Bobby Chacon was a winner and a loser and I loved him dearly. He was a winner and a loser of many things—of world boxing championships, of untold millions of dollars, and, worst of all, of his beloved wife, Valorie.
Despite being maybe 5' 6" and maybe 125 pounds, he was a street fighter as long as I knew him, but he didn't show an interest in boxing until after high school. He showed a quick aptitude for the sweet science and turned pro after only a year. A publicist, trying to distinguish Bobby from the bazillion other Latino fighters in Southern California, had Bobby enroll at Cal State-Northridge. He became (for a time) "Schoolboy" Bobby Chacon.
Bobby threw himself into his career. Early on, he fought 15 bouts in one calendar year. (Most boxers will fight twice or maybe three times in a 12-month period.) He won all 15 bouts—14 by knockout—but back then he was only making a few hundred dollars per fight.
He married Valorie and, with a kid on the way, he won the World Boxing Council's featherweight title in only his second year as a pro. The big money started rolling in and he found ways to blow it all. He bought multiple Rolls Royces and put stuff up his nose. He lost his title and changed weight classes. (Very few boxers end up living happily ever after.)
He had an almost life-and-death rivalry with Rafael "Bazooka" Limon. Their fourth fight (which Bobby won in a 15-round decision) was Ring Magazine's 1982 Fight of the Year. The next year, Bobby's win over the long, lanky African fighter, Cornelius Boza-Edwards was Ring's 1983 Fight of the Year.
Starting in the late 1970s, Valorie, seeing how other fighters ended up, begged Bobby to quit the ring, but he refused. One night in 1982, she made one last plea for him to quit. He said no, so she shot herself in the head. In a cringe-worthy note, Bobby fought the very next night, winning by a savage third-round knockout.
His life spiraled downward after that, into blow and blown opportunities, a blown fortune, and multiple blown marriages. He served time in jail for domestic violence and his son, Bobby, Jr., was killed in a gang shooting not far from where Bobby and I grew up.
Like most people, I prefer to remember the good times. Bobby and I used to hang out with Gary Matthews, who was the 1972 National League Rookie of the Year with the San Francisco Giants and later had a stint with the Chicago Cubs, where his adoring fans referred to him as "The Sarge." I know, I know, a world boxing champion and a 15-year major leaguer; what happened to me?
There was an "S" curve in the road that ran through the middle of The Projects. Bobby, Gary and I would get a dummy and put it in the street. People would run over it and they thought they had hit a little kid. I'm sorry, folks, but that's ghetto entertainment at its finest. We enhanced the experience by getting a giant moving-van crate and putting it on the curb. We'd climb inside it and look through cut-out eyeholes so we could view the mayhem up close.
One woman swerved to avoid it (everybody drove too fast through The Projects) and went up on the other curb and hit a tree. Then, one night, this guy comes barreling through the curve, runs over the dummy ("Bump, bump!"), and slams on his brakes. He stumbles out of his car, obviously inebriated, picks up the dummy and the head falls off. The guy freaks out and we laughed so hard that the box tipped over into the street. The guy got so mad that he kicked a hole in the box trying to get at us. Bobby grabbed the guy's leg and bit it.
Man, that was a great night.
Bobby and I would also serve Mass together. We would volunteer to do funerals because we would get paid and neither of us was afraid of dead bodies. (We had a crazy parish priest who would pull out of the funeral procession and drive through Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the cemetery.)
A few years ago, I decided to go visit him. He was living in a rundown boxing gym in Downtown L.A., serving as a janitor in exchange for a cot in the back. He would also go out collecting cans to make a few bucks at the recycling place.
Back in the day, he and I both had curly black hair. Mine is long gone now and I've grown fat; I was afraid that he wouldn't recognize me. As it turned out, he was like the drugged-out former numbers runner that Richard Pryor used to talk about: He didn't know who he was. He was deep in pugilistic dementia.
A few weeks ago, he was living in a facility for dementia patients. He slipped, hit his head, and died. I went on YouTube and watched a couple of his fights. (I'm not a boxing fan.) Then, I listened to Warren Zevon's song, "Boom Boom Mancini," with the chorus "Hurry home early/Hurry on home/ Boom Boom Mancini's fighting Bobby Chacon."
Now, at last, Bobby's hurrying on home.