Frankie Randall, who won three junior welterweight world titles and handed the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez his first defeat, died on Wednesday after a prolonged battle with dementia and brain damage as a result of a 22-year professional boxing career. He was 59.
Randall, known as “The Surgeon,” died at an assisted-living facility in his hometown of Morristown, Tennessee.
Aaron Snowell, who trained Randall in his heyday, announced on social media that he had gotten word of Randall’s death from his son, DeMarcus Randall, writing that the “Lord has called him home. The Surgeon is operating in Heaven with his Lord. May God comfort the family thru this hard time. Peace and Blessing be with the Randall Family. RIP.”
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, and orphaned at an early age, Randall went on to become a top amateur boxer and then boxed professionally from 1983 to 2005. He fought much of his career for promoter Don King and faced fighters such as former world titleholders Edwin Rosario and Freddie Pendleton twice each on the way up. But it was Randall’s stunning split-decision triumph over Mexican legend Chavez to win the WBC junior welterweight world title in the main event of the grand-opening card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas that he was most famous for.
Chavez was 89-0-1 at the time and an 18-to-1 favorite heading into the January 1994 Showtime pay-per-view headliner. But Randall knocked Chavez down for the first time in his career with a right hand in the 11th round and also was aided when referee Richard Steele penalized Chavez one point in the seventh round and another point in the 11th round for repeated low blows. In the end, Randall scored the massive upset, winning 116-111 and 114-113 on two scorecards with Chavez getting a generous score of 114-113 on the third.
Randall (58-18-1, 42 KOs) and Chavez met in an immediate rematch in May 1994, also at the MGM Grand on Showtime pay-per-view, and Chavez reclaimed the 140-pound world title by controversial eighth-round technical split decision following an accidental head butt that left Chavez unable to continue. Two judges scored it for Chavez, 77-74 and 76-75 with one judge having Randall a 76-75 victor.
Randall bounced back from the loss to Chavez by winning the WBA junior welterweight title in his next fight when he won a unanimous decision over Juan Martin Coggi.
Randall made two successful defenses, knocking out Rodney Moore in the seventh round and outpointing Jose Rafael Barboza, before losing the title to Coggi by fifth-round technical decision in their rematch in January 1996 when Coggi was unable to continue following an accidental head clash.
Seven months later Randall and Coggi met in a rubber match on Coggi’s home turf in Argentina and Randall reclaimed the title by unanimous decision.
However, Randall’s title reign was brief as he lost the belt in his first defense in a Tennessee homecoming fight in Nashville in January 1997 when France’s Khalid Rahilou stopped him in the 11th round.
The fight with Rahilou was Randall’s last world title bout and his career went into decline. He won a pair of easy comeback fights but then lost his next seven bouts in a row. Randall continued to fight and even met Chavez for the third time in 2004. They were both well past their primes, but Randall went to Mexico City for their rubber match and lost a lopsided unanimous decision. Randall, who was 5-3 in world title fights, finally retired in 2005 after going 3-13 in his final 16 bouts, including a career-closing five-fight losing streak.
During the late stage of his career he had become a name for up-and-comers to put on their resume, losing to opponents such as Antonio Margarito, Peter Manfredo and Marco Antonio Rubio. But at his best, Randall was a formidable fighter, tenacious competitor and a hard worker.
“One thing we can remember is the great times,” Snowell told BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan. “He was in a lot of great fights and won a lot of great fights.
"Edwin Rosario, Julio Cesar Chavez, Juan Martin Coggi -- those names alone are legends in the game of boxing. He will be recognized for those accomplishment. Everybody loved Frankie. We had fond memories in training camp. He was a mechanic and liked to work on cars. He loved to work with his hands. His favorite saying was, ‘I love my job! I train because I love to do it.’ Even when he was in training camp for some of his biggest fights he still wanted to work and just be around people. It's just what he did, and he loved it.”
As an amateur Randall compiled a reported record of 263-23, was a five-time Golden Gloves champion and a silver medalist in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“I’m so sorry to learn of the passing away of Frankie Randall. The one who shook the world by dethroning then undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez. May he Rest In Peace,” WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman wrote on social media.
King said to BoxingScene, “Frankie was a great one and he will be sorely missed. He was a warrior. Everyone loved Frankie.”
Randall’s declining health was not a secret and his son detailed his father’s condition to Ring magazine’s website in April.
“My dad has pugilistic dementia and Parkinson’s,” DeMarcus Randall said to the magazine. “A frontal lobe brain injury that affects his speech, motor skills, and mental stability. Due to his condition, my family and I made the decision to place my dad in a nursing home. I’m sure his condition progressed over time. He was a boxer; he gave his whole life to boxing, he loved his job. But my family and I have been dealing with his condition for almost 10 years.
“It has been hard to watch my father become a shell of what he used to be. It almost seems like he is stuck in time. I feel like he will wake up and be his normal self again, but that is not the case – this is a new fight. People will remember Frankie Randall the boxer, but it’s my dad, my hero, just sitting there, slowing down. It’s been a challenge, and the challenge has become my fight.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.