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.