Cesar Francis shadowboxes at Universal Boxing Gym in Queens, N.Y. Photo by Ryan Songalia
NEW YORK — Cesar Francis will have a lot on his mind this Wednesday.
The 32-year-old junior welterweight contender will face Jesus Saracho in the ten-round main event of a card promoted by Pro Box Promotions at the Whitesands Events Center in Plant City, Fla. Also that night, Francis’ partner is scheduled to give birth to his second son. It’s a lot to put on someone’s plate for one evening, but Francis says she gave him her blessing: Get the win, and I’ll take care of giving birth.
“On fight night it’s all about winning. You don’t really want to think about anything other than going into the ring and performing,” said the 5’11” Francis (12-0, 7 knockouts), who is known as “The Rainman” because he keeps coming like the months-long downpours during rainy season in his native Panama.
If there is one thing Francis has grown accustomed to, it’s adjusting to life’s circumstances. As his trainer, Francisco Guzman Jr. is keen to say, “There is the way and there is the ‘Rainman’ way.”
Born in San Miguelito, Panama, Francis moved with his family to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, N.Y. at age 8. The cold weather didn’t appeal much to the tropically-raised Francis, so he moved back to live with his grandfather.
Eventually he returned to America, where he began training under his uncle, the legendary Panamanian Francisco Guzman. Guzman, who worked with a number of world champions, including Joan Guzman and Agapito Sanchez out of Gleason’s Gym, led his nephew through a 40-fight amateur career.
Just two weeks prior to Francis’ breakout win, a ten-round decision over former WBO lightweight titleholder Raymundo Beltran in July, Guzman passed away, leaving his nephew to fight with a heavy heart, and his son, Francisco Jr., to lead the corner without his main confidante to call on.
“A lot of his boxing friends said when he passed away, that boxing in Panama died with him,” said Francisco “Chico” Guzman Jr., who trains Francis out of Universal Boxing Gym in the Middle Village section of Queens, N.Y.
Dropped by Universal Boxing Gym in Queens, NY to watch Cesar Francis (@Ib_Rainman) train for his January 25 bout against Jesus Saracho on a @ProBox_TV card in Florida. The 12-0 (7 KOs) Panamanian-American fighter is rated no. 8 by the @WorldBoxingOrg at 140 pounds pic.twitter.com/10FG1Iuq6Z
— Ryan Songalia (@ryansongalia) January 19, 2023
It was Guzman Sr. who advised Francis to step away from the sport at age 17, presumably to avoid burning out and losing interest.
He went to college, studying Transportation Systems Engineering at Morgan State University, with an eye on returning back to his country of birth to work on the Panama Canal. Before he could finish, Francis felt the boxing bug calling him again, and he turned professional in 2017.
Francis took any opportunities he could around New York, but sat out for over a year from mid-2019 until the end of 2020. To get back in the ring, Francis and team rented a van for a pair of fights in Greenville, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., buying their way on to two cards for less than three minutes of work.
“I took punishment for free twice,” said Francis. “I was just doing that to put my face out there. I didn’t take the easy route, I took the hard route. I took whatever was given to me and I made something out of it.”
The activity fights paid off when he got the opportunity to fight the previously unbeaten Jose Roman as an opponent on a card at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Francis dominated the bout, scoring a knockdown to win a unanimous decision. The fight earned Francis a promotional deal with the Florida-based Pro Box Promotions, who have kept him busy with three fights in 2022 against respectable opposition.
Francis is rated no. 8 by the WBO at 140 pounds, and figures to improve on his ranking if he can get past Saracho (12-1, 11 KOs), a 5’8” southpaw from Guanajuato, Mexico who now lives in Washington state. The fight will have the WBO Latino title at stake.
Saracho, 21, has won two straight, including a fifth round stoppage of the previously unbeaten Nick Jefferson in his last bout last September, since his lone defeat, a ninth round stoppage against Deonte Brown.
“I know he’s a good puncher, he’s 12-1 with 11 knockouts which is what we’re looking for. I need challenges, this is another step towards my goals in my boxing career,” said Francis.
“The guy is tough, he’s rugged but fighting is fighting. If you want to be the best you’ve gotta beat who they put in front of you. The guy is no joke but those are the fights that we’ve been taking,” added Guzman Jr.
Francis says he often visualizes matchups against the top fighters in the division in his mind, with fighters like RING champion Josh Taylor, or division newcomer Teofimo Lopez. Francis’ self belief is so strong that he walks to the ring with opened umbrellas in keeping with the theme of his nickname, tempting fate in a sport where superstition is accepted as scientific fact.
While Francis still has a love for boats and engineering, he’s focused on real estate endeavors, as well as a juice bar he plans to open shortly in Queens, to set himself up for life after boxing.
Just as the rain doesn’t stop, neither has life’s trials slowed “The Rainman.”
“I’m punching through doors. I don’t think you gotta be number one contender [to get a big opportunity], you just gotta keep performing well and keeping your name out there. All these fighters are hitting me up on the side saying that they called me to fight you. I love it, that means the promoters have my name out there,” said Francis.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].