When junior middleweight contender Raul Frank arrived in New York from his native Georgetown, Guyana, in 1990, he was all of 21-years-old and filled with the wide-eyed wonderment of youth. Already a veteran of nine fights, eight of which were fought in his native country, Frank had long been considered the premier boxer to ever emerge from that South American nation.
Because Frank’s longtime dream had been to win a world title, his first stop was the fabled Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York. On his first day there, he trained alongside such luminaries as Riddick Bowe, Junior Jones, Regilio Tuur and Kevin Kelley. Although a strange man in a strange land, the doggedly determined Frank knew he was where he was supposed to be, and that in short order all of his dreams would come to fruition.
“I was treated like a brother by everyone I met,” said Frank, who at age 36 and with a record of 26-4-1 (13 KOs) is still determined to make his mark in the world’s toughest vocation. “I believed I could be the best in my weight class, and just wanted the chance to prove it. But there was always one obstacle after another.”
Frank, who is now aligned with Roy Jones’ promotional company, Square Ring, Inc., will get back in the mix tonight, when he is scheduled to fight 35-year-old “Fearless” Fernando Hernandez of Chicago, 18-7-2 (8 KOs), for the vacant USBA title at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio. For the first time in many years, Frank has something to look forward to.
“I’m not taking any prisoners, this is war for me,” said Frank, whose last fight was a 12 round unanimous decision victory over Mohammad Said for the IBF Latino title in Lafayette, Indiana, in May 2004. “Hernandez has a better chance of finding Osama bin Laden than he does getting a win over me. There’s an old boxing expression that says, ‘give your opponent respect, but also give him a good whipping.’ I’m going to go by that rule. I want the boxing world to know I’m back, and I’m here to stay.”
“Raul still has the dream and the drive to be a champion,” said Sonia Ewers, a dynamic businesswoman and Columbia University graduate who now manages Frank. “This is his love. With all he’s been through, most people would have given up on this dream a long time ago. But Raul refuses to quit. And I have come to admire his dedication so much, I refuse to quit until he is given his due.”
In the mid-nineties, Frank hooked up with a Florida promoter and had four fights, all of which were wins, in Miami. He then made some noise when he overcame a severely swollen eye to beat Purcell Miller for the vacant USBA title in October 1997. But the pickings were still slim, and Frank soldiered on, working construction jobs in Brooklyn to make ends meet for his wife Jillian and son Joshua, now ten.
Finally, after signing with Don King, he earned a shot at the previously undefeated, red-hot Vernon Forrest for the vacant IBF welterweight title in August 2000. In a fight in which Frank had a clear shot at winning, it was ruled a no contest in the third round after an accidental head butt opened a nasty multi-layered gash on Frank’s forehead. In one fell swoop, Frank crashed hard on both a personal and professional front. Any mention of that bout still causes his intense eyes to fill with tears.
“That fight meant everything to me, it was what I’d been working for my whole life,” said Frank, who is one of 11 children. “I can’t even begin to explain the disappointment. I was doing so well, and then it was over.”
Nine months later Frank got a much-deserved rematch, but says his camp was in disarray. Too many people were telling him too many different things, and he foolishly listened. “I wanted to please everyone,” laments Frank. “I didn’t know any better, and thought they had my interests at heart.”
Not only did Frank lose the rematch by a unanimous decision, he also, through no fault of his own, lost his promotional alliance with King. Frank later heard that an attorney acting on his “behalf” had threatened King with legal action for not producing a certain amount of fights that had been promised.
Frank actually had no complaints with King, and says he was totally unaware of the letters being written. If he had, he would have issued a cease and desist order right then and there. He suddenly became a pariah in the sport, and no major promoter would return calls from him or his representatives.
“Raul is a victim of his own talent,” said freelance matchmaker Jim Borzell. “He’s too good to be used as an opponent for the best fighters out there, and too good for the kids coming up. It’s like he’s between a rock and a hard place.”
Since the second Forrest fight, Frank joined forces with Ewers, whom he met at Gleason’s and helped prepare for a white collar boxing tournament. Although the entrepreneurial Ewers, who owns and manages a vintage motorcycle racing team and a real estate developing company, and as a sportswoman climbed as high as the 18,000 foot base camp at Mt. Everest, has had no shortages of success in her own right, she has found moving the still extremely dedicated Frank through the shark-infested waters of professional boxing to be daunting.
She had managed to get him four fights on small shows in Florida and Indiana, but when trying to attract the attention of major power brokers, she continually found herself on the outside looking in. But Ewers, who is not one to take no for an answer, especially when it comes to someone she is so professionally and emotionally involved with as Frank, would not give up without a fierce fight of her own.
Frank’s longtime trainer, the respected and intrinsically honest Bob Jackson, was astounded at the treatment Frank was being given. He said he would be competitive with any fighter in his division, including titlists Kassim Ouma and Travis Sims, and that keeping him on the shelf for actions beyond his control was outrageous.
“He’s always in great shape, because he never falls out of shape,” said Jackson. “I’m 67-years-old and have been in this game all of my life. I’ve seen people struggle at all levels. Some fail for lack of talent, some fail for lack of motivation, some fail for lack of resilience. Raul is beyond waiting for the phone to ring, but he’s in this gym every day, month after month, year after year. I’m not one to sell dreams, but he fits right into the junior middleweight picture. He lost a decision to Vernon Forrest, and was never mentioned again. What kind of sh** is that? I marvel at Raul’s dedication. If someone gives him a chance, he will surprise everyone but himself and those closest to him.”
Frank would love to get a few tune-ups before challenging for a world title. However, while patience might be a virtue, his patience is wearing thin. But he hopes to fight the winner of the upcoming Winky Wright-Felix Trinidad bout.
“I’ve had a lot of disappointments, but refuse to give up,” Frank said. “I’m just looking to show the boxing world that I’m alive, well and ready to fight and beat the best fighters out there. All I need is a chance. I’ve been around a long time and paid my dues. I’m ready to rumble. I just need somebody to rumble with.”