My compadre, the great boxer Bobby Chacon, died Wednesday, September 7, 2016 according to a news report I picked up from the Internet. We had long lost touch with one another. At the end he suffered from acute boxer’s dementia and fought addiction most of his adult life. The brother is now in a celestial place, next to his beloved Val and his oldest son.
I first came to know Bobby at Maclay Junior High School in Pacoima, California. Those school days were gritty and tough. If you didn’t stand your ground you got your ass beat and your [stuff] snatched from you. No one ever punked Bobby! If you messed with Bobby you were in for the fight of your life. He hated to lose in anything that he tried.
But you know the paradoxically insane thing is that Bobby was warm, generous and often sweet like pan dulce. He could disarm you with his smile and his jokes. But like with so many great athletes, Bobby had a dark and haunting side that he desperately tried often in vain to keep in check.
Bobby hardly knew his biological father; and the ghost of that father figure haunted Bobby. As 12-13 year old kids literally fighting our way through the angst of adolescence, poverty, gangs and a most uncertain future, I marvel at how mature this brother was for his age. He always had money in his pocket, he was treated as an equal by his many adult uncles and homies that hung out at his mother’s house it seemed all of the time. He did not suffer fools, but when anyone was in true need Bobby was always there to lend a hand.
At Maclay, I was the best athlete in school. I was well on my way to becoming the future shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bobby was not the best of baseball players, but he had guts and unrelenting work ethic that belied his age; and of course he backed down from no one.
Bobby was always the littlest guy on the team. He played catcher due to his toughness. Basketball, football, track, he competed in all these sports yet he could never excel in any of those sports. We were both great swimmers, an oddity since most of our many homies could not swim a stroke. We always managed to find a way to Zuma Beach, our favorite hangout. We often stayed the entire night, blazing and dropping acid; tripping and visualizing the madness and insanity of the Viet Nam war that was dragging, we feared, all of us into its death grip.
By the time we got to high school, Bobby had met his soul mate, Val, and for most of their high school history they were virtually inseparable. Bobby settled down with Val, worked for a time at Lockheed and at other dead end jobs that his uncles hooked him up with. Back in the day, you settled your disagreement with friend and foe with your fists. Bobby had found his niche; he was a great street fighter before he learned to become a great boxer.
In fact it was Val who pushed Bobby into boxing because he was getting into so many fights in the mean streets of Pacoima and San Fernando. So as providence would have it, Bobby met one of the best trainers in the entire world, a no-nonsense, tough as nails angel masquerading as a burnt out trainer/manager.
It was Joe [Ponce] that developed Bobby Chacon into one of the greatest featherweight champions in the history of boxing. At one time or another I have seen all of Bobby’s fights; and I can tell you without reservation that at his best Bobby Chacon was, pound-for-pound as great a fighter as there has ever stepped into the ring. Little Red Lopez, Bazooka Edwards, Rafael Limon and many other boxers crumbled under the tremendous punching power and a heart of lion that never quit!
Boxing made Bobby rich, famous and, like so many young athletes, the fame and glory intoxicated him. Bobby would box for many years, in some of the most glorious and savage fights ever witnessed. But by the time Bobby first became world champ I felt that he had lost his way.
In the vicious, dog-eat-dog world with entourage leeches nipping at your heels, Bobby lost all sense of day-to-day reality. He turned his back on Val, his children and his family. Life became one big party that would lead to horrific tragedy, death and chaos. His tragic life is well chronicled, and I do not wish to recount the pain and suffering my dear friend endured for what for him must have been an eternity.
Over the ensuing 50-some years, I saw Bobby infrequently. He was generally drunk, and collecting cans and bottles in the streets of Pacoima, pathetically recycling so he could gather enough money to get drunk again.
The boxer’s dementia had savaged his mind. Often it was hard to understand what Bobby was saying. He was mostly interested in drinking, wanting nothing more than to get lost in the fog of intoxication so that he could try to drown the many monsters that persecuted him constantly.
The last time I saw Bobby was years go in Pacoima. It was a chance encounter; he was walking down Van Nuys Boulevard. I pulled over and we made immediate eye contact. He ran up to me, tears welling in his eyes. He wasn’t drunk and he looked deep into my eyes. We could feel each other’s pain.
He gave me a big bear hug and gently whispered into my ear, “Mando, do you think I was the best?”
I replied, “Bobby you were the best featherweight the world has ever known! On your best day you could have knocked out all of the great ones.”
He found the street curb, sat down, placed his hands between his knees and sobbed for things that could have been.
Armando Vazquez lives in Oxnard and is the executive director of the Acuña Art Gallery/Café on A.
Public Tribute Set for Bobby Chacon
A public memorial for champion boxer Bobby Chacon will take place on Sept. 23 at Steven’s Steakhouse restaurant in the City of Commerce, beginning at 6 p.m.
Chacon, 64, died on Sept. 8. He had been under hospice care near Lake Elsinore for dementia. A private family service was conducted on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Chacon, a Pacoima native who graduated from San Fernando High School and Cal State University Northridge, went on to a Hall of Fame boxing career that included WBC featherweight and super-featherweight championships.
Steven’s Steakhouse is located at 5332 Stevens Place in Commerce, CA 90040.
Contributions for burial expenses can be donated at https://www.gofundme.com/2nu7htg.