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Original Issue

'Fighting Is Like A Wife'

Bobby Chacon's wife took her life, and his title was taken away, but he remains wedded to boxing

If he'd used logic, Bobby Chacon would have retired from the ring on the night of May 30, 1981. But then logic and Chacon have never gone hand in hand, or even toe to toe. On that night in May two years ago, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, then the WBC super featherweight champion, knocked out Chacon in the 13th round. Chacon was 29, an "old 29"—boxing's way of describing a fighter who has had too many fights and lost the extra quickness that's essential in the lighter weight divisions. Chacon had had 52 fights; he had held the WBC featherweight championship for nine months back in the mid-'70s; and after the licking by Boza-Edwards he looked finished. But Chacon didn't see it that way. "I sensed something fighting against Boza that night," Chacon says now. "I felt older, smarter. I felt I knew how to beat him."

As a result, Chacon's life, which already had taken some bizarre twists, took a new turn. Last Dec. 11, he won the WBC super featherweight title from Rafael (Bazooka) Limon. Then on May 15 of this year, Chacon fought Boza-Edwards again and won a unanimous decision, even though he bled through most of the fight from cuts around the eyes that afterward required 40 stitches.

Given his new championship, his first in seven years, and his win over Boza-Edwards, Chacon should have been on top of the world. And he was, until last week, when the WBC stripped him of the title for not fulfilling a contract to fight the No. 1 contender. Hector (Macho) Camacho of New York. The contract is with Don King, who uses the WBC as his enforcement tool. King, who signed Chacon to a Camacho bout well before Chacon's win over Boza-Edwards increased his earnings potential, offered $450,000. No way, says Chacon, who wants $1 million for a Camacho fight. The legal consequences are: King has a suit against Chacon for breach of contract, and Chacon was planning to file an action early this week against the WBC.

Stripping a champion of his title isn't a new practice in the sweet science, but the Mexico City-based WBC, which along with the Panama-based WBA issues rankings and sanctions title fights, has been outdoing itself of late. The WBC threatened to strip the title from Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the undisputed world middleweight champion, and preposterously blustered about taking the title away from Larry Holmes, its own undefeated heavyweight king. But Chacon, who lacks the stature of a Holmes or a Hagler, is vulnerable politically to the machinations of the WBC, no matter how many hearings on boxing the U.S. Congress holds. "You win and defend the title in the ring," says Chacon's attorney, Thomas Winfield, "and Bobby has done that. He's still the guy who beat Limon for the title and defended against Boza-Edwards, then the WBC's No. 1 contender. In the eyes of the American people, Bobby is the champion."

True, but oddly enough such logic eludes Chacon. "I don't care about the title," he says. "I'm in this for the money." But without a title Chacon would have trouble getting $450,000 to fight Camacho, let alone the $1 million he insists he's worth. He wants it all, even though he risks losing it all, which is the way Chacon has lived his whole life.

Chacon grew up near Los Angeles, in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. He had three brothers and three sisters, all younger, and they were raised by his mother, Gloria, and stepfather, John Banegas. At Maclay Junior High and San Fernando High, Chacon was a good athlete, a so-so student—although of Mexican descent, he flunked Spanish—and a tremendous street fighter who carried a blackjack in his lunch pail. In 1968, his junior year at San Fernando High, Valorie Ginn enrolled. She was a quiet, attractive girl of Chinese and Irish extraction, and Chacon was transformed when he saw her.

"I was having a party, and I asked her if she wanted to go," he recalls. "We were never really apart after that." He began seeing less of the streets and more of Valorie. They watched fights from Los Angeles' Forum and Olympic Auditorium on TV, and Valorie, knowing that Bobby was handy with his fists, told him, "You can do that. You know you can."

"I gave boxing a try because she asked me to," Chacon says. "I went into Jimmy Flores' gym in Pacoima with long hair and jeans. They told me to come back the next day with a haircut and five dollars. I didn't have five dollars, so I went to work out in Rocky Lane's garage. I was down from 145 pounds to 125 in six weeks." He was working as a laborer at Lockheed and thinking about getting a boxing license. But Valorie was a step ahead of him. "She called me one day and said she was bringing my lunch," he says. "The license was in it."

Chacon's amateur career was brief. "I knocked out the first guys I faced in two rounds or less," he says. Joey Ponce, still Chacon's trainer, was then also his manager. In 1971, Bobby and Valorie were married, and the next year he turned pro. In his first year he faced 15 opponents and beat them all. He knocked out all but one, and he didn't get more than $375 for a fight until the 12th—against Juan Montoya. His purse was $1,000.

In June of 1973, Chacon was a cocky 19-0 when he faced former world bantamweight champion Ruben Olivares for $10,000 in the Forum. Valorie was four months pregnant. Olivares knocked out Chacon in the ninth round. But Chacon bounced back. In September of 1974, he knocked out Alfredo Marcano in the ninth round to win the WBC world featherweight championship. In March of 1975, Chacon made his first defense of the title, knocking out Jesus Estrada in the second round. Then that June he fought Olivares again, but he was 14 pounds overweight two weeks before the fight. The enforced dieting he had to undergo made him very weak. He tipped the scales at 124½, a pound and a half under the limit. At the weigh-in Olivares grinned and said, "Chacon said he was going to knock me out in three rounds. Well, I just saw him. I'll knock him out in one or two." This time, Olivares knocked out Chacon in the second.

After losing the featherweight title, Chacon wandered in the wilderness almost as long as Muhammad Ali had—7½ years—before becoming a champion again. That's a long time between titles, particularly in the lighter weights, where a boxer reaches his peak almost as early as a girl swimmer.

Less than a year after Chacon lost the title, in February of 1976, a club fighter named David Sotelo battered him bloody and nearly unconscious. Chacon's purse was $4,500. In tears, Valorie went to the dressing room in the Olympic Auditorium and asked her husband to retire. He agreed. "Boxing was something he was good at," Valorie told reporters, "but something he's done for long enough."

But in the next few years he returned to the ring a number of times and retired a number of times. Valorie grew fearful of what might happen to Bobby. She was also concerned about his behavior out of the ring. "She thought no one loved her," Chacon says. "She wanted me to sit down and love her. Valorie was a homebody. I fooled around and she left. I promised I'd give up playing around to get her back. Val was always home with the babies and never got the chance to develop her head."

In 1979, after Chacon was stopped in seven rounds by Alexis Arguello, then the WBC super featherweight champ, Valorie insisted that the family move from the San Fernando Valley to Palermo, 65 miles north of Sacramento. Alan Ginn, one of Valorie's three brothers, had bought 40 acres of land outside town, and he sold 20 of them to Bobby and Valorie. They moved into a double-wide mobile home on the property in 1980.

In 1981 Chacon had five fights, including his loss to Boza-Edwards. While he was away on boxing trips, Valorie's mother, Mae, would come to visit. Valorie was depressed. "She felt bad all the time, not just around his fights," says Bob Huskey, a family friend. "Bobby was taking a lot of punishment. Valorie felt guilty. She had gotten him into fighting, and now she couldn't justify it in her mind."

By all accounts, Valorie was also becoming paranoid. "She was afraid, so she made me buy her a rifle," Chacon says. "She'd say, 'Bobby, we've got to fence this place in.' She knew how to use the rifle. I had taught her."

In February 1982, Valorie attempted suicide while Chacon was in Sacramento fighting Renan Marota. "She pleaded with me not to go," Chacon says. "She was weak-looking. She took sleeping pills. She told our daughter Johna, 'Now I'm going to lock this bedroom door. Don't you let anyone bother me.' "

Johna, then 11, obeyed her mother. After a while, Ginn came over and asked for Valorie. When he couldn't open the bedroom door, he took off the hinges and rescued his sister. "She got mad at the hospital when she woke up and found out that she wasn't dead," Chacon says. "She ripped the tubes out of her arm and walked out. She disappeared. I suppose she thought I had something going on the side."

Valorie was missing for a month, until she was found wandering around the airport at Sacramento, muttering about guns. "When I came to get her, she looked beautiful, like always," Chacon says. "I never even thought about her seeing a psychiatrist. Never. I wouldn't do that. She had lost 20 pounds between January and March. She just wanted me to get out of boxing. And I wanted to get out. But I went to Sacramento to get ready to fight [Salvador] Ugalde. We talked on the phone. We argued."

On Monday, March 15, five days after Valorie had been found at the airport, Chacon says that Mae called him to say, "Bobby, Val's acting real funny." Several minutes later, Mae was on the phone again. Says Chacon, "It sounded like she was laughing. She was hysterical. She said, 'Bobby, Val's shot herself.' "

The rifle at home was usually not loaded because Mae was afraid of guns. But before Chacon left to fight Ugalde, Valorie asked him to load it for her protection and he did. A little after noon on March 15, Valorie kissed her children's pictures, locked the bedroom door, placed the barrel of the loaded rifle against her head and pulled the trigger. After Mae told Chacon what had happened, he all but burned up the engine of an Oldsmobile Omega speeding from Sacramento to Palermo.

The next night he was back in Sacramento for the fight with Ugalde. A ring physician, Dr. P.B. Montemayor, checked Chacon's blood pressure 10 times in 30 minutes before the fight, and it remained a low 110 over 70. Dr. Montemayor told Herb Michelson of the Sacramento Bee, "I could not even say Bobby was in grief; the fight was all I think he had on his mind."

Alan and Valorie's father, James Ginn, were in Chacon's corner that night. Alan stayed with Chacon and spoke to the press for him. Chacon says he asked James if he should fight, and James replied, "Let's fight and get it over with." Chacon adds, "He loved Val so much. He said that she came back to him in a dream. He told me she'd come to say goodby to me. He had a bad heart attack late last year. They said he was dead for three minutes. But he said Val sent him back."

Chacon knocked out Ugalde in the third round, setting the stage for his December challenge for the title against Limon, whom he had fought three times previously, losing the first, drawing the second, winning the third.

"There was bad blood between us," Chacon says of Limon. It was the fight of the year, Aaron Pryor vs. Arguello notwithstanding. (And his recent match with Boza-Edwards was the most action-packed major fight so far in '83.) In the final seconds of the 15th round, Chacon floored Limon, won the round, therefore the fight and the title. Afterward, Chacon went to see Limon in his dressing room, and the loser told him, "I'm sorry about your wife. Take care of your children."

Chacon is standing in the bedroom of the mobile home. "It happened here," he says. "I couldn't believe how much blood. I turned her over, saw the hole." His voice quavers. "Alan was the one who found her, taking her last breaths. When I saw her she looked as beautiful to me as ever."

The three children, Johna, 12, Bobby Jr. (Chico), nine, and Jayme, seven, are there in the mobile home with Chacon. "They know that I'm not going to let them go," he says as Melissa Mendonsa, his girl friend, prepares dinner. "I don't want them alone. I fear that."

Meanwhile, Chacon plans to continue in the ring. "Fighting is like a wife, you know," he says. "It can be good, if you treat it right. If you don't treat it right, it will know because, like a wife, it's with you all the time."


Chacon spurned $450,000 to fight Camacho, so the WBC stripped him of his title.


Among the diversions on Chacon's spread are rides on a four-legged featherweight.


His blood-and-guts defense against Boza-Edwards eventually cost Chacon 40 stitches.


Valorie urged Chacon to fight—and then to quit.


Chacon's first family (from right), Johna, Jayme and Chico, have become accustomed to the new lady in his life, Mendonsa.