When a good friend leaves us too early, it’s only natural to grieve. It’s a devastating blow to the gut that drops you to your knees. Then again, we have all learned through personal experience that it helps the healing process to remember the good times.
That’s how we should all feel about former boxing champion Bobby Chacon, 64, who passed away on September 7th while under hospice care in Lake Elsinore, California. All of us who knew Bobby were aware that he suffered through some horrible personal tragedies. But he always got up off the canvas and moved on with increased determination. He would want us to do the same and celebrate his life, even though we are still in pain.
A native of Pacoima, a predominately Hispanic community in the San Fernando Valley, Bobby Chacon grew up in a rough and tumble neighborhood and got into his share of street brawls. Yet, he didn’t need boxing to pull him from the rubble. Truth be told, boxing needed Bobby because he made such a dramatic contribution to the sport with his God-given ability. He was a legend in the 1970’s era when the sweet science was at its peak, especially on the west coast. Boxing and great music ruled the decade.
In 1972 at the tender age of 22, Bobby Chacon was unbeaten in 19 pro fights, most of the wins by knockout. Just two years later, he had already captured his first world championship in the featherweight division. Fast-forward another eight years and the durable Mexican-American would grab another belt in the next weight class, beating Rafael “Bazooka” Limon in a bruising 15 round battle that Ring Magazine recognized as the “Fight of the Year.” The bout was the fourth and final war Chacon weathered against Limon, but he also fought some grueling battles against ex-champion Ruben Olivares, the great Alexis Arguello and New York’s Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. He never ducked a potential foe and always fought the best, although few were his equal.
The confrontation that will always stick in my mind is when Bobby Chacon squared off against Danny “Little Red” Lopez early on in his career. The bout was hyped up as the “Los Angeles City Championship” and drew a capacity crowd to the L.A. Sports Arena. The promotion was too big for smaller arenas like the Olympic Auditorium. Lopez was 23-0 and Chacon 23-1, losing only to Olivares. On this night at least, Bobby was the stronger of the two and punched a lot harder, giving Danny his first taste of defeat via knockout in the ninth round.
Bobby Chacon was a lot like former lightweight king Mando Ramos, another Los Angeles idol from the 70’s hot bed of talent. Bobby was a good-looking, happy-go-lucky guy who loved to party, drink and socialize. In that regard, he was often a victim of his own circumstances, and got into some scrapes with the law. What mattered to Chacon most, though, was the fight game. He loved the roar of the crowd and that adrenaline rush. Boxing, more than anything else, was his whole life.
Chacon was a huge drawing card everywhere he performed and made top money during his prime. By the time 1982 rolled around, Bobby had fought for 10 years and had a fat bank account, despite his extravagant lifestyle. Bobby’s longtime sweetheart and first wife, Valorie Ginn, had urged him to quit many times. She had dreamed of relocating to Hawaii so they could raise children in a tropical paradise away from urban life and some of Bobby’s friends, who were often a distraction. Chacon struggled with her wishes and would continue to reject them, claiming that boxing was in his blood. So while Bobby was away for an up-coming bout, Valorie fatally shot herself in the head. What’s ironic is that later on in December of that year, Chacon would win the rubber match against Limon, knocking him down in the 15th round to gain a majority decision and savor the accomplishment of grabbing another crown. He dedicated the fight to his late wife, only to marry three more times.
Had the Chacon family moved to Hawaii, perhaps the couple’s 17 year old son, Bobby Junior, wouldn’t have been killed in an alleged gang conflict in 1991. The young man was living in Pacoima with his grandmother, and Bobby in Arizona. We all make mistakes and Chacon made plenty for sure. But that has nothing to do with this story.
I want to remember Bobby Chacon in a positive light, along with all the amazing battles that entertained his loyal fans. I feel blessed to have known this ring warrior, and was even invited to a couple of his post-fight parties. I was a young guy then and fit in with the crowd. My favorite sister from another mother, Martha Vital, comes from a great boxing family and probably hit the nail on the head in describing her lasting memory of Chacon.
“Rest in peace, my friend,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “You were always so happy, no matter what life threw at you.”