He is also, he says grinning broadly, JC's discoverer, was his sparring partner until recently and soon, he hopes, will be part of his management team. And maybe his laureate, as well. "I've got a group called Los Embajadores del Norte, and I've written a song about the Rosario fight," he says. "All we need is for somebody to put music to it."
It was his guitar, says Lopez, that brought him and JC together. "He loved to hear me play when he wasn't more than eight. He used to sleep over; he was one of the family. I even asked his mother if she would give him to me, so he could live here all the time." (He did not move in, although such an arrangement would not be thought of as unusual among poor Mexican families.)
Lopez laughs at a memory. "Hey, you know what was one of his first fights? With my sister! She used to throw a good punch, used to win a lot of fights in the streets against boys until she met JC. She must have been 14 then, and he was 12. He was corajudo, aguerrido, quick to flare up, warlike. That was the day my sister retired. She never fought again."
In spite of what promoter de Valdez says about the young Chávez, Lopez claims that JC, one of 10 kids, was never a street brawler. (In fact, Chávez studied civil engineering at the State University of Sinaloa, but he was poor, and he quit to box.) "No," says Lopez, "he didn't like to box at first. He'd prefer soccer or baseball. But I'd take him over to Costa Rica, a little town about five miles from here where there's some open country, and we'd fool around fighting there. But it was a long time before I could get him to put on the gloves in the gym."
Lopez drives to the gym, which is in another suburb, called Colonia Ejidal, where, on a dusty hillside, all the ancient T-Birds of Culiacán seem to have come to their rusty deaths. The gym is tiny. The walls are a sickly green. There is a poster that features the fighter on the undercard. And a notice that says FAVOR DE NO PONER LOS PIES EN LA PARED Y NO RAYAR—"please keep your feet off the walls and don't scratch."
It's the sort of gym where Latino champions are made. And it has not seen the last of the Fam. Chávez. Roberto, 15 years old, trains here. He has had six amateur fights and has won them all. "I went with him to the fights in Tijuana, and he was good," says Lopez. "Very brave, knows how to punch, moves like his brother. That daddy of theirs must have been some sire, hey?"
Lopez is very proud of his JC connection. "We party whenever he's in town," he says. "And in his next fight, I'll be in his corner."
For two months after the Rosario fight no one was at all certain who would occupy the other corner. Ordering seconds on shrimp in an elegant Mexico City restaurant, several light-years away from the little gym at Culiacán, Chávez ponders the suggestion that he is cursed by his own extraordinary talent, with fighters fearful of sharing the ring with him.
"Listen, don't you believe that," he says. "Don't you believe that I have no rivals brave enough to take me on. Los toros desde la barrera se ven muy bonitos. From across the barrier, all the bulls look pretty. There is no such thing as an easy fight. All fights are difficult for me."
Chávez's immediate future remains in the lightweight division; a title defense against Rodolfo Aguilar was finally arranged for April 16. After that, Chávez will take on his former stable-mate Jose Luis Ramirez for the latter's WBC lightweight title if Ramirez defeats Pernel Whitaker in Paris on March 12, by no means a certainty.