EXCLUSIVE: TRIBUTE TO DANIEL FRANCO!
Artist Jun Aquino's Work of Art for Fallen Fighter

​Filipino artist Jun Aquino has just completed a beautiful painting in honor of Daniel "Twitch" Franco (who is currently in a medically-induced coma in Iowa). This is a surprise I'm revealing now for Team Franco! 

Aquino reached out to me from his home in the Philippines. The Hall of Fame painter had seen my posts about Daniel; I've known the young fighter and former USBA featherweight champ for many years. "Twitch" comes from a well-known boxing family in Southern California. His father Al is a trainer, gym owner and fight promoter. Daniel's brother Mike was also a professional prizefighter. Mom Teresa has always been a supporter force in her sons' careers along with their brother Nick (currently a serving in the military) and sister Vanessa.

The Francos are well liked in the boxing community. Al has always been great to work with, open, generous and fair. Many years ago, I attended his fights at Morongo Hotel and Casino when Al and the late "Indian" Willie Schunke had their II Feathers Promotions. I watched Daniel's older brother Mike "Lil Warrior" Franco rise up in the pros, winning a WBC youth title before retiring in 2011. And I watched Daniel as a young amateur following in his older bro's footsteps. Team Franco went with Steve Harpst and Team LA to take part in Coach Louie Raposo's Canadian show featuring Calgary boxers versus the California kids.

Back then, Daniel was the tall skinny boy with the glasses, amiable in nature who could flip the switch and turn into a gladiator in the ring. Even in his youth, people saw something in Daniel. He was likable, someone you'd want to root for. He worked hard, stayed humble, remained focused. And it became evident he had the talent and the will to make boxing his career even though his father said the book smart "Twitch" could've opted for college instead. But the sweet science was in his blood, in his DNA and so Daniel turned pro in 2010 at age 18, earning a record of 16-2-3 with 11 knockouts. He signed with Roc Nation and was a burgeoning star in the making.

But in March he suffered an upset loss at the hands of San Diego's Chris Martin. In June, he had a bounce back win in Mexico. Then came the fateful night of June 10 when tragedy struck. Utah's Jose Haro scored a knockdown and then floored Franco again to win by KO. After the defeat, Daniel was taken to the hospital where doctors put him in the coma.

And he is still currently in Sioux City, Iowa, far, far away from his Rancho Cucamonga home, lying in a different realm than what anyone could've predicted. Boxing is not a game. It can be a vicious and heartless sport as we have all witnessed. But through the darkness comes shimmers of light. And this is where the world-renowned artist Jun Aquino comes into the story.

After Franco's injury last Saturday, we've all taken to social media to post updates, photos, memories, etc. Daniel's dad, Al Franco, has provided us with daily updates on his son's condition. It was anguishing to read. From two emergency surgeries to stop the brain bleeds, to the doctors leaving off a portion of his skull to Daniel lying in serene but pitch-black darkness (his family was not allowed to talk to him) to the latest updates in which "Twitch" is slowly being taken off the meds so that he will (hopefully) come out of his coma. Signs of hope everyone has been praying for. These are all small victories but baby steps in the right direction.

About 48 hours after Daniel's injury, Jun contacted me. I had met the painter at various charity events in the Southland, when he was in town supporting worthwhile causes. 

Aquino wrote to me: "Hi Michele, sorry for the bad news regarding Daniel Franco. I will try to make a portrait of him and send it next week via FedEx to your address. Please give the painting to them and have it auctioned online to raise funds so it can add help to Daniel Franco's expenses. I hope and pray he will be okay. I'm in Manila right now and I will start doing his portrait tomorrow." 

He will rush ship the painting next week and the Francos should receive it around the end of June.

Jun Aquino is an award-winning painter but he often donates his works of art, therefore he's not a millionaire by any means. I want people to know this artist is paying (out of his own pocket) to rush ship this to the U.S., paying for customs fees, import permits, taxes, owners certificate, copyright licenses (for the family to own this rendering), and giving the most precious thing of all–his God-given talent and hours upon hours of completing this painting...ALL FOR A FIGHTER HE HAS NEVER EVEN MET.

It makes me emotional when I think about this. In the Philippines, Jun Aquino being touched by Daniel and the Franco family's plight so much that he was inspired to work tirelessly (up to 12 hours each day) to complete this watercolor portrait! And it's not like Jun has idle time on his hands. He donates his time to help animals in need and many nonprofit organizations, he is also in demand as a painter for the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame and also the Henry Armstrong Foundation, and has worked with various superstars around the world who have been honored by his work. Jun visits the U.S. when Manny Pacquiao fights and also when he supports charity functions.

On a personal note, the busy artist is also going through his own personal crisis–Aquino's own mother is in the hospital right now so he's been going back and forth to watch over her. He's juggling a lot right now but he still felt this burning desire, this dire need to help Daniel Franco. This painting can be used for art prints, T-shirts, or even auctioned off in order to continue to raise funds for the Franco fam. One hundred percent of whatever they decide to do will all go to Daniel. It's a one-of-a-kind painting and I'm hoping to have news about an unveiling soon.

I touched base with the humble Aquino, a man of God who continues to listen to his calling in order to reach out to others. 

Michele Chong: Hi Jun, what inspired you to paint this for a boxer you've yet to meet in person?

Jun Aquino: It's my way of helping boxers and past and present–I'm just using my gift for a purpose; the family can see the love even coming from Manila.

MC: Can you describe the painting? And how did you choose that photo of him?

JA: It is a 20" x 32" watercolor painting of Franco. I try to look for other fight images of Daniel in Google and I found this great pic of Getty Images. I decide that this would be the best art if I can do this with my watercolor. I find the portrait so strong (even without wearing boxing gloves), he looks like he fears no evil on that stand...Yes, he is a fighter and he is fighting now with his life.

MC: This watercolor is so beautiful, it's perfect and a wonderful way to honor Daniel. And an incredible vehicle to use for future fundraising as the family will need so much more support in the coming months. 

JA: Thank you. On the art you can see him all alone in a shadowy place, but he is ready and fearless to face his enemy. He will survive...Psalm 23:4 is my title to that art...Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

MC: I know this painting will encourage and inspire everyone around the world! I've held this info about this "secret" painting for several days now! I haven't told anyone. But today I will happily tell his father there's a BIG surprise waiting for Team Franco. I can't wait to see the painting in person, Jun. Thank you again for doing this.

JA: I just finished it and on Monday I'll go to the National Library and get an import permit so I can send it to Franco's family. Thank you, Michele. May this art be useful in his fundraising. Prayers for his fast recovery.

MC: Jun, I know you don't know Daniel and his family personally, but what would you like to say to them?

JA: To the parents, I would like to give them this verse from the bible: 11 Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.1 chronicles, 16:11...This is the time, only God can answer their prayers. And as a new friend of Daniel, even though I did not meet him in person, we will always include him in our prayers, and I wish that there will be bidders with a good heart for my art to help Daniels recovery."

If anyone can recover from this tragedy, it is Daniel Alexander Franco. Young and strong with a huge army of supporters around the world pulling for him. Daniel's fight for survival continues. It's going to be a long road. The family will continue to need prayers and donations. But today's updates remain optimistic.

"They removed one tube from his head and he reacted by clenching his fist. This was his first sign of movement seen so this is very exciting to see," Al Franco states. "Everything looks promising thanks to God, the doctors and nurses at Mercy Medical Hospital, and of course, all of you."

While things look promising, everybody needs to continue support. 

Imagine what they are going through. The team flies to Iowa for a highly-anticipated main event with Daniel vs. Haro on June 10. He suffers a horrible defeat. Then they watch their beloved champ taken away in a stretcher. I can't even imagine this and my heart breaks for them. But I do know this, I believe in prayers, faith, love, strength and miracles. And you will too when you witness Daniel waking up from his coma. This tragedy could happen to any young athlete. We are all just here on borrowed time. Every day is a miracle. Please, please continue praying for the Franco family. Please continue to donate. The costs of Daniel's hospital stay, housing for the SoCal family to stay in Iowa, the soaring airline tickets flying back and forth and more is a burden for anyone. Al Franco has two gyms (Warzone Boxing Club) in Rancho Cucamonga and Rialto and must fly back and forth to tend to business. He will begin his Sunday-Thursday routine this weekend. Daniel's mom Teresa and his girlfriend Lea will remain in Sioux City with "Twitch."

This will be an extreme financial hardship for the Francos. But if you have ever had the threat of losing someone you love then you know you do whatever it takes to save them, to keep them with us for one more day, one more hour, one more minute. Al has said that Daniel will have to stay in Iowa for months before possibly being able to fly home to California. Every day remains critical though. After the drugs are weaned from his system, the young athlete will hopefully awaken from this dark slumber. But questions remain. No one knows the state he will be in or what effects the knockout had on his brain. This is where we ALL must continue to pray, we must continue to support. Whatever religion you are, whatever beliefs you may (or may not have), Daniel Franco's tragedy has brought everyone together, near and far, from strangers to people in the inner circle.

I've had personal friends (who've never met Daniel and don't even follow boxing) reach out to me, offering spiritual support and/or monetary donations.

Also in the news, several mentions have been made: HBO's Jim Lampley provided an on-air tribute to Daniel on "The Fight Game" show; WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman has lit candles at the  Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in Daniel's name; there was also a live tribute at last night's WBC Green Belt Challenge Amateur Show; fighter Walter Sarnoi (who was in the corner in Iowa) is fighting tonite in honor of Franco and champ and Roc Nation stablemate Andre "SOG" Ward is dedicated his Saturday clash with Sergey Kovalev to Daniel Franco. And this Monday, June 19, The Alley is holding a fundraiser in Culver City.

And today, a week later, Daniel's father Al is facing many questions from parents of young fighters. Again, this tragedy could happen to anybody. And everyone in the sport must realize this. Al Franco should not be judged for what he did or didn't do; boxing is not for the faint hearted. His son Daniel was doing what he chose to do, he was doing what he loved by lacing up and squaring off in the ring. He was a pro for seven years before this awful loss occurred. His father/trainer has worked with both amateurs and pros for a long time. I've seen him put in his time at various amateur shows in and around town working for free to help young sluggers. In July, Team Warzone was set to compete in the prestigious 2017 Ringside World Championships in Missouri. But now the boxing world is looking to Al for answers about if their children should take up boxing?

Now parents, coaches and those in the sport are questioning if their little boys and girls should box? It has long been a way out for at-risk kids and a great method for children and teens to learn self defense in the skills of the sport. But they are now even more frightened to see the worst thing happen like what happened to Daniel. Al wrote out a long reply. To grab some quotes, these statements stood out to me: 

"I am being asked this questioned "Should I continue to allow my kid to box?" a lot lately for obvious reasons," Al says. "I see pro and amateur fighters everyday sparring or on TV that I think shouldn't be fighting. You can look good and win looking impressive early on with the right opposition but it will all come out sooner or later. That's why there are only a few elite fighters.

"So what do I say to parents is this: Make sure your kid gets solid training, not everyone is a coach. It's about kids being safe, many parents believe that their kids are going to be world champions. I wish I would have forced my son to finish college instead of fighting."

Al's comments about Daniel and college breaks my heart. We cannot judge, we cannot blame. We can only hope his burden of regrets eases as time goes on. We can offer compassion and support for this family.

And we can choose to be like revered artist Jun Aquino–unselfishly giving of ourselves, our talents, whatever we can offer or spare to help Daniel Franco and his family. Why? Because this world is unpredictable. We are all mere mortals. This can happen to me, to you, to anyone. And in our darkest of days, our bleakest of times, the moments in which we desperately bargain and plead with God, the hours in which your soul is being ripped out, comes a stream of hope. When you're in the hellish place where you're trapped and feeling alone with the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" torturous thoughts, there are those that will reach out to you. A little kindness and compassion goes a long way. And it often comes from places you'd never expect. Please keep Daniel Franco in your thoughts.

On a personal note, this article has been my tribute to Daniel that I've been wanting to write but wasn't ready until today. It may be too wordy, I'm sure it's rambling and I'm pretty certain I veered in different directions while writing this. But it was written from my heart. And if you're still reading this very long story I THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART.

To Jun Aquino: SALAMAT PO (Thank you)!

To Daniel Franco: Keep Fighting, Champ!

To the Franco family: We love you. Stay strong. KEEP BELIEVING!

TO DONATE: www.gofundme.com/3x0mfcg

JUN AQUINO'S WEBSITE: http://junaquino.wixsite.com/mysite


FUNDRAISER FOR DANIEL:
Monday, June 19 6PM-12AM
The Alley
12223 West Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

By Michele Chong

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