When bantamweight Frankie Duarte lost a split decision to World Boxing Assn. champion Richie Sandoval last April, he was frustrated by his inability to corner his faster-moving opponent.
But for Duarte, the frustration was only beginning. In the ensuing months, his big problem was just finding an opponent.
In the nine months since the Sandoval fight, Duarte has fought a total of just nine rounds.
In September, he stopped Ron Cisneros in seven rounds at Reseda's Country Club. In October, he fought Freddie (Pebbles) Jackson, ranked No. 2 by the World Boxing Council. But that fight was stopped after the second round and ruled a technical draw when Duarte was ruled the victim of an accidental head butt.
Especially since Duarte had floored Jackson earlier in that second round and felt confident he was on his way to a victory.
Now the frustration may be over. Duarte (36-6 with 26 knockouts) may fight more Tuesday night than he has in nearly a year. He is scheduled to meet Pedro Gonzalez of Pomona (14-4, six knockouts) in a 10-round bout at 8:15 at the Country Club.
And that's just the beginning.
Duarte has also been signed for a bantamweight tournament at the Forum beginning in March. Duarte, labeled one of the top two entrants in the event by tournament director John Jackson, will first meet Tucson's Mike Moreno (17-2 and ranked No. 11 by the U. S. Boxing Assn.) on Mar. 17.
If he wins that, Duarte would be back in April to fight the winner of the Carlos Segura-James Manning bout. And if he wins that, Duarte would fight for the tournament championship in early summer.
Top prize is $50,000 and maybe more.
"I think we can parlay a win in this tournament into a world title shot. That's what Prince Mohammed and J. B. Williamson did," says Duarte's manager, Dan Goossen, referring to the recent bout between Mohammed and Williamson at the Forum for the vacated WBC light heavyweight crown. "Dr. Jerry Buss has given a great chance to local kids with these tournaments."
Duarte had hoped to get into the ring against another fighter ranked in the top 10 following the Sandoval fight, but that never materialized. There were also negotiations for a match against Jeff Fenech, the International Boxing Federation champion, in Australia. Instead, Duarte will continue his comeback from alcoholism at the Forum.
It has been nearly six years since Duarte prematurely retired because of a drinking problem. "I was a bum," Duarte now says.
The road back hasn't always been smooth, either. His first attempt to return ended after one fight, a 1981 loss in Hawaii.
This comeback has been far more successful. He hasn't had a drink in almost three years. Under the management of Ten Goose Boxing of North Hollywood, he has fought six times, with only the loss to Sandoval marring his record.
"People out there don't want to believe I'm back," Duarte says. "Well, I think I am better than ever. No doubt about it. I look at the old films of myself and I see the difference.
"I think I'm just as enthusiastic as when I first started fighting. Maybe more enthusiastic. I appreciate it more after having and losing so much. I appreciate being in the limelight and having a chance for the money.
"But the important thing is, I have to get another title shot soon. I don't have as much time as these 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds. I've got to get a shot. I'm 31 and I don't want to be fighting past 33."
For Duarte, that doesn't mean a fight against Fenech, either.
"I've been fighting for 16 years," Duarte says, "and I guess I'm an old-timer. I'm hard to convince that IBF stuff is the same as the WBC or WBA. What I would really like is to become the undisputed, true champion. There can only be one who is the best at a time. I'd like to be that one."
But first, there is Gonzalez on Tuesday.