The mourning for former boxing champion Bobby Chacon is not over. Far from it. And it’s not just because he was one of the most exciting fighters of his era. Chacon was a guy’s guy, a ladies man, a people person. He might try to take your head off inside the ring, but he was generous and giving to a fault outside of it.
Most of all, Chacon, from Pacoima, was a Valley guy in the same way folks like Ritchie Valens, Danny Trejo, Levi Ponce and Anthony Davis are and were Valley guys. Even when they became nationally and internationally known, they were just as happy to be neighborhood icons.
So here’s guessing Chacon — who died on Sept. 7, at the age of 64, while in hospice care for dementia — would have immensely enjoyed the public memorial thrown for him at Steven’s Steakhouse in the City of Commerce on Sept. 23.
He would have been thrilled by the private dining room packed with relatives, former boxers, and fight aficionados all filling up on the buffet of chicken wings, meat balls, veggie platters and fruit, plus crackers and cheese. He would have been among those keeping the waitresses busy taking and receiving drink orders. He would have moved rhythmically to the oldies of War and Malo along with the live jams by the Shane Coleman Band.
“Bobby would have loved this,” noted longtime friend and boxing historian Gary Ballin. “No question about it, Bobby was a party guy. But acknowledgment, he loved. I went out with him a few times, anonymously … and even when he lost his speech he could still communicate. And he loved acknowledgement.”
There was a lot to acknowledge about Chacon, who graduated from San Fernando High and also attended Cal State University, Northridge. He was ferocious and relentless, winning 59 of 67 fights (with seven losses, a draw, and 30 knockouts) in 431 professional rounds. He won the World Boxing Council (WBC) featherweight and super featherweight world titles, and is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He battled many of the best of his era, both locally and internationally. A Chacon fight could make the old Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles shake down to its foundation from the thunderous punches exchanged to the roaring crowds that couldn’t get enough of the action.
He paid a heavy — perhaps ultimate — price for his devotion to his profession, and the perks it could provide.
“He could have been a defensive fighter. Instead he chose to be a man of war. His mantra was ‘people want to see a fight,’” said legendary boxing publicist Bill Caplan,who gave Chacon the nickname “Schoolboy.”
Bill Young Jr., the memorial’s master of ceremonies, remembered when Chacon met his father for the first time at one of his fights. Chacon’s reaction? “He seemed like a nice guy,” Young said.
But no one knows fighters like another fighter — two combatants who understand and accept the inherent danger of absorbing countless punches to the body and head. And those are just the ones you see coming.
Armando Muniz, who won the North American Boxing Federation welterweight title in 1971, was also a Southland favorite, who fought 23 times at the Olympic Auditorium.
“What I’ll remember most about Bobby is the ruggedness he took into a fight,” said Munoz, 70. “He never had an easy fight, and neither did his opponent for that matter. He came to fight. I remember the hard times he had with his first wife (Val). And that took a toll on him. But … he had a good life, I guess. He enjoyed everything he did.”
Munoz hesitated for a second. “He didn’t always realize what happened to him. Maybe it was better that way. But he was always happy to be around people.”
Danny “Little Red” Lopez, who was 42-6 with 39 knockouts and who won the WBC featherweight title in 1976, was one of Chacon’s most memorable opponents. The two men pounded on each other in their 1974 classic bout until Chacon scored a ninth round knockout.
“We became really good friends,” said Lopez, 64, who moves slowly these days and speaks softly in a high-pitched voice. “We played a lot of golf tournaments together. Every time I’d see him, he’d give me a big hug.”
Paul Banke, 52, had a 21-9 record with three knockouts and won the WBC Super Bantamweight title in 1990. But his career was short, in part to being the first boxer to publicly acknowledge he had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1995, which he said was due to drug use (oftentimes crystal meth) and careless sexual activity. He has been drug free since 2010. He is a survivor and a grandfather.
Banke was an admirer of Chacon.
“He was a legend,” Banke said. “They don’t make many champions like Bobby Chacon anymore. A lot of these young kids don’t know Bobby Chacon. [Oscar] De La Hoya was good, other fighters were good. Bobby Chacon was a warrior, a legend.”
Carlos Palomino, 67, had a 31-4-3 record with 19 knockouts and was a popular WBC welterweight champion in the late 1970s. He has fashioned a second career as an actor, whose next film, “Winter Eve” is scheduled for a 2017 release.
He said that era of boxing in Southern California that both he and Chacon were part of was historic.
“That era was just phenomenal because there was just so much competition,” said Palomino, who lives in Studio City. “On every corner there was a guy who could possibly beat you. There were no easy fights at the Olympic Auditorium. You had to earn your way up.”
Palomino first saw Chacon fight in 1972, after returning to California following his discharge from the Army.
“You fell in love with him because of his personality. He was just a great guy to be around: fun-loving, always met you with a big smile and a kiss on your cheek,” Palomino said.
The party on Friday went long and loud into the night. A public funeral was held Monday, Sept. 26, with the burial expenses being paid for by the WBC.
But Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon will always live in the hearts of Pacoima and the Northeast Valley.