Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Random Classics - Daniel Zaragoza vs. Paul Banke I, II & III

It's not as if boxing hasn't had its share of male models, singers and handsome faces, but you wouldn't generally expect a sport where guys wind up getting more facial cosmetic surgery than Joan Rivers, to highlight a bunch of lookers.

Cheekbones get shattered, noses wind up cartilage-free, scar tissue where cuts chronically open up is repaired, etc. This is a sport of blood. 

And they say you should never fight an ugly guy, because he's got nothing to lose. 

Daniel Zaragoza was an outstanding example of why that advice is perfectly sound. 


Born in December, 1957, Zaragoza hasn't talked much of his childhood, except for to briefly mention it was a happy one on a few occasions. 

Daniel hails from a neighborhood in Mexico City, Mexico called Tacuba, where he lived most of his life. He didn't show much interest in boxing as a kid, even though his dad Augustin enjoyed it, and his brother, Augustin Jr., won a bronze metal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. 

Like many Latin youngsters, Daniel was more interested in becoming a soccer star than a world champion. It wasn't until he was 20-years old that he first laced up gloves.  

He took to the sport quickly, though, racking up wins and fighting his way to the 1979 Pan-Am Games in Puerto Rico. In the second round, he wound up losing on points to 1978 National Golden Gloves champ Jackie Beard.

Regardless, Zaragoza earned his spot on the Mexican National Team, which also showcased future super flyweight champ Gilberto Roman. Mexico won no boxing medals that year. Zaragoza in particular did well, but was stopped on cuts by Michael Parris of Guyana in the 4th round of the games. 

In all, Zaragoza amassed a 54-4 record as an amateur before turning professional in October, 1980 under trainer Ignacio Beristain. 

Rather than stay local, Zaragoza cut his teeth scrapping virtually all over Mexico, and once in Los Angeles.

Going 14-1 (10 KO) in his first 15 bouts, in his 16th pro fight and fighting for the first time in Mexico D.F., Daniel outpointed the more much experienced Jorge Ramirez in his first 12-round fight, in the process capturing the Mexican bantamweight title - a title coveted by men in one of the more storied weight divisions in the country. 

Again he would go on the road, defending his belt in five different cities a total of nine times, which still stands as a record. His lone loss as champion was to future fringe contender and then-NABF bantam champ Harold Petty by decision, with his Mexican strap not on the line. 

Daniel would win the vacant WBC bantamweight title in May, 1985 against Freddie Jackson, who in a close fight apparently launched a deliberate headbutt into Zaragoza's eyebrow, which opened a large cut. Jackson was disqualified, and Zaragoza's legitimacy as a champion was questioned. 

However, with the win Zaragoza became Beristain's first world champion. 

Ever the enthusiastic warrior, Zaragoza signed to defend his new world championship against unbeaten Colombian stylist Miguel Lora as soon as his wound healed. "El Raton" Zaragoza lost the title to Lora before he could make a single defense, unfortunately. Daniel was knocked down once in the fourth and twice in the fifth by a series of right hands, and to add insult, the WBC dropped Zaragoza to #6 in their rankings. 

After taking 8 months off, Daniel traveled to Australia to take on unbeaten popular IBF bantamweight champ Jeff Fenech in a non-title affair. Fenech out-did Zaragoza in just about every regard over 12 rounds, probably helped by Daniel's lack of big punching power, and causing Beristain and Zaragoza to tweek his style a bit following the loss.

At 28-4 and 4 lbs. heavier, Zaragoza rattled off 3 wins before the end of 1986, the last being a one-punch knockout of NABF super bantamweight belt-holder Mike Ayala. 

Seemingly hitting another stride, Zaragoza went 4-0 in 1987. In February of '88, he took on faded Mexican great Carlos Zarate, who was in the midst of a comeback after retiring following the dirty decision loss to Lupe Pintor in '79. Zarate was coming off a TD loss to Fenech following an accidental clash of heads. 

As Fenech had moved up in weight, the fight was made for the vacant WBC belt, and slated to take place at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, CA, formerly known as simply "The Forum" - the same venue in which Zarate first won the WBC super bantam title in 1976. 

Zaragoza assaulted Zarate's body early on and stopped one of the greatest ever Mexican fighters in round 10 to claim the title. 

Daniel notched two defenses abroad over the next 9 or so months; first by drawing with former IBF 122 lb. titlist Seung-Hoon Lee in South Korea in a fight he reportedly should've won, then by stopping tough Italian fringe guy Valerio Nati in 4 rounds. 

A self-described competitor, Zaragoza sought challenges, never really caring who he fought. 

And a challenge he would find in Paul Banke. 


Like Zaragoza, Banke doesn't regularly speak of his childhood either. But his mother Yolanda Miranda would later say of his youth, "The gym was a second home, the ring was his playground, the other boxers were his playmates. He was constantly trained and told what to do. But outside the ring, and outside that environment, he lacked the skills to live life. He was very, very sheltered. For him to come out and socialize, it was like a candy store."

And that was essentially Paul's story in a nutsell.

Raised in Asuza, CA, Paul Banke was inspired to pursue boxing seriously at the age of 12 when he was taken to Phoenix with other pugilist youngsters and saw amateur standout Chuck Walker training for the upcoming 1976 Olympics. 

At 14-years old Paul hooked up with trainer Victor Valenzuela at the Asuza Boxing Club, where future successful light welter Zack Padilla also trained.  

Valenzuela notes that Banke was always more slugger than boxer, constantly applying pressure behind a high guard. 

As a flyweight, Banke was a very good amateur despite having a style clearly better suited for the pro ranks - he made it to the semi-finals of the 1984 Olympic Trials, where he lost to eventual gold medalist Steve McCrory. 

Dejected, Paul finished up his amateur career and ended with a 150-25 record before turning pro in August of 1985 and splitting from Valenzuela shortly thereafter. 

Banke would later admit that he first tried cocaine after making $1500 in his third pro fight against Miguel Rodella. And the habit continued, as Paul's record meandered to 8-2 in his first 10 bouts while also working construction. His antics got him dropped by two more managers and another trainer before meeting manager and veritable halfway house director Bob Richardson, who promoted a few cards that Banke fought on in Riverside County. 

After a tough stoppage loss to Jesus Poll in August of '87 and two unimpressive decision wins over the next few months, Richardson approached Banke's manager Oscar Garcia about buying out Paul's contract. Garcia initially wanted $2000, but Richardson secured him a spot at his training facility and compound in Quail Valley, east of Los Angeles, for $1000. 

Richardson knew that taming Banke would be a tall order - Paul would later state (then deny) that he was coked up in his loss to Poll, and barely trained for the bout. But Richardson tried. He hooked Paul up with trainer Wes Ramey, who helped run Richardson's "All Heart Boxing Club," and encouraged Paul to channel his motivated amateur days, yet sit down on his shots a bit more. 

The now 12-3 Banke was entered into a $100,000 super bantamweight tournament at the Great Western Forum through the guidance of Richardson (and Bob's friendship with Forum matchmaker Tony Curtis). Banke stopped Alberto Mercado in the first leg of the tournament, decisioned two-time Olympian (and excellent amateur) Robert Shannon in the semis, and finally made Forum regular Carlos Romero quit following a bruising 11 rounds to win the tournament and bring his record to 15-3.

By winning the Stroh's Super Bantamweight Tournament, Banke also became ranked #9 by the WBC.  

In January 1989, Banke engaged Ramiro Adames in an exciting slugfest that saw Adames hit the deck three times, and Paul fight through a nasty cut over his right eye. The two took turns hurting each other, though Adames reportedly pressured Banke incessantly, landing hand combinations, but being met with big sweeping shots in return. Banke would eventually stop Adames, knocking him down for a final time in the 5th. 

The fight was considered an instant Southern California classic, and pointed Banke towards WBC champion Daniel Zaragoza. 


The defenses against Lee and Nati gave Zaragoza a #1 rating in Ring Magazine, with the Ring Championship at 122 lbs. vacant, while Banke winning Stroh's Forum Tournament and subsequently TKO'ing Ramiro Adames for the vacant WBA Americas super bantam title earned him a #8 ranking in Ring. 

Specialist Terry Claybon joined Bob Richardson's All Heart  Boxing Club not long into '89 to emphasize Banke's conditioning, which had been previously called into question. 

A relatively rare southpaw vs. southpaw matchup, Zaragoza-Banke was originally scheduled for March, 1989, but an eardrum injury for Zaragoza postponed the bout until late April, and again until their actual meeting on June 22, the headliner on a card also featuring a Forum super featherweight tournament. 

A high-paced, furious match, Banke often clowned, smiled and wiggled about as Zaragoza laced his mug with shots, while usually coming straight forward. Zaragoza, though appearing to win rounds, never truly pulled away in the fight, and found himself bleeding from several cuts. He slowed a bit in the middle rounds, but Banke had trouble making the fight his.  

Until the 9th round. 

Banke trapped Zaragoza on the ropes, then clubbed him with a 2-3 combination that had the champion horizontal for a moment. Banke pressured and attempted to end matters when Zaragoza rose from the knockdown, but the champ weathered the storm and seemed to regain some semblance of control. The 10th round started quickly for Banke, but Zaragoza seized the fight with a strong finish in the last 3 rounds, earning a split decision victory in front of a pro-Banke crowd of 4,500+.

When Paul would briefly attempt to decry the decision, Richardson set him straight by reminding him that he hadn't done what newer trainer Steve Rosenszeig asked of him during the bout, and got caught partying more than once before it. 

Zaragoza was asked about a rematch following the fight, to which he replied, "A rematch? I don't care. I don't have much time, I'll fight anyone." 

Banke took home less than half of the $15,000 he earned for the fight, while Zaragoza made $45,000 on the books. 

Richardson took Banke to Utah to fight twice, perhaps as a kind of punishment for straying off-course. 

On the other hand, Zaragoza again fought at the Forum, retiring old So. Cal. warrior Frankie Duarte by pecking him relentlessly for almost 10 rounds in his 4th title defense. He then defended the WBC trinket in South Korea by split decision over Chan-Young Park. 

A rematch between Zaragoza and Banke was slated for April, 1990, with the champion to make $50,000, while the challenger would take home another $15,000 - again at the Great Western Forum.  

Zaragoza - a not-quite-beloved champion in his native Mexico despite being undefeated over 4 years - may have come into the rematch believing Banke would make the same mistakes, which proved to be a disastrous approach. 

Banke again fought the only way he knew how: coming forward and throwing bombs. And Paul would not be denied in this Fight of the Year candidate. 

In front of a crowd just shy of 6,000, the two men battered each other, and again Zaragoza bled. So did Banke. Round 3 in particular was classic, Round of the Year type of stuff. Banke pushed Zaragoza back to the ropes, Daniel rallied back with hooks that knocked Banke backwards, and that happened several times in the round. 

By round 6, Zaragoza was cut over both eyes and his left was beginning to swell shut. He had been using deft, and often awkward footwork to outbox the challenger at times, but was still hanging in there, absorbing shots. 

The two just kept battling. Finally, in round 9, Banke met Zaragoza in the middle of the ring and touched him with short shots, cutting him beneath the right eye. A brave, but clearly tiring Zaragoza lashed out to create room, but was caught with a hard hook-cross combination that put him on his back with a little over a minute left. 

Daniel gamely rose and waved the challenger in despite getting raked over and over and wobbled. A huge left from Banke crumbled Zaragoza to the canvas, and referee John Thomas stopped the bout immediately with about 10 seconds remaining in the 9th. 

After the fight, Banke said, "He's a great fighter. He was throwing bombs from left field and landing them ... but tonight I was more relaxed. I concentrated on keeping on keeping pressure on him - on not letting him off the hook, like I did the last time."  

Upon winning the WBC belt, Banke was appointed the task of defending it against mandatory challenger Ki-Jun Lee in South Korea on August 18, 1990. A rough inside affair that had many elbows, forearms, headbutts and push-offs, Banke wound up out-classing Lee and stopping him in the 12th, knocking him down 3 times in the process. But not before taking a heap of lumps.

He was slated to face WBC bantam champ Raul Perez after what was supposed to be a defense against Argentinian Pedro Decima, but he never got there.

Supposedly sneaking in partying binges and failing to train led to a 4th round TKO loss to Decima back home at the Forum. Paul was paid $60,000 to get banged around, have his eyes swollen and mouth bleeding profusely, and finally knocked down three times before the fight was stopped. 

Decima made $7500 and took home the WBC championship. 

Meanwhile, the former champ took a year off to regroup, and rebounded with a points win over 0-3 Moi Hernandez in the border town of Piedras Negras, Mexico. 

Wasting little time, Zaragoza traveled to Japan in June, 1991 to boost his old WBC title from Kiyoshi Hatanaka (who had stopped Decima in 8 rounds earlier in the year) by way of split decision. In August he again defended it in South Korea against the ranked Chan Huh by wide decision. 

The two-time champion aggravated his eardrum injury in the fight though, and an October match against Banke was called off. As a tune-up, Banke would outpoint unknown Antonio Ramirez in Indio, CA instead.

Rescheduled for December, the two men met for a final time at the Great Western Forum. 

But this time, Paul's legs seemed to have less bounce, and his pressure wasn't quite as stifling. He looked a bit worn as Zaragoza led him into counters and hard body shots and usually spun away from Banke's wide shots. 

Zaragoza said he hurt his left hand in the third round, but that didn't stop him from rattling Banke in the 4th, 5th, 9th and 10th rounds. 

While not a bad fight in the slightest, it paled in comparison to the first two, with maybe the most exciting moment coming in round 12, where a desperate Banke caught Zaragoza with a series of hard hooks and uppercuts about halfway through the round. But Paul stopped throwing and Daniel went back to winning the fight. 

"El Raton" topped the Asuza native by scored of 116-112, 116-112 and 117-113, taking their memorable series 2-1. 

Banke once said of Zaragoza, "...that face. It was outrageous. Scary! I didn't want to look him in the face. I shouldn't be talkin' shit, but that guy was ugly." 



Daniel Zaragoza vs. Paul Banke I

Paul Banke vs. Daniel Zaragoza II

Daniel Zaragoza vs. Paul Banke III


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