Bobby Chacon had been an overnight sensation in California, a hugely popular young fighter attracting big crowds to the Inglewood Forum and the Olympic Auditorium. But as quickly as he raised hopes and attracted fans, he let them down, losing his first world title just three months after winning it when he was stopped by Mexican legend Ruben Olivares in June of ’75.
It had been a rocky ride ever since as the fighter they called “The Schoolboy” struggled to get another chance at a world title. Despite a big non-title win over Olivares in August of ’77, losses to Rafael “Bazooka” Limon and Arturo Leon held him back. But he had earned this shot at Arguello’s WBC super featherweight championship by rebounding with five wins, and a big crowd set the turnstiles spinning at the Forum, everyone hoping to see Chacon get to the top of the mountain again.
But if Bobby was the more popular fighter, there was no question as to who was the underdog in this match, as Alexis Arguello was both a distinguished champion and a very dangerous puncher. Yes, he had suffered a non-title loss to crafty Vilomar Fernandez in July of 78, but that was the only setback of late, as Arguello had established himself as one of boxing’s best champions by taking convincing wins from the same fighters who had given Chacon so much trouble: Olivares, Leon and Limon. Add in two big wins over former champ Alredo Escalera and you had an elite-level pugilist with almost impeccable credentials. Few thought Chacon had the required power and fortitude to take the title from “The Explosive Thin Man.”
But for six rounds Chacon made fools of the oddsmakers. Showing the courage and skills which had earned him such an enthusiastic following on the west coast, the challenger, despite being five inches shorter, boxed with authority and made the champion miss time and again before countering with sharp right hands. Bobby sustained a cut over his right eye in the second round, but it didn’t appear to bother the challenger as he continued boxing with smooth efficiency, winning rounds with a sharp jab and some solid body punches. The champion stalked Chacon and on occasion landed some heavy body shots of his own, but Arguello was consistently beaten to the punch.
Chacon’s performance reminded ringsiders of his dominant knockout win back in ’74 over current featherweight champion Danny Lopez as “The Schoolboy” stuck to his game plan and smartly refused to go toe-with-toe with the powerful Arguello, instead slipping the champion’s shots to land his own. The champion knew he was behind and his frustration became evident in round six when, uncharacteristically, he deliberately struck the challenger after the bell. The obvious foul brought a rain of boos from the pro-Chacon crowd.
But everything changed in round seven as it can when one is facing a fighter who possesses legitimate one-shot knockout power. A perfectly timed right uppercut slammed home and sent Chacon staggering across the ring. He dropped to a crouch and took an eight count and when the fight resumed Arguello attacked with fury, pinning Bobby to the ropes and unloading a series of heavy blows. Some missed, some landed, but the fusillade turned the cut that had opened in round two into a more serious injury. Chacon had recovered from the knockdown and was fighting back gallantly by the end of the round, but his face was covered in blood. Between rounds the ringside doctor inspected the gash and ordered the fight stopped. It went into the books as a seventh round TKO.
Classy as always, Arguello gave credit where it was due: “Bobby Chacon is a good fighter, very intelligent. I told everyone it was going to be a tough fight and it was.”
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” said the disappointed challenger. “It was the cut that did me in.”
Talk of a rematch was drowned out by the louder talk of Arguello stepping up to the lightweight division and going after a third divisional world title. With Roberto Duran having recently departed the 135 pound division to pursue new glories in the welterweight class, most viewed Alexis as the heir apparent at lightweight. It had been decades since a fighter had won championships in three seperate weight classes, and at this point only five boxers in the entire history of the sport had ever done it: Bob Fitzsimmons, Tony Canzoneri, Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong and Emile Griffith.
“Yes, I would like to fight as a lightweight,” stated Arguello, “but only if I can challenge for the title immediately. If a champion is willing to fight me, then I am ready.”
Meanwhile, many were wondering if the sun had set on Chacon. He was only 27, but that nasty cut appeared to be further evidence of a streak of bad luck that had dogged “The Schoolboy” ever since he lost his title to Olivares in ’74. Little did anyone know, but the biggest wins for both fighters still lay ahead. — Robert Portis