It did not matter what Julio Cesar Chavez did with Ivan Robinson on Saturday night. Nor did it matter what happened with Oscar De La Hoya, Willy Wise or Kostya Tszyu. And, to some degree, with Frankie Randall and Pernell Whitaker. The man's legend had been completed a long time ago. His legacy had been written in the same granite that served as his chin.
I just entered boxing journalism at the time of Chavez' scintillating stoppage of Edwin Rosario. It was a textbook lesson in destruction. It was as complete a dismantling of a great fighter as any in the history of the sport. In the late 1980s, boxing was populated with great fighters — Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Azumah Nelson. Chavez ranked among them.
I was fortunate enough to cover a pair of his fights — third-round knockouts of Kenny Vice and Kyung-Duk Ahn. They were hardly classics, but the opportunity to watch Chavez ply his trade at that time was akin to sitting among the tuxedos at Lincoln Center and listening to Pavarotti or sitting among the beer barons in the Yankee Stadium bleachers and watching Jeter, Bernie, O'Neill and Mariano define Yankee class.
What I will remember most, however, was a brief workout that I witnessed at Jimmy Glenn's old Time Square Gym in Manhattan. Two things stand out. The first was the amount of tape, gauze and wrap Chavez used to protect his hands. The other was his smile. Chavez was in town for a press conference and worked out at the gym shortly afterward. It was a tiny space, one ring, a few heavy bags. You had to walk up three, maybe four flights of stairs to reach the gym that looked out over 42nd Street. Seeing Chavez was worth the walk.
He was in his prime. The gym could barely contain the crowd. Chavez knew his public was watching. It is not what he did that afternoon, but how he did it. Everything with a wink and smile.
Chavez was the consummate professional. He was a calm calculating assassin who never varied from his attack. There was the time when he defeated his friend, Jose Luis Ramirez, to unify the two-thirds of the lightweight title. At one point, he had Ramirez hurt, but he did not press the action. Kevin Rooney was a guest commentator on HBO that night and said he was disappointed in that. But that was the beauty of Chavez. The precision, the patience, the aggregate sum of his power. In his prime, he was as difficult to defeat as Tyson.
Some will forever argue that his TKO over Meldrick Taylor and his draw against Whitaker were politically tainted. That may be true. But to hear the HBO team call the first Taylor-Chavez fight raised its own questions. Chavez was Don King's fighter and it was easy to side against him. While listening to and watching the action, the broadcast team sang Taylor's praises all night. But I am looking at Taylor's face and thinking, well, someone is in there hitting him. Don't forget, at the time of the stoppage, Taylor would have won a split decision. The fight was a classic, but hardly a runaway for Meldrick.
It is harder to defend the draw against Whitaker. But I will say this: Chavez was 89 fights into his career and seeking a world title at welterweight, his fourth weight class. Every great fighter reaches his limit and welterweight was the wall Chavez could never scale. Just like Alexis Arguello could never win a title at junior welterweight.
Really, this is all you need to know about Chavez. He began his career 90-0-1. And in world title fights, he assembled a record of 30-4-2 with 20 knockouts. That is a career for some fighters. And three of those losses and one of the draws occurred after 1995.
Let's hope last Saturday was really Adios for this legend. The next time the boxing public assembles to see Chavez, it should be five years from now in Canastota.