulness, a greater awareness of time, and how much less of it he has now. Alvarez and Otero wanted to make Arroyo's April 23 bout in Miami Beach one of the featured matches, which would give it higher priority in the tight television broadcast schedule. But Telemundo isn't impressed with the record of Arroyo's opponent, Bahamian Arthur Clark, and Otero has had to put them in an early eight-rounder.

Scheduling fights that meet Telemundo's standards has been an even bigger hassle than usual, Otero acknowledges. The network isn't only picky about the boxers' records, which everyone knows don't necessarily reflect a fighter's ability. Its Spanish-speaking viewers also are a major consideration. Telemundo wants a good Latin mix on the card to appeal to its disparate audience A from New York and Miami to Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central and South America.

Otero and Alvarez had wanted to pit Arroyo against a hometown rival, Elvis Yero, on this card. A lot of people were against it, for many of the same reasons a lot of people were for it A all having to do with the strong emotions such a bout would surely generate. The two Miami street fighters share an edgy rivalry. Both are angry and proud and pretty. They're even the same age. Yero is a former national amateur champion with an impressive pro record. But since his last fight early this year, in which he lost a decision in Atlantic City (Otero, who has matched most of Yero's pro bouts, wasn't involved), he has been drifting, getting into fights outside the ring.

The idea of an Arroyo-Yero match was shelved for a while. Now it will have to be much longer. Yero is hooked up to feeding and drainage tubes in Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center. Someone shot him in the lung and liver at a bus stop three days ago. No one is sure how it happened, and Yero hasn't said much. Almost three years ago Yero was shot by a Miami Beach police officer who accused him of hitting and kicking her during an attempted drug sting, though the charges were later dropped. When Nancy Otero, Frank Otero's wife of 21 years, heard about Yero's latest problems, she lamented, "That dumb, pretty kid, making his mother suffer so much."

"Where's the boy wonder?" Otero calls to Roger Pinckney, just walking into Tommy Torino's office in the Plantation Jewish Community Center gym. The kid towers on pale legs behind Pinckney. His face is sallow, one of his eyes is red, and a scrawny patch of red beard is growing under his chin. He doesn't talk to anyone, he just goes into his routine once he gets out on the floor. He does a few rounds of shadowboxing, a few sets of combinations on the punching bags hanging by springs from an overhead bar that creaks and bounces with each hit. "He's got real fast hands for a heavyweight," observes Otero, sitting atop a table next to an industrial-size jar of petroleum jelly, deceptively casual in his scrutiny. "He's not as coordinated as he needs to be, but he'll look good in the ring. He'll win most of his preliminary fights if he's matched right. I'd like to have seen him spar, though."

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