All Day Permanent Red: Frankie Duarte-Alberto Davila II

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Between them, they had more tragedy than a sporting life—or any other life, for that matter—ought to allow. Frankie Duarte, who had pulled himself from the grip of a suffocating alcohol and heroin addiction, and Alberto Davila, who once killed a man in the ring, squared off on CBS in a Saturday afternoon Grand Guignol of gore. Not your run-of-the-mill substance abuser, Duarte hollowed himself out year after year full-throttle in pre-gentrification Venice, California, with needle, bottle, pill. “Heroin was the worst,” Duarte told KO in 1987. “I never really got hooked on any of them except for the heroin at the end.” In 1983 he quit his slow suicide and returned to boxing, where he welcomed back a different kind of pain. And fans welcomed him back as well, often showering the ring with coins at the end of his fights. With supernatural courage and will, Duarte battled back from his days as a junkie to challenge Bernardo Pinango for the WBA bantamweight title in 1987. But there would be no Hollywood ending for him. With a trio of cross-eyed judges reading the script, Duarte dropped an absurd decision to a fighter who just happened to be from the WBA stronghold of Venezuela. Pinango was staggered, suffered a knockdown, lost three points for low blows, and still managed to cop a unanimous decision. At 32, Frankie Duarte was looking at another DEAD END sign.

Alberto “Tweety” Davila, the smooth-boxing banty who had retired from boxing in 1980, won his first world title in his fourth attempt. Celebrating was out of the question, however, when his opponent, 21-year-old Kiko Bejines, died after a slipping into a coma. Not long after, Davila injured his back and underwent surgery. He was stripped of his title and forced to lay off for over a year. After dropping a decision to Miguel “Happy” Lora in a 1986 title bid, Davila was thought to be finished. But the same could be said of Duarte, who had been on borrowed time ever since he returned to the ring. He was all heart, frail skin, and knucklebone now, June 27, 1987. Yes, pale enough to earn that nickname, “El Huero.” In order to qualify for another title shot, Duarte agreed to face Davila—who had knocked him out ten years earlier—at the Forum in Inglewood, California. There, the crossroads would be swamped by blood. But that never mattered to Duarte. “To me,” he told Dan Hanley two years ago, “it was always about the blood and glory.”

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Tags: Albert Davila Frankie Duarte

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