Bobby Chacon: 1951-2016
Two-division champion and 2005 International Boxing Hall of Fame enshrinee Bobby Chacon, whose dramatic late-career heroics resulted in back-to-back Fights of the Year against Rafael “Bazooka” Limon and Cornelius Boza-Edwards, died Wednesday morning at age 64.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Chacon fell and struck his head in a Hemet care facility and died of his injuries.
During his 16-year career Chacon compiled a 59-7-1 (47) record that included victories over Limon (twice), Boza-Edwards, Danny Lopez, Ruben Olivares (in the third of their three fights), Chucho Castillo, Alfredo Marcano, Freddie Roach and Arturo Frias. In the years following his retirement in 1988, Chacon’s health and quality of life spiraled downward. Ravaged by the effects of dementia pugilistica, Chacon returned to the substance abuse that marked his earlier life and was so financially strapped that , according to a 2001 segment on HBO’s Real Sports, he lived in a flop house and collected recyclable cans to help make ends meet. Despite his difficulties, Chacon, though clearly compromised physically, continued to smile his megawatt smile and, at least in public, exude his typical captivating charm.
While Chacon’s post-boxing life was filled with tragedy — which included the gang-related slaying of his 17-year-old son Bobby Jr. in October 1991 — his life inside the squared circle was a series of peaks and valleys that pushed the bounds of credulity.
Born November 28, 1951 in Sylmar, California, Chacon turned to boxing to redirect energies that had been invested in street-fighting, drug use and repeated run-ins with the police. According to the Boxrec Encyclopedia, an investigation into Chacon’s use of narcotics initially denied him an amateur license but once he secured access to the ring his natural fighting skills enabled him to win Diamond Belts in 1971 and 1972, victories that earned him spots in the National Golden Gloves during both years.
Because the 20-year-old turned pro while attending California State University in Northridge, Chacon was nicknamed “Schoolboy” by veteran publicist Bill Caplan. His dazzling smile and magnetic charm attracted female fans while his breathtaking skill made believers of the men. Chacon won his first 19 fights and his 17 knockout victims included Tury “The Fury” Pineda and former bantamweight champion Castillo. The latter fight earned Chacon a showdown with another former bantamweight king in the 71-3-1 (65) Olivares, who had lost two fights to Rafael Herrera but was coming off a two-round destruction of Art Hafey.
This fight for the North American Boxing Federation featherweight title drew a raucous crowd of 15,100 to the Forum in Inglewood and in the first two rounds Chacon appeared up to the task. But Olivares’ legendary power turned the fight starting in round three and he dominated the action for the remainder of the contest. A knockdown early in the ninth led to a such a pummeling that Chacon’s manager, Joe Ponce, asked referee Dick Young to stop the fight between rounds nine and 10.
The loss had no bearing on Chacon’s star power and after scoring four straight knockout wins Chacon was paired with another rising star in the 21-year-old Danny “Little Red” Lopez, who came into the fight with a spectacular 23-0 (22) record. This time Chacon was ready for the big stage and thanks to right hands that landed with unerring accuracy Chacon built a commanding lead on the scorecards before ending matters with several more rights early in round nine.
The Lopez triumph earned the third-rated Chacon a crack at the vacant WBC featherweight title against former 130-pound titlist and number-one featherweight contender Alfredo Marcano. The WBC stripped Eder Jofre after Jofre’s management team failed to reach an agreement to fight Marcano, a skilled 57-fight veteran. The taller Chacon, a 10-to-7 favorite at ringside, boxed carefully in the early rounds and while he ate plenty of jabs thanks to his dangling-hands defense he soon began to assert his quicker hands and superior power. A right uppercut-left hook-right uppercut combination floored Marcano in the ninth and though the Venezuelan arose at nine, referee Ray Solis stopped the contest at the 2:18 mark.
Less than three months shy of his 23rd birthday, Chacon had the world at his feet. He was young, handsome, successful and at the pinnacle of his chosen profession. He followed the Marcano triumph with a two-round knockout over Jesus Estrada in March 1975 that set up a rematch with Olivares, the only man to have beaten him to this point.
For reasons only known to Chacon, he fully indulged in the party life and allowed his weight to get wildly out of control. As the fight neared Chacon desperately tried to drop a minimum of 16 pounds in the final two weeks, going so far as to having his body whipped with eucalyptus leaves following workouts in order to further open his pores. The good news was that Chacon made the weight but the bad news was that he badly overdid it. A skeletal Chacon scaled a full pound-and-a-half under the featherweight limit while a fit and motivated Olivares weighed a healthy 125 1/4. The 18,770 fans that poured into the Forum generated a California-record $421,000 gate but the fight itself was a massacre as “Rockabye Ruben” uncorked an overhand right followed by a vicious left uppercut-right cross that floored Chacon in round two. The listless Chacon slowly arose at seven but a follow-up flurry on the ropes scored a second knockdown. Again up at seven, Chacon tried to fight back but Olivares fearlessly bombed away until referee Larry Rozadilla pulled away the rampaging “Puas” at the 2:29 mark.
Just like that, Chacon was a former champion — and a battered one at that.
This was the starting point for what would become a seven-year quest to regain what he lost that night against Olivares. He not only thirsted for another championship belt, he also wanted to regain his sense of self-respect.
The road he traveled was pock-marked with challenges. Two fights after losing to Olivares, Chacon lost a shocking 10-round unanimous decision in Mexicali to an unheralded 20-8 fighter named Rafael “Bazooka” Limon, a wild-swinging brawler who loved to pound opponents’ ribcages and, whenever possible, bend the rules to their breaking point. Neither man knew it at the time, but their paths would cross again…and again… and again.
Chacon rebounded with 10 straight wins, the last of which was a 10-round decision over Olivares in the last of their three fights. Less than three months later Chacon stumbled again, this time by split decision to the 16-14-2 Arturo Leon, who used that victory to justify a title shot against WBC super featherweight titlist Alexis Arguello three fights later. Leon took Arguello the 15-round distance but lost widely on all scorecards.
Four victories later Chacon and Limon met for the second time, this time at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. An accidental butt ripped open a fight-ending gash over Limon’s right eye in round seven and because Chacon was leading on all scorecards the fight was declared a technical draw.
Seven months after the Limon rematch, Chacon earned his first crack at redemption against Arguello, who, since turning away Leon, had stopped Limon on cuts and scored an action-packed 13th round KO over Alfredo Escalera, the man from whom Arguello won the WBC 130-pound belt. Chacon acquitted himself well in the early rounds and even stunned the Nicaraguan in round four with a pair of looping rights. But “The Explosive Thin Man” rebounded in round six by hammering Chacon about the ring and opening a two-inch long cut near the corner of the challenger’s right eye. Still, entering the seventh, Chacon clung to a one-point lead on two scorecards.
But it was not to be. Arguello hurt Chacon with a big left hand that prompted the challenger to take a voluntary knockdown. Chacon got up and lasted the rest of the round, but between rounds the ringside physician examined the cut and deemed it too dangerous to continue.
Less than four months later Limon re-entered Chacon’s life and the rugged Mexican made that life a living hell for those 40 minutes inside the Forum ring. Limon’s blows opened cuts over both eyes and registered a seventh-round knockdown and at fight’s end his face was unmarked. But while Chacon looked every bit the loser, two of the judges, referee John Thomas and jurist Frank Rustich, overruled Marty Denkin and declared Chacon the winner. The outrage was such that Limon, not Chacon, was given a crack at Arguello’s vacated belt against Venezuelan Idelfonso Bethelmy in December 1980 and he came away a champion thanks to a TKO in round 15.
Meanwhile, Chacon soldiered on. Following KO wins of Roberto Garcia and Leon Smith, Chacon’s third title shot was at hand. This time the opponent was Cornelius Boza-Edwards, a British-based Ugandan southpaw who dethroned Limon two months earlier. Just like his previous title shot against Arguello Chacon performed well in the early rounds but Boza-Edwards’ youth and strength gradually emptied the challenger’s gas tank to the point that he couldn’t come out for the 14th round. While Chacon was down narrowly on Lou Tabat’s scorecard (124-123), the other judges’ cards were more reflective of the action (128-120 by Duane Ford, 127-120 by Joe Swessel).
By this point Chacon’s quest appeared a quixotic one, especially to onetime childhood sweetheart and now-wife Valerie. Her reasoning appeared sound: Her husband of nearly 12 years was now 30 years old, a veteran of 54 fights and a loser of three previous title shots. She worried about Bobby’s long-term health and, starting with the third Limon fight, she begged him to stop boxing. This was ironic given that Valerie was the one who convinced Bobby to start boxing in the first place. But Bobby, convinced he wasn’t through yet, continued to fight on.
Valerie, now desperate, attempted to kill herself with an overdose of sleeping pills early in 1982 but Valerie’s mother found her in time and recovered after having her stomach pumped. Chacon, who was training for a Feb. 23 fight with Renan Marota, wasn’t told of the suicide attempt. After Chacon disposed of Marota in eight rounds he signed to fight Salvador Ugalde in Sacramento on March 16. The day before the fight, Valerie picked up a gun and killed herself. The mother of three children, aged 11, eight and six, was just 31 years old.
The promoter offered Chacon the chance to cancel the fight but the fighter, though racked with grief and guilt, chose to fight on.
“It was the only way I could keep my mind together,” Chacon told the New York Times. “I just wanted to get this thing over with, go home and hug my kids.”
Chacon got it over with quickly. He dropped Ugalde with a right hand in round two and scored a second knockdown in the third with another right before the fight was stopped later in the round. The purse: $6,000.
“I wanted to end it early,” Chacon said. “And I had to be vicious with my punches to do it. I’ve got to keep on fighting, to go through with my career. Boxing, I’m going to treat like another marriage.”
Chacon returned to the ring May 4 and scored an eighth round knockout of Rosendo Ramirez and he followed with a revenge 10-round points win over Leon, his third and fourth consecutive fights staged in Sacramento. The combination of his heart-wrenching story and his recent ring success garnered him a fourth opportunity to successfully complete his quest for redemption. To achieve that goal, he’ll have to go through a familiar nemesis. Limon.
Three months after beating Chacon, Boza-Edwards shockingly lost the title to Filipino southpaw Rolando Navarette, who, in turn, lost the title to Limon by a thrilling, come-from-behind 12th round TKO. Limon added another come-from-behind seventh round TKO over Chung Il Choi in September 1982 and just three months later he was poised to meet Chacon for the fourth time.
To this point the pair had fought 27 rounds over nearly seven years and in that time they had built a thorough distaste for one another. By this point Bobby had become more brawler than boxer and he depended more on his guts and power than the brilliant skill that won him fights in his early and mid-20s. The clash of styles foreshadowed a thrilling fight but even the most optimistically blood-thirsty fan couldn’t have ever imagined the drama that unfolded the afternoon of December 11, 1982 in Sacramento, Calif.
The fight was a microcosm of Chacon’s life in the seven years that had elapsed since his nightmarish loss to Olivares. Chacon was floored twice — in round three and 10 — and on at least a half-dozen occasions Chacon was backed into the corner pad, where Limon blasted away with dozens of power shots. But just when it appeared Chacon was moments away from extinction, he suddenly lashed out with a series of lead rights that drove the southpaw champion back to ring center.
Trailing by one point on two of the three scorecards, Chacon conjured one more miracle. With less than 20 seconds remaining in the 15 rounder, Chacon stunned Limon with a right and dropped him heavily with another. The heavily pro-Chacon crowd, which had been chanting Bobby’s name throughout the contest, erupted with roof-rattling joy as Limon, who one writer said had the look of a man hooked on Valium, unsteadily regained his feet and indicated he was fit to continue. Luckily for Limon, the final bell sounded before another punch could be thrown.
The last-ditch knockdown vaulted Chacon from a potential majority draw to a slim, but unanimous decision victory. Chacon’s quest, a quest that saw him spill his blood and lose the love of his life, was finally over.
“I was 22 years old and I threw it away,” Chacon told ABC’s Keith Jackson. “I had to get it again. This is dedicated to my wife, she couldn’t wait for me.”
He then paid tribute to his rival, who tested Chacon’s will like no other fighter had.
“Bazooka and me fought three times and he has gotten better, no doubt.” Chacon said. “His heart has grown; he fought some good fighters. I hit him like that and he was looking for a hiding place. I hit him like that tonight and he didn’t care. He was coming right back and he shook it off.”
“Bobby, you’re the toughest guy I’ve ever seen,” Jackson declared.
“Damn it, I want to win,” Chacon replied.
That was the understatement of the decade.
Chacon-Limon IV was deemed THE RING’s 1982 Fight of the Year in a year that included the first fight between Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez’s sensational 14th round knockout of Lupe Pintor and Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney, the year’s most publicized contest. Chacon’s efforts were also deemed worthy of the magazine’s Comeback of the Year award.
Now the question was what Chacon could do for an encore. His answer: Win the award for the second straight year.
In order to get the Limon fight, Chacon signed a contract with Don King stipulating that he would fight Hector Camacho in his next fight. Instead, Chacon signed to fight Boza-Edwards, who was indeed the WBC’s number-one contender and the better money fight. Still, King’s pull with WBC president Jose Sulaiman was such that the Chacon-Boza-Edwards fight failed to earn the WBC’s sanction and six weeks after the bout Chacon was stripped of the belt.
The second act of Chacon vs. Boza-Edwards was far more thrilling than the original as Chacon scored knockdowns in rounds one and two, suffered his own knockdown in the third, incurred dangerous eye cuts that prompted multiple visits from ringside physician Dr. Flip Homansky and completed the symphony of violence by scoring a knockdown in the 12th and final round. The beaten and exhausted Boza-Edwards barely made it to the final bell while Chacon was awarded a surprisingly wide unanimous decision.
The back-to-back wars might have produced unforgettable thrills for the audience but the punishment he absorbed inflicted incalculable damage to the veteran’s body. Riding the wave as far as he could, Chacon signed to fight WBA lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini on HBO for a career-high purse. The 24-year-old Mancini, a solid 5-to-2 favorite, successfully defended for the fifth time by mercilessly pounding the ring-worn Chacon, who spent much of his time with his back to the ropes. In round two alone, Mancini threw a mind-boggling 173 punches. Mancini ripped open cuts above the below the left eye as well as on the bridge of his nose. Richard Steele’s stoppage ignited a cascade of boos and beer from the heavily pro-Chacon crowd at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, but the fighter reportedly said “thank you” to the referee.
But at the post-fight press conference, Chacon changed his tune.
“I don’t blame the ref,” Chacon said. “I told him in the ring he had done the right thing because I wanted to ease his heart about stopping it. But he shouldn’t have stopped it. Hey, I’m an old guy. It takes me a long time to get warmed up. Ray is a young guy and he comes in and he’s ready to go. I need time. I was just getting warmed up when the fight was over.”
Steele, who also officiated the Chacon-Boza rematch, replied by saying “The difference there was that Boza-Edwards doesn’t punch like a Ray Mancini.”
Chacon fought just seven more times after that, and though his speech was increasingly slurred and his defensive skills eroding even further he won all seven, including five by knockout. His final fight was a 10-round decision over the 6-12-1 Bobby Jones in Orlando, Fla. But while the 35-year-old won big on the judges’ scorecards — 98-91 twice and 98-92 — the decay was obvious and sobering.
But when fans and media alike think of Bobby Chacon, they’ll remember the dynamic young fighter that captivated audiences in Southern California and the blood-and-guts warrior that overcame personal tragedy to dethrone Limon and turn back the favored Boza-Edwards.
Three decades before Gennady Golovkin unveiled his “Big Drama Show” to the boxing world and less than two decades before Arturo Gatti completed the first of his numerous ring miracles, there was Bobby Chacon, a “Schoolboy” who was the master of melodrama. His fight on earth may be at an end, but the memories he spawned within those lucky enough to watch him will be remembered for all time.