This is the second in a series of blog posts on those who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., on Sunday.
Julio Cesar Chavez had more than 30 professional victories to go along with his budding reputation as one of Mexico’s hottest prospects when he fought for the first time on U.S. soil.
However, his sixth-round knockout of Jerry Lewis on the undercard of Rafael Limon-Bobby Chacon IV in Sacramento, Calif., in December 1982 failed to make a lasting impression on the fans or those on press row that night. Part of the reason was that the main event, THE RING’s fight of the year, was so memorable. It was also because Chavez did what he was supposed to do with his journeyman opponent, who he had stopped in five rounds in his previous bout in Tijuana.
But it wouldn’t take long for the fresh-faced kid from Culiacan to live up to his hype. His third fight in the U.S., a 10-round decision over capable Adriano Arreola on the Alberto Davila-Francisco Bejines undercard in September of 1983, may have signaled the beginning of a legend.
“That was a tremendous fight, a one-sided war,” said veteran publicist John Beyrooty, who covered the card, which took place at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, for the now-defunct Herald-Examiner. “Chavez had an impressive record and a huge buzz was building among Mexican fans, but he had to prove himself against a decent fighter, which Arreola was.
“Arreola was tough and skilled and he had his moments, but Chavez had many more. I remember that the place was packed. It was a great crowd. I think he made his name in L.A. with that fight.”
Chavez made a name for himself throughout Mexico one year later when he won his first title, the WBC’s super featherweight (130 pounds) belt, with a bloody eight-round stoppage of battle-tested Mario Martinez in the same storied arena.
By the end of the decade, Chavez, who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., on Sunday, would be known to fight fans around the world as “El Gran Campeon Mexicano,” the great Mexican champ.
By the early ‘90s, when he had extended his incredible record to more than 80 consecutive victories, he was almost unanimously hailed as the greatest fighter ever from Mexico, a true honor given the country’s rich boxing tradition.
Chavez wasn’t the most talented or skillful fighter Mexico has ever produced. Fellow Mexicans who are enshrined in the hall of fame, such as Salvador Sanchez, Miguel Canto, Rubin Olivares, and Ricardo Lopez, were superior boxers in terms of their versatility, athleticism and technique.
However, Chavez is hands down the most accomplished Mexican fighter ever, and he’s arguably the most popular.
“He is beloved,” said Beyrooty. “He was so beloved that his fans couldn’t accept that he was done by the mid-to-late 1990s, when he lost twice to Oscar De La Hoya. They thought the cut made a difference in the first fight (with De La Hoya, a fourth-round TKO) and actually paid to see the rematch.
“But that’s OK. He was beloved because he earned it by fighting the best of his era.”
Chavez, who won his first title at age 22, defended the 130-pound belt nine times, including nationally televised victories over Top-10 contender Ruben Castillo (TKO 6), and respected former titleholders Roger Mayweather (TKO 2), Rocky Lockridge (MD 12), and Juan LaPorte (UD 12).