The Lure of the Ring

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.

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."

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."

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.

Friday night fight time has arrived, but not without a last-minute crisis that leaves Otero wondering just how he survived. At 10:00 p.m., less than 48 hours before the fight, he got a call informing him Rafael Merran was fighting that weekend in Tennessee. Funny, Merran already had signed a contract with Otero for tonight. He was to go against Patrick Simeon, a Haitian American and popular Miami junior lightweight. Seething, Otero jumped in his white Pontiac and drove straight to the Liberty City home of Jose Delgado, a Nicaraguan fighter. Delgado was home, and Otero wasn't about to let him think anything over. He signed him up on the spot. Delgado and Simeon will be the first match on the card.

Now it's about 8:00 p.m., and Delgado has just arrived at the auditorium on Ocean Drive. Since the first fight is to begin at 8:00, that makes him a bit late, and Otero has to decide quickly which pair to substitute for the first fight. Having changed from his usual jeans and Reeboks into a gray suit and red tie, Otero bustles from trainer to trainer, his face placid as always, but with a hunted look in his eyes.

Meanwhile, Telemundo's Tony Tirado and Rene Giraldo stand ringside, waiting to ignite the Explosion on the Ocean. Seen from the television monitors placed at press tables, it's an elegant scene: the two announcers in tuxedos, overhead klieg lights making brilliant stars against the blue canvas in the ring. Off-camera, bearded, bearlike Enrique Encinosa leans his elbows on a rickety press table snug against the ring, chain-smoking Kools and emitting flurries of coughs. Next to him, in a light gray business suit that matches his prematurely gray hair, Ramiro Ortiz (no relation to Jorge) adjusts his headphones. These two long-time friends, contemporaries and fans of Frank Otero, have been asked to tape an English-language color commentary of the fights, which will later be sold to cable companies. Tonight is a reunion of sorts for them. Both have a long involvement in local boxing; Ortiz, a vice president at SunBank, occasionally makes matches, manages, and promotes.

The auditorium, originally built for events such as community theater presentations, has a small stage where chairs are now being set up. Backstage four minuscule dressing areas have been designated, one simply a corner. These will be shared among the ten fighters on tonight's card. According to Telemundo's inviolable timetable, the co-feature bout must start shortly after 9:00 p.m., when Tirado and Giraldo go on the air live. The main event must begin at 10:00. If there's time in between or after, one or more of the preliminary bouts will air.

Otero is frenetic. He has to find more gauze for the fighters' hand-wraps; he okays three muscley South Beach types to act as bouncers for the night; the 500-seat auditorium isn't filling up very quickly, but he doesn't have time to worry about that. As the card has materialized, Tommy Torino's big heavyweight will not be fighting tonight; there's been a mixup over a prior contract.

Rico Ortiz won't be on the card, either. His opponent canceled late yesterday, and Otero wasn't able to find a replacement. It's a blow for Ortiz, the third time in a row he's been knocked off a card because of problems with the opponent. Nevertheless Ortiz has come as a spectator, carrying a thick black appointment book full of business cards. "I need to let people see my face," he explains. "Everything is in the presentation." He is wearing a purple double-breasted suit and patterned tie, the unmistakable focal point of his more modestly attired entourage, which includes his father, son, girlfriend, and brother. "They told me, 'It's canceled, kid,'" Rico says, shaking a sharp-edged jaw that ends in a fine square at the chin. "I stayed up till midnight hoping for a call [with word of an opponent]. The third time you're so frustrated, it really takes a lot out of you."

Juan Arroyo and Arthur Clark will fight first. Arroyo has been dressing in a loft area up a flight of stairs. He sits solemnly, surrounded by friends from his Allapattah neighborhood, seeming not to hear the salsa coming from a boombox. His trainer, wearing immaculate white pants and shoes and a blood-red satin jacket, puts one hand on his stomach, raises the other one to the height of his head, and hints at a dance.

Clark is sitting alone in a chipped wooden chair downstairs. He flew to Miami from Nassau without shoes to fight in, but Tommy Torino, who booked him, has sent someone back to his gym in Plantation to find a pair Clark can use. He will also borrow a few cornermen for the fight. After nineteen years of boxing, Clark is accustomed to shuttling in and out of towns, used to being the guy who gets picked to be the opponent for a hometown hero. Sometimes he beats the local boy, but usually he loses. His face, with its jutting jaw and cheekbones, is ageless, but his reddened eyes look old and remote.

As Arroyo parades out to the ring, he raises a gloved fist and his gold teeth flash. One of his entourage unfurls a Puerto Rican flag and hangs it on the ropes inside the ring. The audience cheers loudly for Arroyo, they call his name, tell him they love him, offer advice. He makes short work of Clark, sending him reeling in the third round with a flurry of shots to the head. At this, Arroyo's manager Walter Alvarez, standing with friends and family at the rear of the auditorium, runs toward the ring, shouting, "Knockout!" The referee stops the scheduled eight-rounder. As Arroyo steps through the ropes and heads back up the aisle amid cornermen and hangers-on, a plump red-haired woman wearing a fancy polka-dot dress with a ruffled white collar runs up, grabs Arroyo around the neck, and plants her fuchsia lips on his sweat-drenched cheek.

The next matchup between Darin Allen of Clearwater and Armando Rodriguez of Venezuela, will air live on Telemundo. Miguel Angel Dominguez, who will not fight in the main event for another hour, weaves through the cramped backstage bustle to the edge of the stage and stands silently in sweats, looking out for a long time toward the ring and the audience. The auditorium is filling up, and a Telemundo producer brings a problem to Otero's attention: the Miami Beach Police are threatening to tow away scores of cars parked illegally (a parking place in this part of South Beach being almost unheard of) on a grassy stretch of Lummus Park adjoining the auditorium. Otero runs out and persuades the officers to ticket the cars instead of towing them. Allen and Rodriguez go ten rounds; the decision is unanimous for Allen.

There's enough time between that fight and the main event to broadcast the tape of Arroyo beating up Clark; Otero and Alvarez are happy their kid is getting the international exposure. At 9:30 Harry Brennan, assistant executive director of the Florida State Athletic Commission, walks up to Alvarez, who pulls a quantity of bills out of some concealed place on his person. He counts out five twenties at a time, until Brennan is holding $665. It will go to the several commission people in attendance, including executive director Don Hazelton, the referees, the judges, and timekeepers.

Then it's time for the main event. Hitting so fast and so hard that he loses his balance once and falls following a long left hook, the Detroit prodigy Oba Carr opens a wide gash over Dominguez's right eye by the fourth round. The cut isn't bleeding that much, but Carr is overwhelming his opponent with those left hooks. Dominguez keeps his mouth closed when he gets hit and doesn't change his expression except to tighten his eyes. The live images on the ringside TV monitors look smooth and muted in contrast to the direct, unfiltered vision of the action in the ring under searing white lights. The colors blend better on television, the bruising and cutting of the flesh is not a jarring sight. The monitors don't show the sweat-diluted blood running down Dominguez's side and legs, nor the opaqueness of both men's eyes as they watch each other, circling, feinting, looking for a way to damage the other.

The referee stops the fight seconds into the fifth round, spelling relief for the ringside doctor, who had been debating whether or when to halt the main event and risk indignation from one or both sides. Carr's father and trainer, Eddie, lifts his son's right arm in triumph, and then his wife lifts their young daughter up to him through the ropes. The little girl is dressed in a rhinestone-studded white dress with a big matching cap over long spiraling curls, and she sits in her father's glistening arms under the lights as though he were showing her the monkeys at a zoo. Miguel Angel Dominguez disappears back up the aisle with his short, round, mustachioed trainer, his exact physical opposite. Oba Carr has left no doubt he'll soon be fighting a championship bout and commanding a considerably higher price than the $10,000 he will receive tonight.

Otero finally can relax a bit. He loosens his tie. Before the next fight begins, he gets up to bring large sodas back to a ringside contingent of family and friends. For a few minutes he even sits down beside his wife Nancy. The upcoming contest may be the evening's best. Duran Williams of Jamaica, who trains at Torino's gym, against David Rodriguez of the Bronx, who looks like a brick wall. Both are undefeated cruiserweights. And for the first three rounds, Williams takes a beating from Rodriguez. No matter what Williams tries, he finds himself caught on the ropes, defending against Rodriguez's lethal right hand. He takes a shot in the third round that almost knocks him out. Otero, in the audience, is surprised the referee doesn't stop the fight. In the corner between rounds, manager/trainer Chico Rivas slaps Williams's legs, pours water over his head and body, looks raptly, almost sorrowfully, into his fighter's eyes.

Then Williams imperceptibly gathers himself. He begins hitting Rodriguez, getting in some good left hooks. The fourth round comes interminably to a close, then the fifth round. "This is where boxing becomes one man's will against another man's will," Encinosa says into his microphone. "This kind of fight is hard to make at the eight-round level; the pay isn't good enough [for the amount of punishment both men are taking]."

Sixth round. Williams hits Rodriguez with a left uppercut to the liver, "like a knife slicing through butter," Otero would say later, and he falls to the canvas. Rodriguez gets up, stunned, but the referee stops the fight.

In the final two matches, Sandtanner Lewis knocks out William Negr centsn of Puerto Rico in the first round, and Patrick Simeon, whose fight went from first to last on the card, has little trouble with Jose Delgado A also a first-round knockout. An excellent night for local talent; less positive for Latinophiles, but Telemundo is pleased with the quality of the matches and the relative lack of glitches. For Otero the event has come together exceptionally well, and when he has a few seconds to think, he is proud. But he still doesn't know whether it was successful enough to convince him it's safe to leave real estate.

As the spectators move out of the auditorium and merge with the mass of Ocean Drive humanity, the fighters materialize one by one outside the box office. Behind the closed door, Walter Alvarez sits at a desk and counts out their pay. Juan Arroyo gets about $1500, Arthur Clark about $1200. Not a bad night: 480 paying customers, a capacity crowd. After spending roughly $35,000 to put the thing on, the organizers have made a few thousand dollars in profit. The important thing, according to Alvarez, is they didn't lose money. "Right now our shows aren't making any money," he says. "All I'm trying to do is keep them going, build our audience, build our fighters, get some interest back, and then we'll start thinking about making money."

On Monday Frank Otero goes back to his office A a trailer in Royal Oaks A to face a backlog of phone calls and paperwork. Boring? After working like crazy to put together the Explosion on the Ocean, living moment after moment in suspense or panic or both, he finds himself reluctant to abandon real estate. "I could do it, but I'm really not sure if I want to," he muses, adding with a smile, "I don't know if I want to do what Tommy Torino is doing, go to the gym every day and put on dark glasses."

On the other hand, the success of the evening has pumped into his blood more of whatever it is about boxing that addicts him. He's going to branch out, book fighters into places such as Detroit and Orlando. Like Alvarez, Otero believes it's just a matter of time before their work begins paying off in a big way. "Maybe I can go into boxing full-time by our next program," he says.

For now he can collect a few real estate commissions. And finally he has time to visit Elvis Yero, still recuperating at Jackson. Otero regrets not checking earlier on the kid, to whom he has tried to be a mentor. He thinks Yero's professional boxing days must surely be over with this latest shooting, but he figures he'll be supportive. No sense getting him upset when he's still in the hospital.

Yero is just concluding a spirited phone conversation when Frank and Nancy Otero arrive at his semiprivate room. "Gimme a call," Yero says, rolling his head around to look at his visitors. "Let's rap." Yero is lying on his back in bed wearing only light blue hospital pants, from which thin, pale ankles protrude. A white plastic tube runs from a thicket of bandages on his right side into a gurgling drainage machine at the foot of the bed. A small round wound by his left collarbone marks the spot, he says, where his five or six attackers tried to stab him. A long straight scar with sutures still visible runs down the middle of his abdomen.

Yet Yero seems full of energy, not cowed or sobered or changed by his near death. He's going to take it easy, he says, give himself six months before he gets back to boxing. He had called Otero a week before the Explosion on the Ocean and asked if there was any way he could get on the card. "Come down to the gym tomorrow and I'll see what I can do," Otero had told him, knowing Yero wasn't in shape but wanting to get him back into training. Yero didn't show up that Saturday; the next morning he was shot.

"How many fights have you gotten into in the last six months?" Otero asks him.

"None!" Yero protests innocently as his eyes open wide under thick brows.
Frank and Nancy both laugh. "A little angel," Nancy says, looking to the heavens.

"You don't know who shot you?"
"I wouldn't recognize 'em."
Otero doesn't believe this; he's afraid Yero will go after his attackers when he's able. "I'll tell you what you should do, Elvis," he says. "When you get out, get you a little job and buy you a little car so you don't have to be waiting around at bus stops."

Yero nods. Yeah. He's got it all planned. In six weeks, his doctors told him, he'll be able to run. No permanent damage to his lung or his liver. By the end of the year, he'll be fighting. "Look, my life has been delayed. I want to get myself back together physically," Yero insists, raising his head off the pillows and voicing what Otero has heard a hundred times A indeed repeating what Otero himself has probably said more than once. "My character won't allow me to end my boxing career like this.


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