The boxing champ who was haunted by tragedy
Boxing Hall of Famer Bobby Chacon was a crowd-pleaser, handsome and charismatic with a sunny grin that belied a turbulent life outside the ring. A quick, adroit stylist early in his career, Chacon morphed into a bruising, toe-to-toe brawler, battling some of his era’s finest fighters en route to titles in the featherweight (126 pounds) and superfeatherweight (130 pounds) divisions. With his gloves off, the 5-foot-6-inch Californian lived large and fast, falling prey to excessive drinking and drug use. Chacon also suffered devastating personal loss and, ultimately, the brain damage and dementia that afflict so many boxers. Yet he remained a blithe spirit. “Life, it ain’t the friendliest place to be,” Chacon once said. “But where else you going to be?”
Born to Mexican immigrants outside Los Angeles, Chacon was “a schoolyard brawler in a rugged neighborhood,” said The New York Times. While Chacon worked his way through junior college in a Lockheed factory, his future wife, Valorie, nudged him toward the ring, knowing he was handy with his fists. His “legend began rising under taskmaster trainer Joe Ponce,” said the Los Angeles Times. Chacon won his first 19 fights and in 1974 TKO’d Alfredo Marcano for the World Boxing Council’s featherweight crown. After losing his title the next year to Mexico’s Rubén Olivares, he continued fighting top competition. But in 1982 tragedy struck: Suffering from depression, Valorie shot herself to death on the eve of a bout, leaving Chacon with three children ages 11, 8, and 6. “She was tired of being a boxer’s wife,” said Chacon. “But boxing was something I had to do, to get out of my blood.” Shattered by the loss, he nevertheless went through with the fight the next day, knocking out Salvador Ugalde in the third round.
When Chacon retired in 1988, he “had a career record of 59-7-1, with 47 knockouts,” said The Washington Post. Although he’d earned millions of dollars in the ring, and once owned a fleet of Rolls-Royces and up to 40 horses, by 2000 “he was living in poverty, collecting cans along roadsides for resale.” Suffering from pugilistic dementia, Chacon carried a map of his neighborhood in his shirt pocket so he wouldn’t get lost. “I had a good life. I lost a good life,” he said in 2002. “I want that good life again.”