The Apparition That Was Bobby Chacon
By Ted Sares:
Sometimes I have the hubris to think I can write and on certain topics I sometimes seem do a reasonably fair job, that is, unless my friends and readers are patronizing me. But when it comes to my life's true love, boxing, I seem to have all kinds of problems expressing myself. I hope that's not the case here, for this essay is just too special and too spiritual for that to happen. It's about Bobby Chacon and if anyone deserves special treatment, it's Bobby.
Bobby "Schoolboy"Chacon was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame last year and that made me extremely happy. You see, Bobby was my favorite fighter, and since I have watched literally thousands of fights during my 68 years of life and consider myself something of an aficionado, I hope that accolade carries at least a modicum of weight. Hell, I have seen them all; the "bums of a month," the excitement that was Bob Satterfield, the fights between Charles, Louis and Walcott. LaMotta-Robinson, Ward-Gatti, Ward-Green, Ward-Augustus, Zale-Graziano, Correlas-Castillo, Ali-Frazier, Patterson-Johansson, Barrera-Morales. I saw Sugar Ray send Dave Boy Green into dreamland with the perfect left hook......and witnessed the illogic of Hearns putting Duran away with a lethal straight right, and then Duran brutalize Barkley and then Barkley knock out Hearns.
I watched Leotis Martin starch Sonny Liston. Bruce Curry and Monroe Brooks go to the precipice, and Kid Paret, Laverne Roach, Duk Koo Kim, Johnny Owens and Leavander Johnson leave everything in the ring. I witnessed the mind numbing suddenness of the Mesa-Garza fight and the shoot outs between Moorer-Cooper and Lyle-Foreman. The slow slide of Jerry Quarry and too many others. I can sense the early signs......the slurring......the nasal monotone. I saw the epiphany of Foreman. The disappointment that was Tyson. I have been dazzled by the magic, heard the music and seen the dance. I pray for Michael Watson, Gerald McClellan and Greg Page and remember the courage of Robert Wangila, Pedro Alcazar, and Beethoven Scottland. I have seen very good things, some not so good, and some downright ugly, but nothing comes close to what I saw and felt during a period between 1978 and 1982 involving three warriors by the names of Chacon, Limon and Boza-Edwards.
Bobby Chacon was born on November 28, 1951 in Sylmar, CA. He was a tough kid of Mexican-American descent and soon found himself in the gym. He became an amateur Diamond belt champion and fought in National Golden Glove Tournaments in both 1971 and 1972. He turned pro in Los Angeles in 1972 while attending California State University at Northridge thereby acquiring the nickname "Schoolboy."
With a fearless, savage and widely exciting style, he became an immediate fan favorite. While the word "brawler" might best describe him, he was also a crafty slugger who could slip punches off the ropes. Though short, he had a deceptively long reach advantage. He was often willing to absorb heavy punishment in order to mete it out and this likely contributed to his later difficulties. He knocked out 23 of his first 25 opponents, including a TKO over Chucho Castillo and an electrifying, career enhancing 9th round TKO victory over future Hall of Famer Danny "Little Red" Lopez. His only loss at that point was a 9th round stoppage to the very tough Ruben Olivares in 1973. The next year, he stopped Alfredo Marcano in 9 rounds to capture the WBC featherweight crown. He defended successfully against Jesus Estrada but lost the title to rival Olivares in 1975 (whom he finally beat by decision in their third match in 1977).
But the genesis for this story started in 1975 when he took on Rafael “Bazooka”Limon in Mexacali, Mexico. Bobby lost a ten round decision, but it began a four-bout rivalry that compares with the very best in boxing history. Neither boxer liked the other and the word "grudge" was frequently mentioned. The two would fight to a technical draw in 1979. Chacon then stepped up in class and lost to the great Alexis Arguello by knock out in the seventh round. Then, in what would become still another great rivalry, he lost in dramatic fashion by knockout to Ugandan Cornelius Boza-Edwards in the 14th round. Bobby could not come out for the 14th round, His left eye was almost closed and his nose hideously cut. This loss was considered by many as Bobby's swan song, and he was encouraged to take a hard look at getting out, but he would have none of that.
He pulled himself up, put together a string of wins, and began making his way up the rankings again. But during this time, that other story that others so often write about.....the personal and self-destructive side of Bobby's life.....was in upheaval. But unlike others, I will not deal with that, for I truly believe it diminishes that side of Bobby Chacon who was the fighter. Suffice to say his personal life was pure and real tragedy, and I just don't have the inclination (nor perhaps the literary skills) to give it its melodramtic due. If Bobby was no angel in his personal life, he certainly was a lion in the ring and that's where my focus and recollections remain.
Now then, after his loss to Boza-Edwards, his fourth and final bout with Limon was scheduled and fought. According to Ring and KO Magazines and the Ring En Espanol, the fourth Chacon-Limon fight became one of the fights of the year and the decade. First one would get rocked; then the other. Both would be floored. Bobby, was cut, bleeding profusely, pummeled, and ready to go only to come back score his own knockdown. Chacon got up bleeding after knockdowns suffered in rounds 3 and 10 to drop Limon in the closing seconds of round 15, and cinch a close bu undisputed decision.
Surely, had Limon not gone down, Bobby would not have won. I lived in Boston at the time and recall leaping up from my chair, spilling beer and food all over the place and on my friends and screaming unabashedly at the top of my voice, "Get him Bobby, get him, knock him out." And get him he did. The scoring was: Judge Angel L. Guzman 142-141, Judge Carlos Padilla 143-141 and Judge Tamotsu Tomihara 141-140.
This was the fight that turned me from dedicated boxing fan to full fledged addict and I make no apologies for that. This fight, the essence of which was toe to toe, ebb and flow, back and forth action, was breathtaking and I mean that quite lietrally. It was as close as two fearless men can get to death, to the edge, if you will, and still survive. Limon actually had a strange smile on his face as he was knocked down for the last time and was getting up; I swear on a stack of bibles that he smiled at the crowd. It was almost mystical, surreal, whatever label you could put on it. All I know is I will never forget the 15th round of that fight. "I broke down after the Limon fight,” he says. “I didn’t like that guy to begin with and with everything that happened…...I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat........."
Incredibly, Bobby would then go on to defend against Boza-Edwards at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and retain his crown in still another “fight of the year" that had me up and screaming once again. Trading vicious hooks throughout, this one almost equaled the Limon fight for its ebb and flow action and pure savagery. Ring Magazine called this one 1983's fight of the year, the second consecutive one involving Bobby. Once again Chacon rose from a knockdown (this time in the first round) and, despite a deep and dangerous cut, dropped Boza Edwards in round twelve as the crowd roared approval and as Bobby avenged his earlier defeat and retain his WBC junior-lightweight crown. One fight was unreal, but my God, another? How much could you take? Like the Limon fight, the unanimous decision he won against Boza-Edwards was surreal in its spectacularity......but unfortunately that would be the last of Bobby's ring glory.
Stripped of his title in June 1983 for refusing to fight Hector Camacho in his home country of Puerto Rico, Chacon then attempted to win a third world title, but was stopped by lightweight champion Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini in 3 one-sided rounds in 1984 (and as boxing fortune would have it, Greg Haugen would do the same to Mancini in 1992 and then he, himself, woud have the favor returned by Thomas Damgaard in 03). I last saw Bobby fight in 1985 when he exposed and bruatalized up-and-coming Davey Montana in Reno. He won seven consecutive fights against solid competition, including Freddie Roach and Arturo Frias, to close out his career in 1988 with a 59-7-1 (47 KOs) record and a legacy as one of boxing's most exciting and popular fighters.
But his personal life would once again be marred by tragedy when his son was murdered in 1991. Later, Bobby was spotted at a public appearance in 1996 to see the Pay Per View fight between De La Hoya and Chavez. By 2000 he had lost all of his material posesions including his mansion, farm and numerous cars. But far more tragically, he was now, by all accounts, suffering from pugistica demenetia, a condition that sometimes occurs among ex-fighters who take too many blows to the head. Bobby's speech is slurred and thick-tongued, his memory poor and he is now unsteady on his feet. In 2002, USA Today ran a story detaiing his residence in a Los Angeles transient way station, where local non-profit groups buy rooms for the homeless. He was 47 and living on a social security disability pension, and has been seen looking for aluminium cans on the streets and in junk yards to help support himself.
I don't know exactly where he is today, maybe living with his mother. He apparently was seen with Mike Weaver and a group of other former California boxers in 2005 at an autograph signing event in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure I really want to know much more than that. The memories I want are the breathtaking ones of those late afternoons in my den Boston when I watched his life and death struggles with Bazooka Limon and Conrelius Boza-Edwards, struggles in which he stood alone in the middle of the ring more as an apparition than as a boxer and seem to say "come on, let's make this special, I'm willing to pay the price." There stood a warrior resolute and unbowed, there stood a fighter.
Quite simply, Bobby Chacon had the greatest fighting hearts of any boxer I have ever seen. Win or lose, he would give it everything he had. And wherever he is, I know he will wearing his trademark ingratiating smile as he did when he was inducted into the Hall last year.
"As much as I love boxing, I hate it. And as much as I hate it, I love it." Budd Schulberg
Ted Sares is a syndicated writer who can be reached at [email protected]