The Lure of the Ring

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

Torino, a can of Diet Coke in hand, has been on the phone in his office, trying to find a 175-pounder for a card in Memphis being promoted by Don King. He and Pinckney are ex-boxers now in their forties. Pinckney, like most managers and promoters, has a "real" job to support his boxing habit; he is co-owner of an RV park in Hollywood. Torino had been a passable professional middleweight. After his retirement in 1975 he sold tires at Sears and then serviced cars for Toyota, but he stayed involved in boxing via a gym he and Pinckney operated. Four years ago he went into managing and promotion full-time. Among the fighters he works with are world champions Freddie Pendleton and Darren Morris, and boxing wanna-be/actor Mickey Rourke.

Torino avoids romanticizing the sport that he and everyone he works with find hopelessly alluring. "This is a vicious, vicious business," he asserts, popping a pencil back and forth with thick fingers. "Everybody trying to hurt everybody else. And I'm talking about the promoters and managers. They fight each other for one fighter, and then the fighter winds up with the upper hand. In the meantime, we're fighting for no reason because the fighter don't care about the contract. You have to go crazy. There's times we flew one in at one o'clock in the morning because another one canceled on us at the last minute." Torino shakes his head and smoothes a trim salt-and-pepper mustache, clearly relishing the torment of it all.

Jorge Ortiz, Jr., will be the first to tell you the boxing business is no picnic for the boxer, either. He knew that before he even started boxing. Ortiz, whom everyone calls Rico, is scheduled to fight at the Explosion on the Ocean. His curly blond hair shaved up to the top of his head, the 22-year-old middleweight has five professional wins under his belt, two by knockout, and no losses. Angelo Dundee, trainer of numerous world champions, has taken Rico under his wing, and the youngster has been training hard at Dundee's sleek, air-conditioned gym in Hollywood. Often the fighter's baby son, Nico, is there to watch.

Rico's father, Jorge Ortiz, Sr., is slim, high-waisted, with pale skin and translucent hazel eyes that Rico has inherited. Jorge Sr. boxed professionally in the Seventies when his son was growing up. He would get up at 6:00 a.m. to go to his job as a dredge-boat operator, and then do his running at night. Sometimes, Rico remembers, his father got last-minute calls to fight when he wasn't in the best shape, but fought anyway. It was bad for him physically and mentally, but with a wife and children, he needed the $40 or $50 he'd make for a night of hard knocks. And he wanted to fight; the health hazards were secondary. "You gotta be at peace with yourself to box," Jorge Sr. likes to say. He never really was, according to his son; he never got much support from his family.

Still, the elder Ortiz taught Rico everything he knew, and he went with his son to every gym and every fight. He wanted to make sure his boy didn't get jacked around as much as he had. When Rico got on with Angelo Dundee, Jorge Sr. felt for the first time that he didn't have to be there to watch out for his kid. Rico has learned a lot about watching out for himself. "All fighters' mentality is, 'I'll beat everyone,'" Rico says in sloshing street-talk rhythm. "But you gotta think realistically. There's a lot of politics in boxing, you know."

Sometimes Frank Otero knows this too well. Just yesterday, in fact, he was treated to a perfect example of boxing's vicious side. One matchup he was relying on for the April 23 card involved the popular local fighter Tony "Bazooka" Nu*ez. Otero had already talked to Nu*ez and made sure promoter Felix "Tuto" Zabala knew his plans. Zabala was staging a fight program the next evening, April 24, at Miami Jai Alai. Then Otero learned Nu*ez had signed with Zabala for more money than Otero was offering. Now, on top of all the other last-minute details he's trying to smooth out, he has to scramble to find another good eight rounds A no small task. "This is making me look bad," Otero says in his soft voice with a slight lisp, sounding as if he is discussing a condo closing. "I could be woefully short the day before the fight."

When he was boxing, Otero was that kind of calm, pleasant gentleman. Cool and stylish. Until he got hit. "Then he would explode," says Hank Kaplan, a prominent boxing historian who lives in Miami and saw most of Otero's fights. "He would start throwing punches from every angle A because he was such an emotional guy. That's not really a good thing, because a fighter has to have complete control of himself in the ring. Although in most cases he'd get so fired up he'd knock the guy out. He was always a very good performer in the ring. Nobody would go to sleep, because you never knew when he was going to explode."

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