The Biggest Heart In Boxing


        “Bobby Chacon’s up on Main Street,” said Julian, as we sat in the L.A. Boxing Gym watching young fighters battle with various bits of swinging equipment. “I’ll take you up there if you like.”

     That was the first time I met Chacon and years after he rose to become one of the most devastating boxers in the world and after he became damaged goods, but was still childishly comprehensible. I thought of him again after finding several pictures I had taken during that first visit. What a smile he had; and what a personality. For such a vicious fighter he oozed kindness and gentleness.

     Julian Trazik is the world’s most uncommon Welshmen. His energy might well have upset the whole British Empire. Moving to the U.S. probably saved a nation and has allowed Britain to remain slumbering in drizzle and fog. His inability to sit still keeps him prowling the streets of L.A., and the rest of the U.S., twenty-three hours a day. He has a fascination with boxing and boxers. Of course he would know where to find a former world champion. He knows where to find anyone.

        Boxers came no tougher than Bobby Chacon. What he lacked in skill he more than made up for in heart. If fact, there has never been a bigger heart in boxing. A great puncher, he unfortunately never developed his defensive skills but instead relied on his ability to walk through punches. Chacon was a destructive machine with no reverse gear. More than once fighters simply lost heart after hitting Chacon with their best shots only to find him smiling and moving forward.

Chacon is one of the few boxers to have consecutive “Fight’s of the Year” in Ring Magazine. His December 11th, 1982 war for Bazooka Limon’s WBC Junior Lightweight title was all-out war. In 1983, no one gave him a chance against one of the slickest and hardest bangers in boxing, Cornelius Boza-Edwards. Edwards put Chacon down several times and sliced him up in a fight that would have been stopped today. But Chacon came back and put Edwards down several times, including the last round, to win the fight in a battle that remains one of the toughest and bloodiest in boxing history. Any other fighter would have given up. Chacon is not any other fighter.

        To tell the story of Chacon’s life is a boxing redundancy. A small young man from Pacoima, California, in the valley, looks for a sport where he can be competitive. While still in high school he turns to boxing, is known as “the Schoolboy,” and eventually becomes both the WBC featherweight champion of the world and the WBC junior lightweight champion of the world. As champion, an enormous amount of money falls at his feet. He drives a Bentley and owns an 80-acre horse ranch in the hills. He eventually loses the championships, the money and the ranch. His wife commits suicide. His son is killed in a gang incident. Penniless, he ends up on the streets of L.A., another receptacle for drugs and alcohol.

        The real story of Bobby Chacon, when I met him, was more recent, the story of a long journey that, like all good journeys in life, lead him back to himself, to his inner self, his inner nature. All the time spent in the ring, the glory, the money, the great heartache and sorrow, Chacon was trying to find himself, his true nature, what he was as a man, what he meant to himself and to others, and how he fit into the world.

        If happiness is the true measure of a person’s existence, then Bobby Chacon was truly a king. People on the outside might not have known that. They might have seen a man with few possessions, a man living in a cramped skid row room at the Huntington Hotel, on L.A.s Main street. The room, on the fourth floor, was crowded with clothes, a single burner hot plate for heating meals, an outhouse sized toilet, and boxes of reproduced articles. The original articles had all been given away or stolen. Even one of Chacon’s title belts was stolen. People who judged Chacon by his possessions had no understanding of what is important in life.

        People who felt sorry for Chacon because his memory was failing, because he was suffering from pugilistic dementia, because he lived off a social security disability pension did not understand that high gains require high risks and that just possibly it is better to have been the best in the world at something, than to have slogged through a life of mundane anonymity.

        Mostly, people were unable to get past the visual to the spiritual. Chacon had never happier then when I saw him. He had learned to use his former fame to help the less fortunate.

        Berlin Roberts, a former boxer in the Ali stable, and Marshall Wright, a boxing aficionado who created the International Shrine for Boxing and Wrestling, helped Chacon off the streets. Of course, neither Roberts nor Wright could have helped Chacon without the help of a remarkable man named Mike Chimali.

        Chimali had his own story to tell but briefly, it involved emigrating from Lebanon, attending Glendale College, then UCLA law school, then living in his car, then on the streets before pulling himself back up to manage and recondition hotels and apartments.

        In the presence of Chimali, one got the feeling that all things were possible. He was known as the “Mayor of Main Street” and he believed that, even on skid row, a community existed.

        While on the streets, he discovered how appalling the lives are for the homeless, especially the mentally ill, especially the women. “They are constantly raped and abused,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help them, to give them a place where they can feel safe.”

        As manager of the Huntington Hotel, he had almost 30 mental and emotionally disturbed people living there. He opened a section on the ground floor for the Main Street Gym 111 and for Marshall Wright’s collection. He hoped to open a larger gym next door later that year. He started a nonprofit corporation located at 752 S. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA. 90014 (phone: 213-505-0055) to help with the funding.

        Chimali believes that people, especially youth, need heroes and inspiration. Street kids especially need inspiration. Making Chacon head trainer at they gym was a perfect marriage of champion and the down trodden. Even without his knowing it, Chacon had been working toward this job all his life.

        Everyone at the gym was a volunteer and all services were free. The gym operated strictly through donations. Already young people had been pouring in for help. The gym was connected with the local community college where other services were being offered. Help with school, reading and writing, and even computer help was planned for the future. The feeling of generosity and community was spreading. Bruno Harve-Commereuc, owner of the Angelique Cafe, had donated food for various gym events.

        But the lure was Bobby Chacon, former world champion. Chacon was the most loved person in the area. Kids flocked to the gym where he gave them first-class instruction. The intent of the instruction was not to make them professional boxers, but to give them discipline and structure and to remove their aggression. After boxing and working out for several hours, they did not feel like going out onto the streets and fighting.

        When Chacon went onto the streets, people almost mobbed him. They wanted to shake his hand and to say they once met him. Kids wanted to say he had trained them. The little kids liked to say they knocked him out because when Chacon punched with little kids, he always landed on the canvas, a big smile on his face, as the kids stared in amazement.

        Bobby Chacon had found himself and continued to prove that he had the biggest heart in boxing. Along the way he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame, was the Ring magazine comeback fighter of the year, listed by the Ring as one of the best 100 greatest punchers, and was twice involved in Fights of the Year against bouts with Boza-Edwards and Bazooka Limon.

     His health continued to deteriorate and he was finally placed into a nursing home where he suffered a fall and died in September, 2016. I still remember his smile.

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