See Mike “Lil” Warrior Saturday at Morongo!
“The family that prays together stays together,” goes that old adage.
“And the family that boxes together…raises champions!” might be the motto of Riverside’s Franco family.
The Francos are one tough–and talented–family and THIS Saturday, May 21, you can catch Michael “Lil Warrior” Franco (18-0, 12 KOs) in action when he goes toe to toe against Rafael “The Dominican Man” Lora (11-5, 5 KOs) at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa in Cabazon, California. Promoted by Top Rank in association with II Feathers Promotions and airing on Fox Sports, Franco will be the co-main event of the evening, headlined by Alfonso Gomez vs. Calvin Green.
Mike’s ledger remains perfect and unblemished with 18 victories and this weekend he hopes to add one more to his unbeaten record. Known for their energetic throngs of fans and supporters, “Warrior Nation” will once again be in the house this Saturday night.
I had a chance to catch up with Team Franco as their Morongo bout nears.
Besides the 23-year-old “Lil Warrior,” the crew includes father and trainer Al Franco, wife Teresa, and their other three children, new pro fighter Daniel “Twitch” Franco, Nick and daughter Vanessa. One thing that stands out about this strong family unit is that they have such a positive energy among them. They have never been “haters” in the game; all of the Franco fam are down-to-earth and always entertaining to chat with.
Proud of their heritage, their family “crest” is a boxing logo stating, “In Raza We Trust,” with a Native American motif mixed in with the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag.
And all of the children have had a hand in the sport: Mike is a WBC titlist, 19-year-old Daniel has shined while previously in the amateurs ranks, Nick has been a cornerman who wraps hands and pretty Vanessa has even taken a few turns as a ring card girl. This SoCal championship clan are very involved in the sweet science and even have their own gym, Warriors Combat Academy in Rancho Cucamonga. I’ve known them for a few years now and I have watched the kids and the whole family continue to make their mark in boxing.
Now that the two siblings are professional prizefighters, this good-looking and always supportive familia will be kept busy with their dynamic “Bash Brothers.” The Francos are a true boxing family, a real “Fam BAM”! Baby bro Daniel, nicknamed “Twitch;” now has two pro victories under his belt and an upcoming bout versus Paul Castillo Jr. on May 28 at the Blue Water Resort and Casino in Parker, Arizona on the John Molina Jr. undercard.
But first it’s his big brother’s turn to shine on the canvas again as he looks strong and ready for the weekend showdown, scheduled for eight rounds. The boxer, whom fans first got to know with a trademark Mohawk he sported and colorful ink adorning his left shoulder and pecs, has built up a strong and loyal following. And Franco, who is a WBC Youth Intercontinental Super Bantamweight Champ, is more than ready, his father tells me. Admittedly, after facing some adversity during the last couple of years, the camp says this has only made the “Lil Warrior” even stronger.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity,” father and coach Al with the Warzone Boxing Club tells me. “There was a misdiagnosis with his eyes and he had a year hiatus. They first said it was a detached retina. But after seeing a specialist it turned out to actually be three pinholes.” Franco goes on to tells me more about the scary situation, which turned out to be not as serious as the first detached retina decree, which could have prematurely curtailed Franco’s promising career.
“It turned out that with the pinholes, two were healing already and one was closing,” continues Al. “So we had surgery and they ‘zapped them’ and he’s fine!”
Nevertheless, it was a harrowing time for the family as the family waited for the prizefighter’s clearance to be able to lace up again.
Mike last fought in February in Mexico, beating Martin Armenta by a TKO and before that fight, battled Adolfo Landeros in San Diego to a unanimous decision in October of 2010, his return to the ring after the layoff.
“For the Landeros fight, we had only three weeks to train. He couldn’t run; he couldn’t jumprope,” explains the Franco patriarch.
But for this upcoming Top Rank card, Franco confirms that his son is looking sharp and had a great training camp. Originally scheduled to face opponent Jose Angel Beranza, the foes switched and Franco will now square off against Dominican boxer Lora.
“We’ll be coming up in weight to 128–the contracted weight–but at this weight, he’s big; he’s strong,” Al says proudly. “He’s eating well, he won’t be dehydrated!”
After a minor blip early on in the schedule, training went very well. “He had about six weeks off,” explains “Lil Warrior’s” amiable dad. “What we thought were shin splints were actually a slight stress fracture.”
As we all know, it’s the adversity, the bumps in the road, the tests of our will that make us stronger, tougher and even more determined. Fighting adversity makes us all dig just a little deeper, proving what we’re made of while strengthening one’s will to succeed in the battle–and continue fighting the war.
Expect Mike Franco to showcase any pent-up aggression he may have in the squared circle–and you can expect fireworks in the ring. Expect him to not only fight the war, but to win the war.
“Our main sparring partner is NABF and WBO NABO featherweight champ Mikey Garcia,” mentions Al. “We worked with him while he was training for the Matt Remillard. We’ve been sparring 10 rounds; we’ve got great conditioning.” The pugilistic pair spar at fight promoter and cutman “Indian” Willie Schunke’s private gym located in the Inland Empire.
Fighting in his own backyard at the Morongo Casino, Franco will no doubt have a large corp of fans cheering for the popular warrior.
“What can we expect this Saturday?” I inquire in regards to any team strategy they can possibly reveal.
“We want him to fight in a ‘controlled aggression,'” Mike’s father and trainer answers with a bit of a chuckle. “Mike loves to move forward, ala Margarito, and loves to fight in a phone booth–it’s in his DNA to fight forehead to forehead!”
I ask the team for any fight predictions.
Saying he believes his son will stop his ring rival early, Al replies in regards to his son’s skills, “He’s got big right hand, and we’ll work on long punches and fight moving backward. He’ll cut off the ring, control the pace and distance, tire him out–and maybe in later rounds go inside.”
After Saturday’s clash on the canvas at Morongo, Poppa Franco is looking forward to many more opportunities for “Lil Warrior.” Never underestimating an opponent, but should Mike be victorious this weekend, the team is excited at what the future holds. Al tells me they have a lot of plans in the works with exciting opportunities of Mike fighting on a bigger stage as he steps up to an even higher championship level.
Speaking today with another integral member of the hardworking Franco team, cornerman Bubba Lara echoes Al’s thoughts. “The Lil Warrior’ is ready–physically and mentally. He is tough and he is ready.”
Lara was at Indian Willie’s gym as he also assists his close compadre Al Franco in training both Mike and Daniel. In our conversation, Bubba also relays the pure conviction that lies in Mike’s championship DNA and warrior mentality.
“He’s got power and he’s got heart–he’s really strong willed,” marvels Lara. “He doesn’t give up! He’s a great boxer but he can also brawl if he needs to.”
It’s a good time for the Franco camp and one busy week. After training Daniel today, the team will head over to the weigh-in for the Morongo fight. “Then after we finish up with Mike on Saturday, we’re heading to Arizona for Daniel’s fight the next Saturday,” Bubba tells me.
It’s showtime for both “Lil Warrior” and “Twitch” Franco, a pair of talented siblings who love to box.
Two brothers fighting in the span of one week. And two tough warriors eyeing future world titles.
Come check out Team Franco in action as older bro Mike first steps out to showcase his skills Saturday night at Morongo.
If all things go as planned, it will be a “Warrior Nation” heard loud and clear in the desert.
See you at the fights!
Live Boxing at Morongo
Top Rank in association with II Feathers Promotions
and Morongo Casino
Saturday, May 21
5:00 First Bell
Tickets 35.00 and up
All bouts subject to change
For more info: www.ticketmaster.com
Photos by Michele Chong
Posters/Images courtesy of Team Franco