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|Posted: Wed Feb 20th, 2019 11:42 pm||
Frank “The Animal” Fletcher
Like a meteor nearing the end of its violent life, Philadelphia middleweight contender Frank “The Animal” Fletcher scorched across the fistic firmament in just nine years and 25 professional fights, quite possibly in the knowledge that he had to get it all done before his demons swallowed him for good. “I’ve had so many problems in my life,” Fletcher once said, “that I’ve often thought the only place you can get peace of mind is in a graveyard somewhere.”
Thankfully, the graveyard has yet to consume Frank, but how he diced with death throughout his wildly exciting career in the eighties. A “kill me if you can” slugger from the primitive days of yore, the teak-tough Fletcher became the thrilling darling of NBC-TV as he steadily ripped and slashed his way to the number one contender’s position and a likely title tilt at world champion Marvin Hagler.
Cheered on by his vociferous, flag-waving mom Lucille, Frank produced one thunderous performance after another as he battered and broke the will of his opponents in a series of brutal, cliff-hanging battles. Fletcher was a true-blue member of the modern-day Philadelphia school of heart-arresting excitement.
Then the punishment caught up with Frank and he began to fall apart. All fighters do when they tempt fate once too often. Even the great Matthew Saad Muhammad, whose durability was astonishing, finally crumbled.
One could argue that Fletcher’s sudden demise was due solely to the punches he took, but that explanation is a little too simplistic in his case. Frank’s turbulent life was constantly one of turmoil and confrontation.
In 1983, when he was still Hagler’s leading contender, Fletcher reflected on his life: “For 15 to 20 years, I was in and out of jail. Jail was my second home. There was nothing to do. I didn’t like working for nobody. I didn’t want to get a job. I was stealing, taking things, but there was no guns or nothing. At the time, I thought that was the happening, you know? Why do most people stay in trouble? Because they like it.”
At the age of 12, Fletcher was a court-mandated ward of the Youth Development Center North at 2nd and Luzerne streets.
“I started getting into trouble when I was about nine,” Fletcher said. “I think I broke into a car or something like that. I was always breaking into something or getting into fights when I was a kid.
“I don’t know why I was doing it. But my mother was always coming to get me out of the police station up at 65th and Woodland or 55th and Pine. After a while, I guess she just got tired of coming to get me.”
By early 1985, after three punishing losses in the last five fights of his career, Frank’s boxing days were over, but his prison career would continue to flourish. By 1987, he was talking to Daily Newssports writer Elmer Smith from behind bars at the Graterford State Correctional Institute. Frank was one of 2,600 prisoners and had recently been stabbed in the chest by a fellow inmate. But Fletcher wasn’t complaining or making any kind of noise about the incident. “That’s the way they roll around here,” he explained. “A guy gets whacked and nobody sees anything.”
Frank was back inside for aggravated assault, something he did very well in the ring. How he soared through the ranks! It was all crash-bang-wallop, blood and guts, thrills and spills. Nineteen fights, only a couple of defeats, and there he was at number one, knocking at the great Hagler’s door.
The big break for Fletcher came in 1980 when he became the first 160-pound winner of the ESPN tournament. It was so gloriously typical of Frank that he did it the hard way. You got the impression that he could have made fence painting or lawn mowing a similarly thrilling experience. Barnstorming his way to the ESPN crown, Fletcher began with a points victory over tough Ben Serrano before going on to knock out Jerome (Silky) Jackson, William (Caveman) Lee and Randy O’Grady.
Nigel Collins, editor of The Ring at that time, wrote of Fletcher: “The savage knockout of Jackson also brought Fletcher more — it earned him the Animal nickname. The favored Silky took 10 stitches in his lower lip and spent the night in the hospital for observation after Fletcher chewed him up and spat out the pieces. Frank’s uncompromising, let-it-all-hang-out style had emerged and there was no turning back. From there on it was kill or be killed. He seemed to have caught the Saad Muhammad Syndrome and fans and matchmakers alike ate it up.”
Fletcher continued to set a torrid pace for his opponents as he moved up the world rankings. He was NBC-TV’s golden boy and attracted huge afternoon TV audiences with a series of pulsating wins at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. Frank won the vacant USBA middleweight title when he outscored Norberto Sabater in a barnburner that is still discussed by those who saw it. It was a title that Fletcher would retain four times in bloody and brutal encounters.
It seemed that Frank captivated his opponents in the same way he wooed the crowds. His challengers didn’t just want to fight him, they wanted to fight him the Fletcher way. They wanted to step into Frank’s inferno and outgame him in the old-fashioned, do-or-die manner. It wasn’t a good game plan. Ernie Singletary went out in eight rounds, Tony Braxton and Clint Jackson had to endure all 12 rounds of Fletcher’s mayhem, while James (Hard Rock) Green was bombed out in six.
Then came the sudden slide, which didn’t seem too dramatic at first. Frank lost his USBA title in 1983 on a unanimous decision to Wilford Scypion, but it wasn’t a defeat that rang too many alarm bells. But perhaps it was just as well that Scypion got the title shot at Marvin Hagler instead of Fletcher. Marvelous Marvin dispatched Scypion in four rounds and most probably would have made a chopping block out of Frank the Animal.
Fletcher came back from the Scypion loss five months later to stop Curtis Ramsey in eight rounds at the Sands, but four months later Frank was bludgeoned to a sixth round knockout defeat by the powerful Juan Domingo Roldan at Caesars Palace. A classic product of Argentina, the bull-like Roldan was a very strong and dangerous fighter who, like his predecessor Eduardo Lausse, always looked like a man who could go all the way. While he didn’t make it to the very top level, the unpredictable Roldan gave Hagler and Thomas Hearns some very uncomfortable moments in two title challenges.
I recall how dreadfully vulnerable Frank Fletcher suddenly looked after Roldan banged him out in brutal fashion. Suddenly, it seemed, there was nothing left. Frank’s famous resistance had been smashed out of him. Gamely, he rallied back in 1984 with a points win over Jimmy Sykes, but then two crushing defeats to John Mugabi and Curtis Parker confirmed that Frank the Animal was a fatally wounded beast. And that was it. Career over.
Marty Feldman, Fletcher’s trainer and co-manager, reckoned that Frank must have pocketed half a million dollars in ring earnings after deductions. But Frank spent it as soon as he got it and, according to Feldman, had lost his fighting edge after the thrilling victory over James (Hard Rock) Green. On the surface, Fletcher was still doing all the right things, but he also started going out at night as his self-discipline slipped. He had lost his edge and was no longer serious about training. After the final loss against Curtis Parker, Feldman urged Frank to retire.
It was a sound decision for the sake of Fletcher’s health, but it also made him a lost soul. He couldn’t knuckle down and do anything else. He opened a sandwich shop but took no interest in it. On Feldman’s advice, Frank also opened a retirement account, which he quickly plundered.
Finally, the old life pulled him back and he became another statistic at the Graterford Correctional Institute, where any number of unpleasant things can happen to a man. As Mike Tyson discovered, being a formidable fighter doesn’t make you untouchable in that gray and claustrophobic world.
“This place is not like jail,” Fletcher told reporter Elmer Smith in 1987. “It’s like one of those places in one of those horror movies where you’re just walking around in the fog. All of a sudden you come out of the fog and this big, scary building is right in front of you.”
Alas, no happy ending. Frank the Animal is still walking around in the fog and remains caged.
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Last edited on Wed Feb 20th, 2019 11:48 pm by Papa Voo
“Anybody notice that Papa Voo can make all these posts, despite the fact he hasn't been logged in all night? #S&W (Scumbag Liars & Worthless Trash)“
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