By David A. Avila
A few years ago, after posting a story about a club fight in Montebello, I briefly mentioned Bobby Chacon was at the fights. Immediately about a dozen e-mails drifted my way to ask about the former world champion featherweight.
It was a mild surprise.
Chacon, who passed away on Wednesday, Sept. 7, had been out of the boxing public eye for decades but the mere mention of the former great from Pacoima, a suburb in Los Angeles, had sparked inquiries about his whereabouts.
What is he doing? Are you going to write any stories on him? How can I reach him? These were some of the questions I received after mentioning he attended a small fight card at the Quiet Cannon Country Club in Montebello. Fans from England, North Carolina, Texas and Mexico were among those that responded to the story.
“I remember meeting him when he was a freshman in college,” said Bill Caplan, the master publicist who has been involved in boxing since meeting legendary fighter Sugar Ray Robinson. “Bobby was just an amateur boxer who was going to take part in a tournament.”
Caplan was best friends with the great sports columnist Allan Malamud, who at the time was writing for the now defunct Herald-Examiner newspaper in L.A. He asked if a column could be written about Chacon. Malamud did not want to do it.
“I told him I would buy him a steak dinner,” recalled Caplan. “That did it.”
It would be the first story written on Chacon who was later dubbed “Schoolboy” by Caplan himself.
Los Angeles has always been a boxing town going back more than 100 years. At the time Chacon entered the boxing scene the sport was hitting a perfect stride as fighters like “Irish” Jerry Quarry, Mando Ramos, George “Scrap Iron” Johnson and Armando Muniz were packing in the crowds at the Olympic Auditorium and Inglewood Forum.
Chacon never finished college but his next school was the boxing gym. His sparring wars in San Fernando Valley gyms were legendary especially those against kickboxing master Benny “The Jet” Urquidez who also lived in “the Valley” like Chacon. It is said Urquidez was inspired to try boxing after his battles with Chacon. Instead, Urquidez went on to mythic status as a full contact mixed martial artist overseas. But in the boxing ring their wars were said to be awe- inspiring.
It wasn’t long before Chacon left the amateur boxing world for the professionals. He was a natural fighter who combined boxing technique under his trainer Joe Ponce and quickly proved to be a hit in the Southland. Many of his first fights took place in the Inglewood Forum while across town another youngster the same age was building a similar reputation. His name was Danny Lopez and he was building a fan base at the rival Olympic Auditorium.
Dubbed “Little Red” Lopez because his older brother Ernie was nicknamed “Indian Red” for their Native American ancestry, the younger brother was a thin framed featherweight who could really pack a punch. All of Los Angeles was talking about Lopez and Chacon as they continued racking up impressive wins at the Forum and Olympic. It was a crosstown battle in every sense of the word, Chacon from the San Fernando Valley and Lopez from the San Gabriel Valley. At the time Chacon had 19 wins and no losses. Lopez was 18 wins no losses on June 1973. It was a perfect match on paper.
Chacon couldn’t wait and took a fight on June 23, 1973 against Mexico’s fan favorite Ruben “El Puas” Olivares a guy who in 75 pro fights had only lost three times. Olivares was also a guy with incredible knockout power. Chacon did not care and took the fight. He was beaten soundly and did not answer the bell for the 10th round in their fight at the Forum.
Though Chacon’s undefeated record was gone the fans in L.A. still clamored for a showdown between the two local prizefighters. Fans were delirious about the possible showdown and the newspapers were filled with details about the possibility.
On May 24, 1974, the fight came to fruition at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. It was the only neutral facility that could house the fight. Lopez was at home in the Olympic Auditorium and Chacon was the Forum favorite. The Sports Arena was neutral territory and it was packed with fans. The announced attendance was 16,080.
“It was pretty awesome to go to the Sports Arena, it was so loud,” said Lopez reminiscing about the encounter 42 years ago. “The newspapers used to write about us all the time.”
It was civil war at the Sports Arena and the headlines on the sports pages of the Herald-Examiner and L.A. Times were black and bold and dramatic about the showdown.
The fight lasted nine rounds as Lopez tried to knock out Chacon.
“Bobby was a clever fighter who moved around and was hard to hit in those days,” said Caplan.
During the ninth round after 48 seconds Chacon connected and floored his foe.
“He knocked me down and they stopped the fight,” said Lopez on Thursday via telephone. “The better man won.”
That win against Lopez gave Chacon a shot at the vacant WBC featherweight world title against Venezuela’s Alfredo Marcano. Chacon would win his first world title on September 1974. He would defend it again successfully the following March before losing the title to his nemesis, Mexico’s Olivares. After that loss he would never fight at featherweight again.
It would take four years for Chacon to get another world title shot and he was knocked out by boxing great Alexis Arguello. Two years later, in 1981, another title bid was lost against Cornelius Boza-Edwards. It wasn’t until December 1982 that Chacon would win another world title and it was in the super featherweight division. He defeated old nemesis Rafael “Bazooka” Limon in another bloody war that ended up tabbed the “Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine and other media outlets.
Chacon’s first defense of the WBC super featherweight title was against Boza-Edwards. It was held at Caesars Palace on May, 15, 1983. Once again it was all-out war with Boza-Edwards suffering knockdowns in three different rounds and Chacon going down once. Chacon won by decision and for the second consecutive year his win was called “Fight of the Year.”
The battles Chacon endured were quickly taking their toll on the amiable super featherweight. Over the years he dispensed with his leg movement and used more head movement while punching it out with the enemy. The crowd loved it but his body and head were taking a bashing.
“Who knows what kind of punishment he took,” said Armando Muniz who was a blood and guts fighter too. “He wasn’t always kind to his body. I can’t say for sure but he was known to have a drink and other stuff before a fight. It catches up to you.”
In 1982 his wife Valorie had begged him to quit boxing but he refused.
“She committed suicide, you know,” said Caplan remembering the day. “Bobby fought and won two days later.”
Boom Boom and Art
Chacon abdicated his WBC super featherweight title for the big money fight against Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini the WBA lightweight champion. Their battle was predictably intense but Mancini was the bigger man. The fight ended in the third round with Mancini’s hand raised. It would be the last time Chacon would lose in the ring.
No longer a world titlist, but still an attraction, Chacon fought another L.A. native Arturo Frias of East L.A. at the Olympic Auditorium on August 1985. I remember running into Frias at the running track at Schurr High School weeks before the fight. I had heard he was looking for a rematch with Mancini who had taken his title.
“I’m fighting Bobby Chacon,” he said curtly.
The boxing venue on Grand Avenue was packed with fans to see these two homegrown rivals. They weren’t disappointed. Both fighters were in shape and it was a battle of machismo. Chacon fired nonstop and Frias was just as aggressive. Chacon went down in the first round but battled back.
Each had their moments with the momentum shifting back and forth. Suddenly, Chacon connected with a right and a body shot and another right and Frias sunk to the floor. The fight was stopped in the seventh round and Frias would never fight again. Chacon would fight three times in three years and retire. His speech was slurring by the early 1990s but he never let that stop him from attending boxing events.
“You know and I know Bobby was a great fighter. Anybody that fought from 1974 to 1988, you don’t get in there with Mancini and Boza-Edwards if you want to protect your record,” said Muniz who lives in Riverside.
Life after boxing
Muniz said Chacon was always a participant at his annual golf tournament that attracted many fighters from the past including Danny “Little Red” Lopez his old foe. They kept in touch.
“We were friends after boxing. I would see him at all the boxing functions,” said an emotional Lopez who lives in Chino Hills. “We used to play in golf tournaments and Bobby was there at most of them. He was just a happy-go-lucky guy. It was always fun to see Bobby.”
Chacon no longer laced up the gloves but boxing remained in his veins. No matter where the destination, if he could reach it by car he would be there. Even if there were no fight cards you could find him in one of the local boxing gyms in the San Fernando Valley, said Mia St. John on Twitter.
When he could no longer drive, friends would drive him to boxing cards or gyms.
Though his speech was no longer understandable by the early 2000s he was physically fit and often would jump in the ring during intermission and perform shadow boxing; showing off his agility and hand speed. One time in Ontario another retired veteran, Joey Barnum, was introduced to the crowd and entered the ring shadow boxing. Chacon jumped in the ring too and both were vigorously shadow boxing with such aggressiveness side by side it looked like they were going to exchange blows.
That was Chacon; always a showman but a fierce competitor in the ring.
How good was Chacon?
“Everybody knows what I know,” said Lopez on the telephone. “He was a great fighter.”
Photo credit: Al Applerose