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Original Issue


In winning a lightweight title, Julio Cesar Chavez hurt his opponent—and himself

"No, thank you," said a somber Luis Spada, manager of Rodolfo Aguilar, the World Boxing Association's No. 1 lightweight contender.

Spada had just spent a chilly Saturday night in the Las Vegas Hilton's stadium watching in quiet horror as Julio Cesar Chavez administered a nonstop beating to Edwin Rosario, the WBA's 135-pound champion, until referee Richard Steele took Rosario into protective custody at 2:36 of the 11th round.

To get a mandatory title fight for Aguilar, all Spada had to do was sign his name to a contract that had already been prepared, but doing that had lost its appeal. "There's no way I'm going to put my kid in with that Chavez," said Spada, who had made the long trip from Panama specifically to claim Aguilar's title rights. "I don't want to ruin his career. No title fight in the world is worth facing someone like that."

Moving up five pounds from the ranks of the super featherweights, where he has reigned as WBC champion since his eighth-round knockout of Mario Martinez on Sept. 13, 1984, Chavez may have fought his way into—and out of—the lightweight division in less than 33 minutes of fighting. In that brief span his swift, short hooks left Rosario nearly blind, with a shattered nose, a torn mouth and his body, if not broken, bent in agony. The next lightweight to face Chavez would have to be long on courage and short on smarts.

But then, as Chavez pointed out a few days before the bout with Rosario, he intends to tarry among the 135-pounders only long enough to unify the title before moving up to terrorize the junior welterweights. "After Rosario, I want to fight Jose Luis Ramirez, the World Boxing Council lightweight champion," said Chavez. "Then I can go after my third [different weight class] championship."

Someone asked Chavez if he wasn't forgetting the IBF, the International Boxing Federation, and its crowd-pleasing lightweight champ, Vinny Pazienza.

"What's an IBF?" said Chavez, whose record since turning pro in 1980, at age 17, stands at 55-0, with 46 knockouts.

Nine days before the fight, during a press conference in Los Angeles, Chavez was not feeling quite so merry. Tired of Rosario's name-calling and of taunts such as "I'm going to send you back to Mexico in a box, you coward," Chavez, who is from Culiacàn, Mexico, challenged the 24-year-old champion from Puerto Rico to a street fight. "Right now," Chavez snarled. "We'll find out who is the coward."

Ordinarily such prefight explosions are just so much hype, but this time Chavez seemed to mean it. "I'm a professional," countered a taken aback Rosario, who was getting paid $500,000 to fight Chavez in the ring. "I was calling him names, he was calling me names. I thought we were just helping promote the fight. I didn't know he was taking it all seriously."

Eyes snapping with fire, Chavez, who had signed for $400,000, said, "When it started, it was O.K. But Rosario has a big mouth, and the people around him have got big mouths. He went too far. When a man calls me what he called me, that's when the fight starts. To hell with the money. I had 200 fights in the street for nothing. What is one more fight for nothing?"

Chavez has replaced the late Salvador Sanchez in the hearts of his countrymen. Sanchez was the WBC featherweight champion from Mexico who was killed in an automobile accident in 1982 while still at the height of his career. Several songs have already been written about Chavez. And there's even one about his father, Rodolfo, a retired railroad engineer who in 1974 saved the town of Guamuchil, Sinaloa, by jumping into a locomotive at the head of a train of burning gasoline cars. The elder Chavez stayed at the throttles long enough to take the train into the virtually unpopulated area 10 miles outside of Guamuchil. "It was uphill all the way; the locomotive was puffing and barely moving," says Rodolfo, who was at ringside for his son's challenge to Rosario. "It felt like the train took a year to get there."

Rosario must have felt like he was getting a year's worth of punishment from Chavez. The challenger's battle plan was to stay on top of Rosario, whose record was 27-2. "I respect his punching," Chavez had said before the fight. "You can't give Rosario room to work." For most of the night the only thing closer to Rosario's face than Chavez's fists was his own mustache. Working flashing combinations of double and triple hooks from both sides, Chavez hammered at Rosario's body through the first six rounds. Then he went to work on the head.

Rosario's punching credentials are impressive. He has knocked out 23 opponents. But against Chavez his fists—even when they did penetrate a defense forged by Chavez's dazzling hand speed—hardly earned a blink, which can be wearing on even a champion's confidence. Rosario spent most of his time backed onto the ropes, trying to fend off Chavez's inexhaustible arsenal of short, cruel shots.

In the eighth round, as Chavez's efforts were almost exclusively focused on the head, features of Rosario's face became lost amid the lumps. Blood began to flow from cuts inside his mouth and from a cut on the edge of his right eye. One savage uppercut sent his gory mouthpiece flying.

By the end of the 10th round—when the fight should have been stopped—Rosario's left eye had been hammered shut. His right was a puffy slit. At that point Rosario's courage could not have been doubted; he should have been told to retire.

But no. His corner sent him out again. Rising from his stool, Rosario peered back at his people, as though questioning their judgment. Then he shrugged and went forward. For the next 2:36, he helplessly absorbed 73 punches from Chavez, only one of which was a jab.

Finally Rosario's trainer, Lalo Medina, threw in the towel, which caught referee Steele's attention when it smacked against his back. It came too late to qualify as an act of mercy.

Later, Chavez displayed a badly bruised right hand. The last two knuckles were black-and-blue and swollen. "I did it in the fifth round," he said.

"Did you stop throwing it?" asked someone who must have missed the fight.

"Are you crazy?" said Chavez. "It hurt, but I figured it was hurting him a lot more than it was hurting me." He was right about that.

Unless Ramirez or some other lightweight steps forward, Chavez will forgo his plan to unify the 135-pound title and move directly up to the junior welterweights. It should be noted that Roger Mayweather is the WBC champion in that division. The new lightweight title-holder has already met him, on July 7, 1985, in one of Chavez's nine defenses of the super featherweight championship. Knocked him out. In two rounds. It doesn't seem fair, does it, Roger?



Rosario's insults only served to make Chavez more determined.



A combination by Chavez sent Rosario's bloody mouthpiece flying in the final round.



Rosario's courage cannot be questioned, but the wisdom of his cornermen should be.



Steele told the exhausted and nearly blinded Rosario that he was done at 2:36 of the 11th.