Frankie the banger gets bombed

A rough street fighter, DePaula was obliged to appear indoors at the Garden, and Foster won easily
February 03, 1969

After the fight Frankie DePaula dourly refused to take a shower—on the sound theory that he had not had a chance to work up a proper sweat. For that matter, neither had his opponent, Bob Foster, a fellow who is built rather more like a pipe cleaner than a prizefighter but, for all that, is light heavyweight champion of the world.

It was at Madison Square Garden, this first defense of Foster's title since he took it by knocking out the elderly Dick Tiger of Biafra last May. That had been the 24th knockout of Fosters 33-fight professional career. Over DePaula's floundering form last week he made it 25 KOs, though this last one was only technically a knockout, made mandatory by the New York boxing commission rule that, even in a championship bout, after three knockdowns in a round a fighter is automatically disqualified, supposedly to prevent serious injury.

DePaula had indeed gone to the canvas three times in that first round—and Foster had been down once—but there was a dubiousness about a couple of what Referee Johnny LoBianco ruled were true knockdowns and not slips. It is rare, for instance, to see a good fighter go to the canvas from a punch to his body but that is what Foster did soon after the starting bell rang. Most ringsiders thought it a slip, and after the bout both boxers agreed that the newly laid canvas was slippery.

So, after Foster retaliated three times, the fight ended in two minutes and 17 seconds of the first round without either man truly hurt. This was in line with Foster's prefight prediction that it would not go more than three rounds. Gambling professionals agreed with him to the extent that they refused to accept bets. Published odds favoring the champion at 5 to 1, though they reflected the situation accurately, were to be considered only in the Pickwickian sense.

Despite this rather poor publicity, the fight attracted a near-capacity crowd of 16,129, most of it a rabid lot from De-Paula's home state of New Jersey. There he is, or was, highly regarded as a brawling type reminiscent of the great Rocky Marciano, though on his record DePaula would appear to lack something—quite a lot, in fact—that Rocky had. The crowd contributed to a gross gate of $189,992 over and above television money. It was the biggest purse either fighter had ever earned—about $75,000 for Foster, $37,500 for DePaula.

If DePaula had been able to survive that first round and a few more it might have made for an interesting evening. Contrast was written all over the match—in the fighters' physiques, their styles and their personalities. Foster stands 6'3½", boxes well and generally is a somber man who broods even now over the fact that during his early days in the ring he was so little appreciated that he had to quit the sport and take a menial machinist's job in a York, Pa. bomb factory. Now he makes bombs with his fists. His jab, hook and right are all good and he puts his punches together. He towered over DePaula—who stands 5'8½"—yet at 171½ pounds was outweighed 1½ pounds by the challenger.

A former saloon bouncer, DePaula fights like one and has terrified some less experienced opponents with his incessant fist-flailing charges. Last October he won a bit of a reputation as a game loser against Tiger during an evening when each fighter was on the canvas twice. He likes to get in close and deprive his opponents of punching room, and once he gets there he punches hard.

Before the fight DePaula summoned a hairdresser from Jersey City. The hairdresser, who calls himself "Gizzi," gave DePaula something called a hot comb hairdo and he came out of it looking like a mod Prince Valiant. "Gizzi used to cut my hair when it cost $2.25," he observed, "but now it runs 30 bucks." At the fight's end the $30 hairdo was quite mussed, but that, except for a trifling bruise on the forehead, was his only injury.

To build the challenger's ego to fighting pitch there was much prefight chatter, in his presence, about what a great scrapper Frankie was. His manager, Gary Garafola, who also used to box and is owner of Garafola's Rag Doll—a go-go joint in Union City, N.J., where Frankie served as a too-efficient bouncer—brought up the subject. He asked a simple, direct question: "How many knockouts you got in the street, Frank?" A truck driver named Tony from the old neighborhood gave the proud answer. "Frankie has maybe a thousand knockouts in the street," Tony said. "Frankie's a banger."

"I got the equalizer," Frankie agreed. "I can bang with either hand. Box! I can't box a little bit. Boxing's for grocery clerks—apples, oranges. Me, I'm a banger. Anybody I been in with I hurt."

One of those he was in with as a teenager was hurt to the extent that his jaw was broken in seven places—but it did not happen in the ring. "I got a bad deal," Frankie protested. "I was 15 and the other guy was 28. He had been drinking and threw a punch at me and I duck, throw a right hand and land on his jaw. The guy's relative was a big-shot cop. You can see it was bad luck. It cost me a five-year stretch."

"You're going to hurt Foster," Trainer Al Braverman assured him. "Did you see the long body with the skinny ribs? That's where you want to aim."

Aim there he did, and caught Foster directly after the bell with two right hands to the body, the second of which put the champion down—or so it seemed to the referee. Foster furiously protested that it was a slip, but the referee went relentlessly through the eight-count routine, after which a flustered Foster stalked about the ring like a wading bird looking for a frog. Like an angry wading bird, that is. He speared his prey quickly with two jabs and a hook, and DePaula was on the deck, up instantly and waving to his corner that he was all right, but forced to take the eight-count nonetheless. Seconds later, after sustaining a right and left to the head, he charged into what could only have been construed as a right-hand push, and was on the floor again. The formality of that particular eight-count over, Foster hit his man on the head with a right uppercut—the best punch of the fight—and that was the end of Frankie DePaula's dreams of glory. He was on canvas again, but not by any means immortalized.

After two knockdowns in a round, a sensible fighter would have considered the possibility of a third looming up, and would have elected to stay out of trouble. But Frankie is not the sort to stay out of trouble.

The victory left Foster contemplating a succession of offers for fights in other lands, according to his manager, Mushky Salow, a Connecticut non Yankee, who figured that they would get an aggregate of $300,000 for proposed bouts with Argentina's Gregorio Peralta, Italy's Piero Del Papa, Australia's Bobby Dunlop, Yugoslavia's Yvan Prebeg and New York's Jose Torres, now ranked fifth on the World Boxing Association scale of light heavyweight contenders. This last would be staged in Torres' native Puerto Rico. There was talk, too, of matching Foster against the middleweight champion, Nino Benvenuti.

Not all of these matches, if any, will come off, of course. What Madison Square Garden would like would be to pit Foster against the winner of the George Chuvalo-Buster Mathis bout on Feb. 3. Manager Salow is cool to such talk. If his man is to meet heavyweights, Mushky figures, it will be either Jimmy Ellis or Joe Frazier, who hold claims on the heavyweight championship while Muhammad Ali is in Coventry. Fighting either of the heavyweight title claimants would, from Foster's standpoint, be an attractive consideration. He would be boxing for a substantial purse and the possibility of becoming heavyweight champion. At the same time he would not be risking his present title. A victory over the low-rated Chuvalo or Mathis would not enhance Foster's reputation to any great extent and defeat would tarnish it.

As champion, Foster is in the driver's seat, riding a golden carriage, and can pick and choose opponents. Gone are the days when the best he could get was a $23 purse—and a job in York.

TWO PHOTOSHERB SCHARFMANTHE BLOW that ended the fight, a right uppercut (above), was also one of the few solid punches that either man landed. It put DePaula down for the third time in the opening round.