The Dragon Slayers, Part III: Frankie Randall

By Cheekay Brandon on March 18, 2012
The Dragon Slayers, Part III: Frankie Randall
Randall was a classic journeyman with the rise and fall narrative of many reluctant champs

Unfortunately for Chavez, Frankie Randall was not Meldrick Taylor and had little regard for what was supposed to happen…

“Once I won, I wanted great things, and wanted them to keep on coming. I didn’t want to just be known as the man who conquered Julio Cesar Chavez. I was now determined to become Frankie Randall, all time great champion of the world.”

Just because the boxing gods are patient does not mean they aren’t present.

They can have a dubious sense of justice and morality. While bogus decisions in fights are almost never formally reversed, justice is often served in other decisions and occurrences (sometimes outside of the boxing ring). The boxing gods can be heavy on the symbolism, sarcasm and irony. 

Such irony defines one of boxing’s great upsets, Frankie Randall’s January 1994 split-decision victory over undefeated boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez.

While this exercise in dragon-slaying is chiefly about the many travels of Frankie Randall, the irony that fed the story actually began several months earlier, in the September 1993 championship fight between Chavez and Pernell Whitaker.

Whitaker-Chavez occupies an odd space in boxing lore: it is simultaneously one of boxing’s greatest exhibitions in technical dominance and one of its worst decisions.

It’s one of those moments when a bogus decision didn’t only rob a fighter of a well-deserved victory but also robbed boxing history of a historical moment. It was in the Duran-Leonard mold, a fight between the boxer and the brawler. The fight was supposed to tell us something about the relative superiority of boxing brains (Whitaker) versus brawn (Chavez).

While the fight could hardly be called a disappointment, it didn’t quite turn out the way many experts had predicted. It ended up being so lopsided that it was barely entertaining: Pernell Whitaker simply boxed circles around Chavez.

This fight was one of Whitaker’s defining moments: masterful defense in the pocket, firing and landing with startling accuracy. Whitaker’s superior hand speed, anticipation and defense were on display, befuddling Chavez and making him look like he was fighting underwater. Even better, Whitaker actually outfought Chavez on the INSIDE, something no one thought was possible. It was a virtuoso performance.

As is prone to happen in championship fights in Texas, the judges either weren’t watching the fight or had their minds made up before watching the fight. It was ruled a draw (113-115, 115-115, 115-115), even though the most generous boxing analyst could only give Chavez four rounds (most had Chavez winning three or fewer).

“It was a long time coming in my career, but once that opportunity came, I knew that it would be my chance to finally realize my lifelong dream of becoming a world champion.”

One might ask: what does Whitaker-Chavez have to do with Frankie Randall? Why are we discussing Whitaker-Chavez in an examination of Frankie Randall’s historic victory over Julio Cesar Chavez?

It is because Frankie Randall was more than a random opponent. He was the boxing gods’ deliverer of justice—he was to deliver the loss that the world seemingly OWED owed Julio Cesar Chavez.

Chavez, one of the greatest brawlers to ever live and a legend in his native Mexico (and elsewhere), had been on the good side of the boxing gods for many years. He is a participant in one of the most exciting fights of the last 25 years: the March 1990 WBC and IBF junior welterweight championship fight against Meldrick Taylor. Chavez was challenged by Taylor’s hand speed early and, going into the championship rounds, was far behind on two out of three of the official scorecards. As he was prone to do, Chavez rallied late, culminating in a barrage of punches in the 12th round that left Taylor battered with only seconds left. Referee Richard Steele stopped the fight with only two seconds remaining, handing Chavez the victory by TKO.  Had those two seconds expired, Taylor would have handed Chavez his first defeat.

Taylor and Whitaker were both world-class fighters at the time they fought Chavez; Taylor was an undefeated former gold medalist (Los Angeles, 1984) with a style crafted in the gym wars of Philadelphia. As of 1994, Pernell Whitaker was widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and was well on his way to the Boxing Hall of Fame.

As Chavez had escaped the hands of defeat from fighters widely believed to be elite, it is ironic (and fitting) that Chavez would ultimately succumb to the anonymous and reluctant Frankie Randall.

“It was clear from jump that I was too fast for him, too slick, and too strong.”

Randall was a classic boxing journeyman with the rise and fall narrative of many reluctant champions.

He had been a hot commodity in the early to mid-1980s, winning his first 23 fights before suffering a loss to former lightweight champion Edwin “Chapo” Rosario in June 1985.  After a second round knockout loss to Primo Ramos in October 1987, Randall began to fall on hard times. That loss, coupled with legal problems, created something of a crossroads for Randall: either he would rededicate himself to the sport or fall into the depths of boxing obscurity. Now signed to Don King Promotions, Randall fought with renewed victor, staying very busy and winning nine fights in a row between March 1998 and August 1989.  After a 19-month layoff because of legal troubles, Randall would return to the ring, continuing his march towards the championship fights that he so coveted.

His new focus immediately paid dividends: since returning in 1991, Randall was winning in spectacular fashion. It wasn’t, however, until Randall avenged one of his two defeats in a TKO victory over Edwin Rosario in January 1993 that Don King began to seriously take notice. Shortly thereafter, King selected Randall to fight for the world title against the Julio Cesar Chavez, undefeated in 90 professional fights (89-0-1 at the time).

The fight was the first ever at Las Vegas’ illustrious MGM Grand and was to kickoff Chavez’s march towards 100 victories (without a defeat), both an unprecedented boxing accomplishment and a potentially lucrative money-making venture for boxing promoters. Randall opened as an 18-1 underdog.

The event was quite the boxing spectacle, the type that only Don King could engineer: the undercards featured boxing legend Thomas Hearns in a cruiserweight bout and rising Puerto Rican superstar Felix “Tito” Trinidad against countryman Hector “Macho” Camacho” in an IBF welterweight championship fight.

Unlike many other dragon slayers, Randall’s performance wasn’t exercised via a single devastating punch but, rather, a complete, diverse and thorough 12-round masterpiece.

The fight was exciting, with an entertaining ebb and flow. Chavez, a notorious slow starter, was outboxed over the first few rounds but began to effectively stalk in round four, landing consistently to Randall’s body and tightening the score considerably.  Randall showed championship caliber conditioning and will by turning the tide shortly thereafter, counterpunching and scoring with a balanced body-head attack, keeping the fight in the middle of the ring whenever possible, never buckling under the pressure and punching power of Chavez.

Sensing urgency, Chavez entered the championship rounds with new vigor, eager to sweep them to win the fight. Perhaps Chavez had taken the best of his opponent and now used his championship intangibles to overwhelm Randall in the late rounds. It was believable; the boxing world was all too familiar with this script. Few fighters closed like Julio Cesar Chavez. 

Unfortunately for Chavez, Frankie Randall was not Meldrick Taylor and had little regard for what was supposed to happen. Instead, Randall withstood Chavez’s pressure and delivered punishment of his own including the punch the defined the fight: a beautiful counter right hand that dropped Chavez in round 11, the first knockdown of Chavez’s career.

Overall, Chavez fought competitively, scoring well to the body in several rounds, effectively stalking and exerting intelligent pressure. Unfortunately, it was low blows that would be Chavez’s undoing: he lost two points for low blows during the fight, which, according to the final scorecards, cost him the fight. 

Randall earned that victory. Most unofficial scorecards were not as close as the official scorecards (The Associated Press unofficial scorecard was 114-111 for Randall). Few who saw the fight think that Chavez actually won or that the points deducted for low blows should have decided the fight.

Frankie Randall’s exercise in dragon-slaying has several unique sources: for all of the public vilification of of Don King, it was King who signed Randall at a time when Randall was no longer a prize prospect; it was King who kept Randall busy, allowing him to hone his craft and address his weaknesses; it was King who gave Randall a chance at the title, something Randall had been waiting 13 years for. 

Some might say that Chavez simply overlooked Randall. Given Chavez’s exploits against the best fighters in the world for many years, we might understand if Chavez slightly underestimated Randall (that the rematch was just as close as the first fight runs counter to this idea; even after Chavez had ample time to prepare, Randall still fought him very competitively).

Those factors aside, Randall still gets the lion’s share of the credit. He personifies the ebb and flow of boxing matches, the ebb and flow of boxing careers, and ebb and flow of lives: life can be mostly occupied by darkness and misfortune with periodic, passing rays of light and hope. The best among us, fighters or not, take advantage of these people, moments and opportunities to build a better self.

By seizing daylight, Frankie Randall not only fulfilled a personal dream of becoming a world champion, he also wrote himself into boxing history as one of its most reluctant, improbable and legendary dragon slayers.

The Dragon Slayers, Part I: Hasim Rahman
The Dragon Slayers, Part II: Antonio Tarver
The Dragon Slayers, Part III: Frankie Randall
The Dragon Slayers, Part IV: Marco Antonio Barrera
The Dragon Slayers, Part V: Vernon Forrest

Follow Cheekay Brandon on Twitter at @biosophist

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 1 of 8)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 2 of 8)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 3 of 8)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 4 of 8)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 5 of 8)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 6 of 8)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 7 of 8)

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Frankie Randall I (part 8 of 8)

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  1. Cheekay Brandon 12:31pm, 03/19/2012

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. This was one of the first fights that I actually remember STUDYING many years ago….and I followed Frankie Randall after it that I figured it deserved a mention. I wanted to include more about Randall’s post-Chavez adventures but that would have been a bit too much.

    @Thresher: Thanks for the kind words. Be easy on Chavez, though! LOL—when you’ve fought 90 + times, you’ve earned the right to whine a little bit! LOL.  And I’m also in that camp that thought Steele made the right decision in the Meldrick Taylor fight….Taylor was done, 2 seconds left, or not. 


  2. FrankinDallas 08:09am, 03/19/2012

    yeah, Chavez cried like a baby the few times he lost….

  3. the thresher 07:49am, 03/19/2012

    Chavez got more than his fair share of gifts. He also was a whiner and cry baby.

  4. Adam P Short 05:38am, 03/19/2012

    Great article and a great fight.  The right down the pipe in the eleventh round of this fight is one of the single most significant punches in modern boxing history. 

    Also a great example of why I sometimes get frustrated with the attitude of ringside guys toward active referees - Chavez lands probably a dozen low blows in the fight, but the crew is up in arms when Steele takes two points?  Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? 

    In the end if Steele hadn’t taken the points it would have been yet another gift decision for Chavez.

  5. Don from Prov 04:54am, 03/19/2012

    A GREAT opening line about the boxing gods sets the stage for an excellent article.

    Enjoyed this, Mr. Brandon.

  6. the thresher 04:47am, 03/19/2012

    Cheekay, I love it. This is my kind of interest. Going back and telling it again for the first time!!!!! Great job.

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