Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Fighter and a Friend . . .

By Rick Farris

I was twelve when my family moved back to Burbank in 1964. This is where I would begin junior high school. I came from Orange County, where I grew up having more than my share of school yard fights. I expected being the new kid in class, somebody was going to try me, and I was ready, but it never happened. The kids in Burbank were a lot more mellow than I was used to, so I rarely had a fight.

I was one of the smaller guys in my class, but I was pretty much an athlete, and I'd meet another kid who was the same. He was my size and a great athlete, good runner. His name was Frankie Santillan, and he and I kind of hit it off.

At the time, I was totally into boxing. I dreamed of being a boxer and was looking for a place to make my dream come true. I would find out that Frankie also liked boxing, and that his dad Max was also a boxing guy. After school, I'd bring my boxing gloves over the Frankie's house and we'd box in the backyard. Frank's younger brother Maxie would referee. Afterwards Frankie would grab a couple of his dad's boxing magazines and we'd talk about some of the fighters of the era. I remember us discussing Joey Giambra one day. About twenty-five years later I'd meet Giambra, and as we discussed his career, I thought about the day Frankie mentioned it to me. We also talked about Davey Moore, the featherweight champ who had died in the ring a couple years earlier, in the only boxing event to ever be held at Dodger Stadium.

 A couple years later, my parents bought a home on the other side of town and we moved. After that I didn't see Frankie, we would attend different high schools. Shortly after moving I began my boxing career, training under Johnny Flores who managed heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry. I fought in the Junior Golden Gloves for nearly three years before I would see my old pal Frankie Santillan again. As we began the 1968 Jr. Golden Gloves tournament, I was fighting in the 96-105 pound weight class, in the Open division. As I looked over a program for the upcoming round of eliminations, I see a name that caught me totally by surprise, Frankie Santillan. Frank was fighting out of Canto Robledo's "Crown City Boxing Club" in Pasadena. He was fighting in my same weight class, but in the Novice division. Like me, Frankie Santillan was on a path that would one day lead both of us to make our professional boxing debuts while still attending high school.

 I won the Open division championship that year. And Frankie Santillan won in the Novice division. Frankie was flashy, fast, a solid puncher that liked to box but was more than willing to stand and punch. Although we were a bit different in style, we shared the same spirit, and we were both used to winning.

I remember that my dad and Frankie's father became friends as they sat together watching us fight. And they sat together, Frankie's family and mine, when the two of us finally fought. We would fight four times, and I truly believed that every fight was very close. I would lose two of those fights. We were friends outside the ring, but in the ring we were all business. We took nothing personal, but in the ring we were out to KO one another. But that never happened, we both stayed on our feet, and we both went toe-to-toe.

We both traveled to Las Vegas for the1970 Golden Gloves Nationals. Frankie's dad snapped a photo of the two of us in the dressing room prior to our fighting opponents from the Nevada team. I fought somebody from Arizona, and I forget who Frankie whipped that night. About two months later, we'd both turn pro a few weeks before graduating from high school.

We'd both fight at the Olympic Auditorium, and make our pro debuts on TV facing the same opponent, Antonio Villanueva, just a couple weeks apart.

After a few years, Frankie left boxing suddenly. I never saw him again. He and I had both worked as a sparring partner for the great bantamweight champ, Ruben Olivares. And we'd both boxed with world champs Bobby Chacon, Danny Lopez and others. I fought a bit longer before quitting for good when I was 24. I often wondered about Frankie Santillan. We shared a unique history, we walked the same path, and we both came out about the same career wise.

One day I get a Facebook friend request - from Frank Santillan!

In the late 90's, I began writing about boxing and I became involved with a few veteran boxer organizations and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. During the past dozen years I was able to reconnect with many of the great boxers I knew way back when. Frank told me he just walked away from boxing, but now he is back. In a few weeks, Frank Santillan, a good fighter and a good friend will return to a place where his star shined for awhile. And best of all, he'll be with all of us who knew him well, long time friends. We are no longer teenage prizefighters, we are a couple of old men. But on December 10th, we'll join some other old men we once knew and we are going to take a nice little step back in time.

Frankie and I never won a professional championship, but I can honestly say that we have traded punches with some of the greatest boxers of all-time. And it all started in a back yard in Burbank.

-Rick Farris

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