"It's a puzzle to me," says Goodman. "He's good-looking, intelligent, sensitive, bright-eyed, quick to smile and such a tremendous lighter. But the average guy on the street still doesn't know who he is."
"He never became what he should've," says trainer Lou Duva. "He should've been taught English, he should've had much more p.r. You don't fight for Mexico when you're as good as Ch�vez. You fight for the world. But you can only do that by speaking to people. Maybe he's done great things, but who the hell knows?"
No doubt his lack of renown outside Mexico is partly because Ch�vez does not speak English—beginner's mistakes singed his fierce pride the few times he has tried—but, then, did Dur�n? It's also because of the promotional neglect of Don King, whose preoccupation with the heavyweight division and with Tyson often left Ch�vez languishing on under-cards as Tyson's warm-up wrecking ball. And, yes, there was Ch�vez's lack of a foil—no household name to dance to the edge of death with, no Ali's Frazier, no Leonard's Dur�n or Hearns. "Sure," says Goodman, "but a fighter this good...."
Roosters peck at the streets in the neighborhood where the world's greatest fighter lives. Black ribbons flutter from the doors of those murdered in the drug wars. Donkeys nibble on the weeds and rust eats at the corrugated metal roofs. But when people ask Ch�vez why he has not moved to a more exclusive neighborhood, he shrugs and says he would be content to live in this house forever, if only there were more room for his three limousines, three Corvettes, two Grand Marquis, two Lincolns, two Suburbans, two antique Fords, a Cougar, a Jaguar, a Lamborghini, a Mustang and a Stealth.
It is nearly 11 a.m. now, and the egg salad sandwich on the knee of Ch�vez's stumpy, bald-headed trainer, Crist�bal Rosas, grows stale as he sits on the sidewalk, beneath the security camera that peruses the men who wait on the street...but still no one grows impatient. They help two of Julio's sons, Julio Jr., 6, and Omar, 2, lace on boxing gloves that come up nearly to the boys' armpits, and they laugh as the children whale away at each other. They turn on their car tape players and sing along as Culiac�n native son Chalino S�nchez sings songs of men cradling machine guns and beautiful women. They know something: Julio needs them. Not for the spit bucket or the Vaseline, not for audience or ego or lies, as other fighters need entourages. No matter how many bodies surrounded the great fighters, nearly all had one thing in common. Each, deep within, was a lone wolf stalking the woods, a solitary man on a quest, one Me against the World. More than money or fame, what kept drawing them back to the ring was this: Nowhere else can a man more purely define his singularity, hammer out his selfhood.
But Ch�vez doesn't go into the ring to forge a persona, and so—is it any surprise?—he has none. Consider the entrances that he and Hector Camacho made for their fight last September in Las Vegas. Camacho fluttered down the aisle in a tricolored cape and mask, his arms thrust to the sky, his shoulders shimmying to the music, lost in the swirling vortex of himself. Then came Ch�vez. Julio Jr., whose shirt his father had just made sure was tucked in, was perched upon the shoulders of Julio's cousin Juan, right behind the champion. Julio was one of a group, the head of a phalanx, and the instant that one of his brothers was jostled by a security guard, Ch�vez lost the businesslike calm that he always carries to a fight, turned his back to the ring, shook his fist and screamed, in Spanish, "Leave my brother alone!"
Julio's mother, Isabel, remembers the evening 17 years ago when her family hugged the ground as bullets from the drug gangs' machine guns ripped the air all around them. She remembers the sobs from Julio's chest when he realized what a quiet family evening in Culiac�n could become. "Ever since he was a very little boy, he has had this idea in his head that he must take care of all the people around him," says Isabel. "He was the little father of our family. If his brothers earned a few centavos, he would scold them for spending it on tortillas. He would say, 'We must give all of it to our mother.' "
When Julio was a child, there were so many mouths and there was so little money in his home that his family often hacked a green weed called quelite and boiled it to cat. His oldest sister, Perla, invented pains all over her body to con free medicine from the doctor; she would then sell the medicine in order to buy food. When the mangoes ripened, Julio's older brothers swam across the canal behind their house and raided the grove. One day, before Julio had learned how to swim, one of his brothers pressed a 20-centavo coin into his palm to ease his frustration and told him to wait. Julio stood there in the shallow water, the great six-year-old provider, picturing himself handing the coin to his mother, unmindful of the current sucking at his legs. All at once the water had him, and the bottom was gone. He tumbled and flailed and gasped as the water swept him in over his head, an image of the family he would never see again flashing in his mind and then fuzzing. "Look! It is Julio!" One of his brothers' friends raced along the bank and dived into the canal. When it was over, when Julio had coughed up all the water and was lying on the dirt, somebody peeled back the fingers of his pale blue hand. Inside was the copper coin for his mother.
"Man, I can't explain Julio," says Camacho. "I spent a few days with the guy in Culiac�n. He's a gentleman. He's always smiling and drinking beer. He always has a lot of people around him. But you barely notice him. It was me carrying the show wherever we went. He's got to be crazy in some way. To do what we do, you can't be in your right mind. I just don't know what kind of crazy he is."
Death is such an easy thing for great Mexican fighters to find. It hangs every night like the moon, just waiting, over a land of men brought up to believe that the beer can between their legs and the accelerator beneath their feet are part of what makes a man a man; it hangs there, so pale and fat and low you can touch it, right above the shoulders of Mexico's purest strain of machismo, its men of men, its boxers. Just a few drinks and a few minutes to touch his girlfriend—that's all Salvador S�nchez, the 23-year-old world featherweight champion, wanted when he sneaked out of training camp one August evening in 1982. He died that night when he ran his Porsche head-on into a truck. Then there was Gilberto Rom�n, twice junior bantamweight world champion in the '80s, who died two years ago in a beer-and-wine-soaked collision with a truck. And former super featherweight world champion Ricardo Arredondo, who was drunk when he died on impact with a bridge stanchion in '91. And Clemente S�nchez, ex-featherweight world champion, who on Christmas Day 1978 exchanged insults with the driver of another car, jumped out to confront the man and was met by a bullet.