'I Was on Top of the World Then; I Was King Kong' : Cisco Kid: Contender Who Was Never Quite Champ

Times Staff Writer

He carries his career in a cardboard box, all those memories, yellowed clippings threatening to push off the lid, of his knockouts in smoky auditoriums on Friday nights in the '50s, seen on little oval TV screens courtesy of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

And of Hollywood stars, who invited him to bask and pose in their presence, devouring the fact that he was the "Cisco Kid," a handsome hellcat of a fighter who was the No. 1 contender for the lightweight championship of the world.

"I was on top of the world then; I was King Kong," said Cisco Andrade, no longer a kid or a king.

Andrade, 55 now, was at the Fred C. Nelles School here, delving into his box for some sweet reminiscing before taking his post in a guard shack to make sure none of the juvenile offenders at the California Youth Authority facility tried to escape.

He also was trying to get rid of a sour taste and set the record straight after a recent Sacramento newspaper story depicted him as a drunken skid-row resident of that city.

"I don't know where that stuff came from," Andrade said. "That guy who claims he was me, I don't know who he is. I'm no millionaire, but I'm no bum either, and a story like that hurts."

The black and white glossies come out of the box.... "That's me with Betty Grable and Harry James. I was singing.... . "

Andrade won 63 of 68 professional fights, a man who whipped champs without becoming one himself. He defeated Jimmy Carter, Wallace (Bud) Smith and Lauro Salas, all of whom were lightweight champions, but his victories over them came at times when they didn't hold the title.

"The system wouldn't give me a shot at the title when I was ready for it," Andrade said. "But they finally gave me a shot when I was 30 years old."

But that big night against Joe Brown in Los Angeles in 1960 was spoiled.

"I was walking around before the decision, saying, 'I'm the new champ, I'm the new champ,' " Andrade said. "But I lost on a split decision, and almost everybody tried to tear Olympic Auditorium down."

Desire was his forte, and the Cisco Kid went at Brown that night from the second the bell rang and never let up. It was the way he always fought, and the fans loved it.

'I Never Backed Up'

"Maybe I had some charisma," he said. "I gave the people what they wanted--action. I never backed up in the ring."

Andrade's fights had a recurring pattern:

"Left jab, left jab, jab, jab, jab," he said, thrusting out an arm that has retained its muscle. "I'd get them so bloody in the nose. Then I'd come around with a right cross. I knew that was it the way it felt in my fist. I'd say, 'That's it,' and the referee would stop the fight, TKO."

Andrade was boxing's toast of the '50s, and after his fights--his biggest purse was $25,000--he'd buy a new suit so he wouldn't look like a bum when he went out with the stars. He didn't look like the average pug. His face was lean and unmarked and the nostrils had not yet been stretched.

His face now has lost its angles, but its brown skin is marred by crosshatched little scars only in the center of the forehead and beneath the brows. The nose looks like one that has been broken eight times, although Andrade didn't know that until he saw a doctor after he retired--he just thought it got a little sore now and then.

'Feel My Stomach'

His hair is still black and wavy and he keeps his 5-7, 150-pound body in shape with sit-ups. "Feel my stomach," he said.

He survived quite well because only a couple of times was he hit hard enough to get "bees in my brains."

But today, when he doesn't wear his glasses, he sees double.

"I got hit in one of my nerves up here and one of my eyeballs dropped," he said.


"Recognize this guy here? Mario Lanza. He's dead though. I had lunch at his house one time. . . . R ec ognize this guy ? Desi Arnaz. He was a fan of mine . . . .."

Robert Andrade sprung from poverty in Cudahy where he began fighting out of necessity.

"When I was at Bell High School (he dropped out in the 10th grade to help his parents pick fruit), I had fights because these guys would call me Midnight or Spook," he said.

"One day this guy Leroy said, 'Hey, Spook, smile and roll your eyes so we can see you.' I walked up and said,

'I don't like the way you're talking to me.' He said, 'I'll meet you after school on the football field.' "

They met, but only briefly.

"This Leroy put his hands up and I felt sorry for him. I went BOOM. I hit him with a right cross, knocked him down and I sat on him. I was getting ready to massacre him when a guy who was mowing the lawn pulled me off him."

From that moment, Andrade was someone to be reckoned with.

"That's my father and that's my ex-wife, Mary Lou. You heard about that. She divorced me. The divorce was final last Dec. 4 and she got married on the 5th.... Here she is at 17. Wasn't she beautiful? I don't know what's wrong with me, I'm still in love with her.... . "

Andrade began fighting in amateur shows in South Gate in 1947, then joined the Army where he continued boxing and appeared in a movie, which prepared him for a role years later with Audie Murphy in "The World in My Corner."

"In 1950, Warner Bros. came out to Ft. Ord and said they needed a man who's very athletic to fall out of a tree," Andrade recalled. "I played a German sniper. Can you imagine a Mexican in the German army? It was called . . . I forgot. Anyhow, I shot Frank Lovejoy, then I was shot out of a tree and fell into a net."

The 'Compton Comet'

When he got out of the Army, he moved to Paramount, where, because he worked in a car lot in Compton, people called him the "Compton Comet."

After winning 133 of 138 amateur fights, he turned pro and his manager, Ralph Gambina, decided that Andrade should be re-nicknamed the "Cisco Kid."

"He said I was so cocky and always walked around like the Cisco Kid," Andrade said.

He said it was more confidence than cockiness.

"My motto," he said, "was, 'The man hasn't been born who can whip me, and his mother and father are dead already.' "

And with that, the Cisco Kid went out and won his first 29 pro fights and became the No. 1 contender in 1954 after beating Percy Bassett in a nationally televised bout.

"The greatest fighter in the ring today," proclaimed Boxing and Wrestling magazine in 1956. By that time, Andrade's name was on the marquee at Madison Square Garden.

"Jose Ferrer was a good friend of mine too. See Rosemary Clooney? When I knocked out Jimmy Carter in Chicago, Jose Ferrer asked me to please bring my gloves so he could give them to his newborn kid.... . "

When Andrade retired in 1961 after losing to Davey Moore, he never again had the urge to lace on the gloves. "If I'd have come back, I know I'd have gotten beaten," he said, "and everyone would say, 'Gee, that Cisco Andrade, he's a bum.' "

He sold cars until someone suggested that he'd be perfect for working with kids.

He became a counselor for the California Youth Authority at the Nelles School in 1969.

Thought He'd Be Idolized

"I wanted to straighten some of these kids out," he said. "I thought maybe they would really idolize me."

After seven years, "I got sick and tired of being called (obscene names). They didn't idolize me. They were always challenging me because they found out I was an ex-boxer.

"I said, 'I can't hit you guys.' But the verbal abuse was terrible. I got to the point where I asked them to do something and they'd repeat bad remarks and I was getting ready to punch their lights out. I said I better get out of here."

He quit counseling and took a job as security guard at the school. Andrade, who lives in Hacienda Heights, will retire in March and concentrate on becoming a boxing referee.

Frank Sinatra, wearing a hat in an autographed photo, looks up at Andrade, who's sitting on a ring stool. "Mr. Sinatra had a piece of my action.... . "

The glow of the '50s has faded. Andrade doesn't need to wear fancy suits anymore, and he can't remember the last time Sinatra called. But he has his scrapbooks and his integrity to cling to, and the inner peace of knowing he will never be called a bum.

"I never did anything to be ashamed of," he said. "I never took a dive (threw a fight). I could not be bought."

Andrade put the past back in the box. It was time to go to work. He walked to his post past boys in blue shirts, who probably didn't know that 2 1/2 decades ago, in the sunshine of his life, he was almost the champion of the world.

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