The last time The Fight City spoke with featherweight Daniel Franco, the affable prospect was on the precipice of transitioning to genuine contender status. Franco then sported a 15-0-3 record with 10 knockouts and a loyal California fanbase; he was also heading into a bout with Christopher Martin, a grizzled veteran turned trial horse who had been in with the likes of Gary Russell Jr. and Jhonny Gonzalez.
Looking to make a statement, Franco (16-1-3, 11 KOs) got off to a blistering start, flooring Martin in the opening round and dominating the action through two rounds. But then, just as Franco appeared to be cruising, Martin dropped him hard, altering the bout with a single blow. Franco rose valiantly and attempted to fight back, only to get clipped again and ultimately stopped in the third round. It was a major upset, and it thrust Franco into the lonely purgatory of dealing with defeat for the first time as a pro.
“I thought I had him,” Franco says of the Martin fight. “I thought, ‘Oh man, this guy’s going to be a lot easier than I thought.’ It was anything but that. I was winning. I was doing great, and I was controlling every aspect of the fight. But I think I got a little too comfortable in that ring. He’s a veteran; he has a lot of experience in the ring with world champions, and he brought that experience to the table. I definitely learned from that.”
The lesson that Daniel Franco learned was a harsh and swift one, both in terms of the Martin fight ostensibly ending in a split second and his anticipated rapid rise in the world rankings abruptly grinding to a halt. Suddenly, the young prospect was forced to contend with the brutal realities — both psychological and pragmatic — that a single loss in boxing’s perfection-obsessed landscape represents.
Although Franco was disappointed with himself for dropping his guard against Martin, he didn’t dwell on something he couldn’t change and literally had no control over the second after the referee brought the bout to an early conclusion. Advised to take a week off before resuming training, Franco was back in the gym after a couple of days, hitting the heavy bag and finding solace in the comfort of routine.
In being so blunt about the Martin loss and seeing at as the “kick in the ass” he needed, Franco didn’t fall prey to the pitfalls of an extended layoff, and he certainly knew that there was no reason to be out celebrating. And yet, he claims that the setback never messed with his psyche and that he was quickly able to extract the positives from his first loss.
“It’s terrible to take a loss,” Franco says. “There aren’t a lot of fighters who can stay undefeated their entire career. And I think if you do stay undefeated your entire career, you’re probably not pushing your boundaries and seeing where your limits are and how far you can go. I think that this, losing, definitely tells me, ‘Hey, push harder. You need to do more.'”
While this attitude obviously reflects Daniel Franco’s maturity, the practical side of his comeback still needed to be managed. It’s the type of process fighters can approach from a variety of angles and perspectives. For Franco, something low-profile was the answer. On May 12, less than two months after the Martin fight, Franco quietly scored a first-round knockout in Mexico, setting the stage for his upcoming fight for the USBA featherweight title against Jose Haro (13-1-1, 7 KOs), which will serve as the main event for a nationally televised fight card on the CBS Sports Network (10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT).
Regarding his bout in Mexico, where he had previously fought on one occasion, Franco was clear in what it accomplished: it allowed him to experience the concrete feeling of being back in the ring, facing a live foe, immediately after a loss. He claims he wasn’t nervous, and that it ended up being a necessary, albeit brief, process. It also made sense as something to get out of the way before fighting on a significantly larger stage.
“I’ve been in Mexico a lot when I was a kid, and I have family out there,” Franco says. “I used to go on vacation out there. But it was a little different going out to that specific spot where we used to vacation for business only. Everything turned out perfectly.”
That familiarity, closeness, and support network were also evident in the aftermath of Daniel Franco’s upset defeat, where the young fighter’s positivity and willingness to talk about a painful professional experience has inspired members of his inner circle and the fans he engages with in his community and on social media. Franco spoke of the messages of unconditional support he’s received, and how touching he finds people telling him that he’s still a role model. It’s both humbling and motivating, allowing Franco to connect with people who “might be going through something in their life,” whether poverty or illness, which certainly puts the Martin fight in perspective.
In Jose Haro, Franco is facing a fighter with a solid amateur pedigree who brings skills, experience, and a credible professional ledger to the table. It’s been about a year since Haro has fought, though, and Franco hopes to exploit that potential advantage behind a confident start. A win certainly propels Franco back into the featherweight contender mix, setting him up for a major fight later in 2017. Moreover, boxing on national television could allow Franco to shine outside of his California bubble and earn new fans — something that’s clearly important to him.
“I think that my loss is kind of testing me to see how I will bounce back, or if I will bounce back,” Daniel Franco says. “I think that this fight is a tremendous opportunity, especially after a loss like that. It’s a chance to redeem myself and eventually show everybody how great I am.”
— Zachary Alapi