Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Closet Classic: Frankie Baltazar vs. Juan Escobar (1983)

By Ted Sares -

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photo courtesy of Frank Baltazar

The historic Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles was home to any number of great fights. Some were pure classics; others flew a bit under the radar. One such bout was when hard hitting LA area native Frankie Baltazar took on rugged Juan Escobar on June 17, 1983. Escobar was 26-8-2 while Frankie was 33-2-1. Baltazar had gone undefeated in 30 of his last 31 outings having lost to “Bazooka” Limon in a bid for the NABF super featherweight title. Escobar, who had fought some tough customers like Ruben Castillo, was best known for his draw with the legendary Salvador Sanchez in 1978 when he decked the great Sanchez in the fifth canto. He was not one to be taken lightly. The baby faced Juan was the underdog but insiders were saying “watch out..”

The stage was set for a solid fight between two well schooled southpaws and that’s exactly what occurred as Escobar controlled the first round with strong left crosses, and then opened up on Frankie in the second stanza and almost took him out with a flurry of flush shots, his strong left being the most prominent.

In the fourth, the stylish Mexican had Baltazar’s right eye all but closed as he worked both upstairs and downstairs putting Frankie in sudden jeopardy. But then, midway in the fifth stanza, Baltazar found his right hand and rocked the Tijuana native with a hard overhand right. He continued to land this same punch until the bell rang. All of a sudden, he was back in the fight. The turnaround in the sixth round as Baltazar continually landed right hooks and straight lefts, often in combination. Clearly, the tide had turned as the bell rang.

Frankie kept the pressure on in the seventh as the fight evened. However, his right eye was just about closed and terribly discolored prompting the ringside doctor to take a long look. Meanwhile, Escobar no longer had the look of confidence that he possessed in the first four rounds. Baltazar now had become the stalker. After an eighth round that could have gone to either fighter, the fight appeared even going into the last two stanzas. The ninth also was close as both fighters exchanged heavy shots and Escobar finished the stronger of the two moving Frankie into a corner with heavy shots.

Going into the last round, the fight was there to be won. Frankie’s face opened up as his eye totally closed and his nose now bled profusely due in part to a number of unintentional head butts. Then, with just 30 seconds remaining, Frankie landed a right counter that sent Escobar to the deck and opened up a severe cut over left his eye.

As a very young Jimmy Lennon, Jr. read the scoring, fans threw money into the ring which was a custom at the Olympic when they appreciated a great fight. Referee James Jen-Kin and judge Vince Delgado had it 95-94 and 96-94, respectively, for Baltazar. Judge Rudy Jordan saw it 95-96 for Escobar. Frankie Baltazar had pulled out a dramatic split decision thanks to a last minute knockdown.

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(Photo courtesy of Frank Baltazar)

Baltazar would go on to win six of his last seven and finish with a fine slate of 40-3-1 and an impressive KO percentage of 61.36. Escobar would not be as fortunate. He would KO the limited Felipe Urguiza just a week later, but then would lose his final five bouts all by way of stoppage. The opposition was stiff including Aussie Graeme Brooke, Sergio Zambrano (31-1-1 coming in), future world champion Jorge Vaca, and Primo “Kid Durango” Ramos.

Later than same evening, Frankie’s brother, Tony “The Tiger” Baltazar decisioned Roque “Rocky” Montoya. As always, their father, Frank Sr., was in the corner for both fights.

There have been many great boxing families, but none more exciting in the ring than the Baltazar’s. Fittingly, Tony, Frankie and Frank Sr. are members of the California Boxing Hall of Fame. As well, they captured the adoration of “pochos” (a. k.a Chicanos), something only a few would accomplish, guys the likes “Mando,” Bobby, “Little Red,” but something Oscar never could.

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