The Lure of the Ring

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

A boxer was something Frank Otero's parents hadn't counted on raising. Francisco and Yolanda Otero immigrated to Hialeah from Havana in 1953, when Frank was five and his brother Alex was four. Francisco Otero, now retired after 22 years as a Delta Airlines ramp employee, also was a jeweler; Yolanda was an interior decorator. Life was good. Then at thirteen little Frankie accompanied an uncle to a club fight at the Pan American Arena in Little Havana, now a theater. "I was just thrilled," he recalls. "I said, 'That's what I want to be.'"

To the surprise of his family, Otero set up punching bags in his back yard, and even rigged a ring. Neighborhood kids were persuaded to be sparring partners. He sent for boxing instruction books through the mail, watched televised fights, and taught himself to box. The private Catholic high school Otero attended in ninth grade, Monsignor Edward Pace on NW 32nd Avenue in Opa-locka, had no boxing program. Neither did Georgia Military Academy in Milledgeville, Georgia, where his parents sent him in tenth grade, thinking he might take to the discipline of military life. He didn't, but the academy allowed disputes between individuals to be settled mano a mano, and Frankie impressed his fellow cadets with his fighting talent.

He came back home for his last two high school years at Hialeah High, and by that time he felt courageous enough to hang out at Miami Beach's famous Fifth Street Gym alongside many of the best boxers of the day A Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Ellis, Florentino Fernandez, Luis Rodriguez, Ultiminio "Sugar" Ramos, Willie Pastrano. At 5' 7" and about 130 pounds, he quickly picked up new moves and intricate combinations. "Frankie happened to be lucky enough to be at the Fifth Street Gym when the truly great champions were there," Ferdie Pacheco remembers. "He was nothing if not a sponge. He was a very bright guy. Of course, Richard Riesgo worked very hard with him; he deserves a lot of credit A he calmed him down, and he fought like hell so they wouldn't put him in with animals who would beat him up."

Francisco Otero figured that once his boxing-infatuated son really got hit, the romance would end. It didn't. After a few amateur fights, Frank turned pro in 1968, having just enrolled in business and real estate classes at Miami-Dade Community College. He earned $40 for his first junior lightweight pro fight, knocking out his opponent in the first of four scheduled rounds. The biggest payday in his 48-9-2 career would be $6000.In 1971 Otero was declared the North American Boxing Federation champ after defeating Kenny Weldon in a ten-round decision.

At a time notable for the brilliance and braggadocio of Muhammad Ali, Otero was understated. Miami writer Enrique Encinosa, author of a book on boxing and a former boxer and matchmaker, likes to remember the first time Otero fought former world lightweight champion Ken Buchanan. It was at Dinner Key Auditorium before thousands of his cheering Cuban brethren. Otero, struggling mightily against what most observers considered a superior fighter, lasted the ten rounds but suffered a severe pounding. The judges awarded Buchanan the match. Afterward a local television reporter got Otero in front of the camera.

"Frankie!" the reporter cried. "It looks like you were robbed."
"Well, not really," replied Otero. "I think he beat me fair and square."
The reporter tried again. "Frankie. That knockdown. We thought it was a slip."

"What? Did you see that shot he hit me with? I almost passed out."
"Frankie, what about a rematch?"
"Not unless it's for a lot of money." (The two did meet again four months later in Toronto; Buchanan knocked out Otero in the sixth round.)

Otero was twice offered a fight with the reigning world junior lightweight champion, Alfredo Marcano, but he turned it down because of the terms demanded by Marcano's manager. "We figured I was young and eventually they'd have to give me the title shot," Otero says. "But then all of a sudden I fell in love, got married, had a family A everything was different after that."

One afternoon in January 1972, Otero was walking down 29th Street in Hialeah with his Tom Jones hair and slick clothes, when a girl he knew called to him from a balcony. She was visiting her friend, Nancy Cancio, who then invited him in for cafe cubano. Nancy didn't know that Frank Otero was a local hero, but it didn't matter. He was instantly smitten. "I invited her to one of my boxing matches," he says, adding facetiously, "She was very impressed seeing all the fame I had." For her birthday a week later he gave her flowers and a baby-blue dress. A few months later they were married. "It was something," Otero concludes in his understated tone. "You wouldn't have known it was going to last this long." Twenty-year-old Frank Jr. is pretty much like his parents; he has their big round eyes and small frame. He wears his hair in a long ponytail, he's in love with a beautiful girl, and he has no intention of being a boxer. That makes his father happy.

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