Like some cheesy Hollywood tearjerker, we’ve seen this pattern before: a once great fighter struggles with his newfound limitations, yet continues in the face of diminished skills, reduced box office receipts, and the memory of a once transcendent greatness. And Julio Cesar Chavez is no exception. Once the sport’s top pound for pound fighter, Chavez continues to fight on, over a decade past his prime, and over eight years since Oscar De La Hoya gave him the first of two beatings. The virtuoso performances, like the ones he put forth against Roger Maywether and Edwin Rosario, are long gone. His miraculous last second heroics against Meldrick Taylor are now history, a stark reminder of his former prominence.
The days of drawing over 130,000 fans for a fight against Greg Haugen are a distant memory. These days, Chavez can’t draw bees to a honey pot.Now, all he has are those memories, those recollections of pound for pound greatness, when he was on top of the pugilistic pedestal. And he continues to fight, over twenty-five years since his pro debut, in an effort to dip into the fountain of youth. But as he continues to fight, that fountain continues to empty.
On May 28th, Chavez puts life and limb on the line against Ivan Robinson, another fighter where the term “washed up” would be putting it nicely. It’s being billed as his “farewell to LA” fight, which is coming off the heels of his “farewell” fight against Frankie Randall. Seriously, what’s next for Chavez? Farewell to Fairbanks? Bon Voyage to Boise? Hasta La Vista to Hoboken?
When this fight was announced, it caused nary a whimper in the mainstream media. Amateur Canadian Curling received more press stateside.
This is another sad story, another example of the ring’s seductive allure. Our last image of Joe Louis consists of him being knocked through the ropes by Rocky Marciano, while our final memory of Sugar Ray Robinson is him being knocked down by the light hitting Joey Archer.
When Chavez defeated arch nemesis Frankie Randall last May to a chorus of cheers from the Mexican faithful, most felt it was the end of the line. He prevailed once again against the man who handed him his first professional defeat. While it wasn’t a picture perfect ending, it was satisfying nonetheless.
We all believed Chavez would instead focus on the pugilistic career of his son, eighteen year old Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. How stupid were we?
For young fight fans like myself, who weren’t cognizant of the fight scene during his heyday, all we have are tapes of Chavez's once potent powers. When I started following boxing, Chavez was rendered bloody and disfigured by the heir to the Mexican throne, Oscar De La Hoya. And that’s what I remember. All I’m left with is the image of a broken fighter, boxing’s version of Joan Rivers.
It’s sad to see our great sport reduced to punch-drunk relics looking to make one last score. In the past year, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Thomas Hearns have given intimations regarding possible returns. Even Meldrick Taylor, an ex-nemesis of Chavez, is only in semi-retirement. Sure, Chavez has the right to step through those ropes. But it doesn’t mean we care. When Julio Cesar Chavez walks out of the ring May 28th, presumably (and hopefully) for the final time, the curtain will close on a Hall of Fame career. But for most of us, that curtain has been closed for much longer.