Sometimes the price of glory is steep and painful. In the case of Bobby Chacon, it would appear, at least to those who have never known what it feels like to be a world boxing champion, to have been much too high. But even after losing his first wife to suicide and his son to gang violence and much of his health to boxing, Chacon reportedly refused to ever feel sorry for himself, refused to dwell on the past. And no one can say for certain if Chacon himself had regrets about the life he chose for himself, or about the cost of giving all those action-packed battles to fight fans.
But one thing is certain: glory he did indeed attain, glory and fistic immortality. Chacon’s career is the stuff of legends. Naturally gifted with outstanding strength, power and reflexes, he quickly became a major attraction on the California boxing scene after turning pro in 1972, competing 15 times that year. In June of 1973 he had his first world title fight, losing to the great Ruben Olivares by ninth round TKO. But he rebounded to score a huge victory over future champion Danny Lopez and then, on this date in 1974, won the WBC featherweight title by stopping Alfredo Marcano in nine rounds. He defended the title once, before losing it to Olivares.
Incredibly active, and performing almost exclusively at such fabled California venues as the Inglewood Forum or the Olympic Auditorium, Chacon would fight anyone, anytime. Incredibly brave, he never gave up on himself. After losing by TKO to Alexis Arguello in 1979 in a bid to win the super-featherweight title, many thought Chacon’s prospects were dried up, that his frantic run at the top was over. Instead he rebounded to defeat his great rival Rafael “Bazooka” Limon and fight again for world titles in both 1981 and 1982.
But if glory was Chacon’s, so was pain and defeat and tragedy. While constantly training and fighting, a terrible toll was exacted on his personal life. His wife Valorie, who had actually inspired him to try his hand at pugilism, had begged him for years to retire but he refused. She committed suicide in March of 1982; incredibly, Chacon fought and won within 24 hours of her death, insisting he be allowed to go through with the match to help him cope. Evidently, the pain of battle helped to assuage his heartbreak.
Two more wins followed before Chacon fought Limon for a fourth time in December of 1982 and, in one of the most thrilling title fights in recent boxing history, scored a final round knockdown to take a close decision. After this huge win, the pain of his wife’s death hit home even harder.
“I finally broke down after the Limon fight,” said Chacon. “I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. I just kept thinking about Valorie. I cried for days … She came to me in my dreams. I would cry and then when I could finally sleep she came to me, as beautiful as always. Maybe to say goodbye.”
Five months later he won another savage brawl, also in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion, over Cornelius Boza-Edwards. Both title matches were broadcast on national television and both saw Chacon take incredible punishment and then come back to win, establishing him as one of the sport’s major attractions. The two slugfests won The Ring’s Fight of the Year awards for 1982 and 1983.
A big money showdown with Ray Mancini took place the following year. He was stopped in round three, but by then alcohol and drug abuse were starting to take their toll. Chacon’s prime was over. Unfortunately he would fight on, his final match taking place in 1988. By then the early signs of pugilistic dementia were evident and much of the money he had earned was gone thanks to recklessness and putting his trust in the wrong people. In 1991 his son was murdered and not long after he was seen wandering the streets, collecting aluminum cans to help him survive.
“I just didn’t take care of [the money],” Chacon said. “I trusted everyone. I thought everyone was my friend. Everybody was getting something. Now they’re all gone ’cause they can’t get anything from me.”
Thankfully, in his latter years he overcame his addiction to drugs and alcohol and received assistance from various individuals who remembered his ring exploits. In addition to three ex-wives, Chacon is survived by his son Jamie Chacon, daughters Donna and Alexis Chacon, mother Gloria Banegas, stepfather John Banegas, and several siblings.
“It was a thrill, breathtaking, to watch him perform,” former Forum boxing publicist John Beyrooty told The Los Angeles Times. “At his peak, he was the most talented, exciting, popular fighter there was. A legend, because of his enthusiasm to fight and never say die.”
Bobby Chacon was a great warrior who will be long remembered. The glory of his greatest victories will never fade. — Robert Portis