“There she was, that little cutie. All that terrible blood. The blood just ran off. She looked pretty. I loved her so long—I only had love for her. I always loved her, but I lost her.”
It was over for the “Schoolboy.” It had been over for years. Bobby Chacon belonged to another age—bell-bottoms, Jacqueline Susann, wide lapels, Baretta (in which he once had a cameo). Even his car, a ’48 Chevy, made him anachronistic. He looked so much older now. And instead of resembling the graduate of San Fernando High School, he was starting to look like a dropout from Blackboard Jungle. The hard years had already caught up to him. He was thirty-one going on forever.
Yet here he was, adrift in the Reagan Era, the MTV era, the Atari and Super Mario era, virtually an antique between the ropes. In March 1982, his few remaining hopes were smashed, like a bottle of Thunderbird dropped from the balcony at The Olympic. That was when his wife, Valorie, put a .22 rifle to her head, said goodbye to the darkness, and shot herself. It was Val who had encouraged Chacon to become a professional fighter; it was Val who had been begging him to retire since the start of the decade. The welts, the lumps, the bruises, the cuts, the stitches, the bumps—they meant nothing to Bobby, and they meant everything to her.
The day after Valorie committed suicide, Chacon answered the bell up in Sacramento, scoring a TKO over a fighter with a record of 6-6-1. He wept in the ring when the fight was over. He needed a grief counselor more than he needed a cutman or a trainer. A few days later, Chacon would try emulating Val: a gun, despair, and a trembling finger on the trigger. But he gave in to a moment of optimism. There were still things to live for, he figured. There was a mobile home and twenty acres in Palermo, where Chacon had finally taken refuge from the permanent L.A. night crawl. There were his three children—Johna, Jayme, and Chico. And in his newly-blackened heart, of course, there was the ring, always the ring, with its bleak allure, like a lingering illness, something he could never shake. He was sure he could win another world title, more than seven years after he had last held one as a rattleboned featherweight resembling the Hunger Artist and not a professional athlete.
He had been on the comeback since late 1976, when he first realized that he was, even with his boyish grin, a burnt-out case at twenty-five. That initial return was a farce. Chacon could barely drag himself into the ring. Three postponements followed his comeback announcement. He begged off with the flu once and then, like something out of a Mel Brooks film, tumbled out of the ring during a sparring session at the Main St. Gym. He wrecked his elbow when he hit the concrete. “It seems like I’ve tried to BS my way,” Chacon told Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Hawn. “I don’t care what it seems like. I really want to fight.”
Valorie did not. When she visited Chacon in his dressing room after a savage win, she was convinced that he would die in the ring. “Boxing was something he was good at,” she told reporters, “but something he’s done for long enough.” Against her tears, against her pleading, against her threats, Chacon continued boxing.
In the tumultuous years following his start-and-stop return, he would drop title challenges to Alexis Arguello (1979) and Cornelius Boza-Edwards (1981). These losses were harrowing (to both Chacon and Val) and ended in bloody stoppages. Early in 1982, another title shot seemed as far away from Chacon as his days as a gang member in San Fernando.
But Chacon was always good television, and now he had inherited a tragic backstory that network executives could hardly resist. After what had happened to Val, Chacon was now “human interest” personified. He got one last shot at glory. And it would come against his nemesis, a pitiless mauler, a man he had already fought three times, Rafael “Bazooka” Limon.
A two-time junior-lightweight titlist and a notorious sourpuss, Limon had been in the mix at 130 pounds for years. Among the top names he had faced since 1979 were Alexis Arguello, Frankie Baltazar, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, and Rolando Navarette. And, of course, there was Bobby Chacon. They first met in 1975, when Limon outpointed Chacon in a Mexicali bullring. It was one of the fights that had edged Chacon to the brink of withdrawal. (A beating he took from David Sotelo a few months later, in a grueling decision win, finally pushed him over.) Then they had battled, grimly, to a technical draw at the packed Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Finally, in 1981, Chacon squeaked by Limon via a split decision that could be counted as one of the few instances of good fortune he had seen since gloving up again.
During their rivalry, Chacon and Limon had developed a genuine loathing for each other. “Well, it’s all personal,” Chacon told KO magazine about his tetralogy with Limon. “I didn’t like Bazooka at all. It developed after our second fight, when he was telling people that [I] was a dirty fighter. To begin with, his big thing was how he beat Bobby Chacon the first time, and he mouthed off and stuff. Even before the fight, he said that I was washed up. It would be an easy fight for him.”
ABC bought the matchup and Chacon began preparation at the Washington Neighborhood Gym in Los Angeles. A $50,000 payday was only part of the motivation; now there was also the memory of Val to spur him on. To prepare for Chacon, whose sudden determined outlook was unusual for a confirmed slacker, Limon sparred with a young Julio Cesar Chavez and even attempted a bit of psychological warfare by complimenting Chacon before the fight. But the “Schoolboy” did not bite. “He might be acting like he likes me,” he said, “but I don’t believe him.”
Limon and Chacon squared off on December 11, 1982, on a Sunday afternoon edition of Wide World of Sports. Their third fight more than two years earlier had been considered such a robbery, that oddsmakers made Limon the favorite despite the fact that he had lost the rubber match. Chacon never looked back at losses, however, and neither did his boosters. For them, as well as for Chacon, there was only the here-and-now. The Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento seemed set to detonate at any moment. Just after 2 p.m. the fighters entered the ring. The crowd roared when Chacon was announced and it booed when Limon was introduced. When the opening bell rang, it would be wire-to-wire bedlam, both in the ring and in the seats.
Usually a slow starter, Limon began cuffing Chacon around almost immediately. It would be charitable to say that Limon was awkward or clumsy, but he was durable, worked the body with zeal, packed a fair amount of power in his inaccurate hook, and whipped punches relentlessly from seemingly any angle out of his southpaw stance. What really set Limon apart from the garden-variety grinder, however, was his dedication to the jab, a tactic that gave his ragtag attack a certain amount of structure. While he often waded in, fists churning, he would often flick his jab to close the distance. And on the rare occasions he backpedaled, he shot out his jab to stymie an onrushing foe.
A frenetic sequence in the second round set the tone for the rest of the fight. Limon pinned Chacon against the ropes and strafed him to the head and body with every punch in the textbook—and twice as many that had not yet been canonized. But Chacon weathered the assault, and returned fire with straight rights that sent Limon retreating. Throughout the fight, Limon would take this same punch, on target, over and over because of his inability to master ring geography. One of his major flaws—to go with a slew of minor ones—was his tendency to stand slightly square, creating a direct path for Chacon to land that streaking right, thrown with the same zip Dan Fouts used to launch a touchdown bomb downfield.
A clubbing left in the third round sent Chacon to the canvas for a flash knockdown and, in the fourth, Chacon began to bleed from cuts around his nose and eye. Seven rounds later, another left put him down again, this time seriously. Between knockdowns, Chacon gritted his teeth, shook off a hellish body attack that would have crumbled a spetchel, and opened up a crossfire onslaught whenever he could. At times Chacon used Limon for a speedbag, rattling Bazooka from corner to corner, and more than once seeming on the verge of a TKO win. But Limon was as tough as a flinthead, and his highly developed sense of machismo not only kept him vertical but it also drove him to taunt Chacon at every opportunity.
Yes, Chacon was just a shadow of a shadow now, no longer that quickstep dynamo who set the aficion ablaze with his kayo of Danny “Little Red” Lopez, no longer the man who earned a record purse (more than $160,000) for featherweights when he faced off against Ruben Olivares at the Inglewood Forum, but he had something else going for him all those years later—grief and, perhaps, a sense of atonement. “But there was no way I could lose this fight,” Chacon would later say. “I’ve been working so damned hard. I thought to myself, ‘If I lose, where am I going?’ I had to win.”
Until his unsuccessful title challenge of Cornelius Boza Edwards in 1981, Chacon had never been past ten rounds, but here he was in the twelfth, furiously whipsawing blows against Limon, whose reputation for stamina and endurance (likely helped by the four years he had spent in the Mexican Army) was one of the surest things in boxing.
When the bell rang for the fifteenth round, the fight was still undecided. Chacon had suffered two knockdowns, costing him points on the scorecards; but Limon was exhausted, and Chacon realized he could close the gap with a strong final push. Given what had transpired over the previous forty-two minutes, the pace in the fifteenth was remarkable. Both men hammered each other relentlessly. Finally, with less than twenty seconds remaining, a weary Limon reached out, uncoordinated now, reflexes gone now, and remained frozen momentarily in front of Chacon, who crashed home a right hand that sent him stutter-stepping in retreat. Chacon launched another right and Limon crashed to the mat, landing on his side, his head coming to rest beneath the bottom rope. It was a miracle that Limon could beat the count and it was another miracle that the bell saved him from further punishment.
The fight was over and the unanimous decision (by a total of four points across the board) went to Chacon. More than seven years after losing his featherweight title, Chacon was a champion again. At the post-fight press conference, Chacon spoke poignantly about his return to the top: “I won my first title when I was twenty-two. But I gave the championship away. I had to get it back. There was no way I could lose this fight. I told my wife [Valorie] to wait around. This was all I wanted, one more title.”
But it was in the ring, just after the fight was over, that his true message got through.
“This is dedicated to my wife. If only she could be here with me.”