Bobby Chacon started jumping up and down when the count reached five. His opponent was on the seat of his pants near the ring ropes, not about to rise again, and for the crowd from the streets of East Los Angeles and the dusty flatlands of San Fernando Valley, the scene was just right. It represented the ultimate victory of one of their own.
After Chacon had raised his arms in triumph, he leaned over the ropes to make physical contact with the cheering, stomping, waving crowd. Then he paused. "Where's my belt? Where's my trophy?" he asked. It was as if he had to see and touch the prizes before he could be sure he had come all this way from the days when his fights had earned him rewards of a different kind: appearances in juvenile courtrooms, charges of possession of drugs, a cop's nightstick splitting the top of his head.
In winning the vacant World Boxing Council featherweight title from Venezuelan Alfredo Marcano last Saturday night in Los Angeles' Olympic Auditorium, Chacon scored his 23rd knockout in 26 fights, a remarkable percentage for the 126-pound class. His manager, Joe Ponce, summed it up best. "God gave Bobby a heavy hand," he said.
Chacon threw his heavy right hand often in the early rounds, but they had little effect on Marcano, a former junior lightweight champion, who in his turn scored with several punches to the liver in the sixth and seventh that clearly hurt Chacon. Indeed, the Venezuelan appeared to be gaining command. Then he made a key mistake.
Instead of continuing to take the fight to Chacon, Marcano fought timidly in the eighth round, both boxers bouncing cautiously around the ring, exchanging a few punches, watching, waiting. That round of rest was all Chacon needed. He came out fast in the ninth and resumed his attack. Marcano, the 27-year-old veteran of nearly 60 fights, struck back and landed some punches, but it was too late. At 2:18 in the round Marcano walked into a short right uppercut that knocked him back on the seat of his pants. And there he remained.
Chacon began dancing around the ring. "I was celebrating," he said afterward. "I was praying, 'Stay down. Stay down.' "
Chacon's rapid ascent to the top has been accompanied by a popularity of extraordinary dimensions, particularly in the Los Angeles Mexican-American community. Despite an unlikely 6 p.m. starting time (to accommodate Venezuelan television), the fight drew 6,416 and took in more than $87,000 at the gate. Last May 16,080 jammed the Olympic to see Chacon beat Danny Lopez (the house record is 16,200 for the Muhammad Ali-Archie Moore fight in 1962) and closed-circuit television had to be set up nearby to handle the overflow.
On Labor Day some 4,500 fans came to the crumbling old downtown arena to applaud a routine Chacon sparring session. When the workout ended they lined up three deep around the ring, thrusting out paper for Chacon to autograph, hands for him to shake, babies for him to pat. It was a spontaneous display of mass affection that would have brought tears to the eyes of a political advance man.
The irony of this Latin adulation is that Chacon was born in the U.S., has been south of Tijuana only on a few vacations and speaks virtually no Spanish. Indeed, some of his fights have been against Mexican boxers who crossed the border accompanied by their own fans, to whom Chacon was the gringo. "They come up for their fighters," Bobby says. "I beat them and then they're for me."
Chacon's victory over Marcano technically gave him only one-half of the featherweight title, the WBC half. The World Boxing Association version of the championship still belongs to Ruben Olivares, who is perhaps the only local fighter as popular as Chacon. These factors, plus Olivares' 1973 victory over Chacon—Bobby's only professional defeat—would make a rematch for the undisputed title perhaps as big a fight as has ever been staged in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, such a fight may be a long way off because of the reluctance of each boxing faction to take a chance on losing its claim to the championship and because of unfriendly rivalry between the area's two major promoters. Olivares is tied up by Jack Kent Cooke's Forum, while Chacon, who has fought for Forum Promoter Don Fraser in the past, is committed to two more fights for Aileen Eaton, promoter at the Olympic.