Julio Cesar Chavez: The Legend and his Legacy
By Alex Pierpaoli
originally published 6/3/05 on KOFantasyBoxing.com
It was August of 1995 when I saw a living legend. That summer Mike Tyson glowered over the Las Vegas Strip from a monstrous billboard on the MGM Grand’s marquee like he’d come back from the joint to eat the whole town. Instead he knocked over Peter McNeeley in just 89 seconds and began his march towards regaining the heavyweight title thanks to the promotional machinations of Don King. In Vegas for the first time, to see Tyson’s return, my brother and I visited the famous Johnny Tocco’s gym a day or two after the Tyson-McNeeley spectacle.
By then we’d been boxing fans for over a decade and we had heard of Tocco’s gym, the place where greats from Marciano to Holmes had trained near the Las Vegas Strip, carving themselves into fighting shape in the desert heat at the pugilistic landmark. When we got there we recognized an aging Michael Dokes sweating through a workout in hopes of a comeback after being stopped in one round by Riddick Bowe in `93.
Dokes joked with us and made us laugh as we watched him slug away at a heavy bag.
Who will you be fighting next we asked him.
“I hope they bring me a guy with one arm and one eye to fight.” Dokes said. “One arm and one eye.” He repeated the qualities he hoped his opposition would have as he punched; one arm- left-right, one eye- left-right again.
In the gym was another heavyweight, a young man who worked construction part-time and was hoping to get a TV fight. We watched as these two heavies, at opposite ends of their careers labored through shadow boxing and bag work in the hot gym.
Then, perhaps forty feet away, across the ring and down a small hall in the back of the room, a door opened and the bright desert sun shone in making it hard to see who entered for a moment. As four men and a small boy stepped from the doorway into the dim light of the hall my brother and I gasped simultaneously. Julio Cesar Chavez emerged from behind one of the men and stepped forward into the same room where we sat.
Chavez said nothing to us, just barely a nod of recognition to the two gringos there to catch a glimpse of a real-life prize-fighter. He quickly busied himself winding gauze round each wrist and up and over the knuckles before presenting each hand to one of his handlers for taping.
We were both Chavez fans. He had “lost” to Whitaker and to Frankie Randall by then but we had been thrilled many times by his warrior spirit and aggression in so many fights before.
By 1995 we had seen him crush Roger Mayweather; the man we saw training fighters in another Vegas gym further down The Strip that same day. And what Chavez did to Edwin Rosario I will never forget. Rosario was always an athletic boxer who was fun to watch but Chavez busted him up and all but broke him in half keeping the Puerto Rican backed into corners or along the ropes for much of their bout. Chavez was absolutely fearsome in what he did to Meldrick Taylor although it had been Ref. Steele who helped make it happen. Chavez was indomitable in that instant classic, cool and focused under the peppering Taylor was laying on him, and you could almost see in his eyes that Chavez was still so very dangerous even after losing so many rounds. When he came up with the bolt that dropped Meldrick Taylor in the twelfth round it happened as if in slow motion. Chavez had been so purposeful and punishing in scoring the knockdown and it signified such a reversal of fortune that it happened in some irreversible mythic dimension at the same time it was occurring in the passing immediacy and thrill of the instant.
Chavez was a legend and seeing him moving and stretching just a few feet from us was more than we could have imagined when we decided to visit Johnny Tocco’s Gym. We watched as two sparring partners boxed three rounds each with the then WBC Jr. Welterweight Champion, in training at the time to defend his title against David Kamau. Chavez went on to win by Unanimous Decision on September 16, 1995 at The Mirage.
In sparring that day Chavez held back, like a tightly coiled spring that began to uncoil only to hold back again after landing too hard a body shot or chopping hook to the head. It was an exercise in controlled violence being displayed by one of the best fighters in the world and we had front row seats.
As Chavez sparred, Michael Dokes would shout Julio, Julio in a bad Mexican accent; like Speedy Gonzalez if Speedy were a 250 pound African-American pug. But Dokes’ barks and gaffs would bring a smile to Chavez’ face as he waited between rounds; his mouthpiece showing as he grinned. But when the timer would go off the smile would disappear and Chavez would go right back to slamming his sparring partners with body shots and combinations to the head; a blue-collar sort of punching in and punching out.
When Chavez was finished sparring one of his handlers removed his gloves and cut off his hand wraps. We were still talking about Tyson and how he looked in those few seconds with the young heavyweight when the small boy of perhaps 9 years of age crossed the gym towards us with his father’s bandages. Reaching up wordlessly, the boy handed them to my brother, smiled a little-boy grin at both of us and walked back to his dad, the champion.
That boy was Julio Jr. and this past Saturday, in an odd variation of Bring-your-Child-to-Work-Day, Chavez junior now a prize-fighter himself, shared the Showtime PPV card from LA’s StaplesCenter. It was billed as Adios! in reference to the long awaited and impending retirement of JCC superstar, but we’ve all heard it before.
In this same week that Chavez returned to the ring, a great heavyweight warrior debuted on Reality TV dancing with an exotic beauty. Seeing Evander Holyfield shake it on national TV is hardly as humiliating as it sounds. There is little chance he’ll suffer the type of injuries on a dance floor that he could should Holyfield continue in the prize ring. And there must also be some lesson for the forty-two year old Chavez there.
What happened Saturday night did little to help, or harm for that matter, the way history will look on the great Chavez. But what certainly may be harmed if he continues is Chavez himself, the form and figure of a legend that remains to take blows and bruises that younger men should suffer. Fighters suffer from career confusion as they age, not knowing when to leave, not wanting to go; it becomes so hard to grasp as the risks increase and become more obvious to everyone but the fighter himself.
Fighters don’t go quietly. They leave kicking and screaming, too often flailing arms and absorbing punishment for dollars and coin to pay creditors, casinos and country. And sometimes they can’t say goodbye because they think we’ll stop loving and cheering for them, probably the hardest part for them to give up. But Chavez has a way to live it all again, to feel the bumps and take the bows.
There is young Julio, a very different type of fighter than his father, but his legacy nonetheless. Junior is long and lean while Dad was square and squat, a Mexican tank that kept firing punches until the final bell. But on Saturday night young Julio showed that the Chavez aggression and taste for rib-meat is certainly genetic when he crushed Adam Wynant in a round. The final blow that Julio Jr. landed on Wynant was a rib-cracking right hand that landed under the arm-pit, collapsed his diaphragm and sent him to the canvas in just 42 seconds. Chavez Jr. improved his record to 19-0 (14) with the win.
When Chavez Sr. finished ten hard but lopsided rounds over Ivan Robinson in the Main Event he spoke to the crowd over the Staples Center PA. Chavez told the assembled how as he passes from the ring he leaves us his son. But seconds later he hinted at more options, more fights and more PPV goodbyes. Such is the way he says adios.
Today, my brother and I still have those hand wraps and the memory of those six rounds when we watched Chavez spar. That experience can never be tainted or sullied in our minds. But if Chavez continues fighting he risks more than just adding less than stellar performances to his Hall-of-Fame career and record. Beating Ivan Robinson is not what people will remember, nor should it be.
I hope the great Chavez doesn’t continue fighting. I hope he does leave us with his son, Julio Jr. and leaves us, of course, with all the memories. That is more than enough.
I bought and watched last Saturday’s PPV because I was taking him at his word and hoping that it really was going to be Adios and that his great career is finally over.
Tszyu vs. Hatton: Young Lion Challenges King of the 140 Pound Jungle
The huge fight tomorrow night in Manchester, England; which reportedly sold out in just about two hours, pits a hungry and undefeated youngster against an aging champion who seems just about invincible. Manchester, England loves their boxing and considering that before tomorrow night the biggest fight ever held there was Mike Tyson’s blowout of Julius Francis five years ago; Kostya Tszyu versus Ricky Hatton should be a hell of a lot more competitive. Reports are that Hatton, 38-0 (28), looks downright chiseled from hard work in training camp. He’s gotten into phenomenal shape and Hatton is ready to go to war. He’ll have to be.
Australia’s Russian born destroyer, Kostya Tszyu, is perhaps the most fearsome of the pound-for-pound title claimants. Erik Morales is more aggressive, Diego Corrales and Manny Pacquiao are harder punchers but no one in the top ten can overwhelm and outgun an opponent like Kostya Tszyu. In his young career Hatton has faced nothing like The Thunder from Down Under but Tszyu is aging and maybe Hatton’s ever cautious promoter Frankie Warren sees something. Now 35, Tszyu has been fighting an average of just once a year. The fight with Hatton will answer the question of whether youth and aggression can stand up under the skill and dominance of Tszyu’s martial arts style of destruction.
This writer doesn’t think so. It should be an exciting fight while it lasts, but versus Tszyu, Hatton simply cannot last very long. Tszyu by knockout in 8 rounds or less.
Send comments or questions to Alex Pierpaoli at: KOFantasyBoxing@gmail.com