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Fight #25: Bobby Chacon vs. Cornelius Boza Edward

Fight #25: Bobby Chacon vs. Cornelius Boza Edwards 2, May 15, 1983, Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, NV

During my years in graduate school, no book affected me more than Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. Finished as Fanon withered away from leukemia, it contains many ideas influenced by psychology from the middle twentieth century, some quite outdated and even embarrassing to read today. But it also expressed, in emotional and riveting language, exactly what divided the world of the colonizer from the colonized: a sense of life as it existed in wealth or poverty, valued or despised. Fanon reminds us that the colonizer lived in a world of plenty, of right angles and smooth surfaces, while the colonized suffer an anonymous fate of abject depravity and violence. These Wretched of the Earth, Fanon writes, "die anywhere, from anything." No one notices or cares. The world keeps spinning, capital keeps being accumulated, and the Wretched of the Earth remain invisible to not only the ruling class, but also the middle class, the working class, and even in some sense to each other.

Fanon's prescription for this condition was the violent overthrow of the entire system. In the famous film largely inspired by Fanonian ideas, The Battle of Algiers, we are introduced in the beginning to a character named Ali La Pointe, who is presented to us as a street criminal and thug, a member of this lumpenproletariat underclass. La Pointe goes on to join the National Liberation Front of Algeria and die a martyr to the cause for Algerian independence, his life sanctified by revolution. But at the beginning of the film, we are told that in his years of suffering prior to the liberation struggle, he was for a time employed as a professional boxer, a degraded form of violence that liberates no one and only furthers the fratricidal destruction of the wretched poor.

This is what boxing is: violence unredeemed by progress, existing in a form sharply commodified by capitalist structures. In a perfect world, there would be no boxing at all. But we don't live in a perfect world. And we don't live in a revolutionary world either, a world where the violence of the streets is transformed through class struggle into the creation of a socialist utopia. Rather, in our degraded world, the boxing ring is one of the very few places where a member of the lumpenproletariat, the wretched of the earth, can make his name resonate in the annals of history. Without boxing, nobody would have thought about Cassius Clay, or even bothered to know that he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Nobody would have ever cared about Max Baer, or Mike Tyson, or Manny Pacquiao. And you know for sure that absolutely no one would have given a shit about Bobby Chacon.

He was born in the San Fernando Valley, and grew up amidst the street warfare of the Chicano gangs in Southern California. He had ambitions in life, and we know that because despite himself being a member of such a gang, he graduated from high school and attended college, until someone suggested that he take the street fighting he had perfected with the gangs he belonged to and bring it to the boxing ring.

As a fighter, Chacon possessed great punching power, endurance, heart, and a willingness to take three punches to give one in return. Outside the ring, and even after the sport bestowed its material blessings on him, he was abusive towards his partners, and his children somehow still ended up a victim of the same life that he had supposedly escaped. In fact, not long after his career ended, Chacon himself was living on the streets, a victim of dementia caused by the endless blows to the head that he took during a 16-year career. Chacon died in 2016, at the age of 64, after suffering a fall. At the time he was already living in hospice care, an utterly broken man.

One can see the shadow of that future in this 1983 super featherweight rematch with the Ugandan fighter Cornelius Boza Edwards. Two years earlier, Edwards had stopped Chacon in the 14th round of a championship fight. This 12-round return match was Chacon's opportunity for revenge. In the lead-up to the fight, Chacon talked about how he wasn't going to go for the early knockout, that he was going to box and move and slip punches, but all that went out the window when the opening bell rang. Chacon and Edwards stood in front of each other, trading power punches and showing virtually nothing in the way of defense. It's just uppercuts and hooks, straight hands and crosses, almost like a featherweight version of a Rocky movie.

Edwards controlled most of the action, dominating with a very high work rate and stiff uppercuts that he threw and landed with regularity whenever he got Chacon pinned against the ropes. But Chacon didn't even seem to mind. He just fought off the ropes, looking to counter and score with straight rights. This strategy, if it can even be called that, won him the fight. He knocked Edwards down in the final seconds of the first round, after losing most of the round. He knocked him down again in the second round, after losing most of that round. In the third round, Edwards got his revenge, and put Chacon on the canvas. All the while, Chacon's face was being absolutely brutalized. By the sixth round, he had cuts over both eyes and a broken nose, and was gushing blood everywhere, especially over Edwards's white trunks, which were rose-colored by the end of the fight.

Throughout the second half of the fight, the TV commentator increasingly called upon the referee or doctor to stop the fight. Multiple times, Chacon was told he would only be given one more round. But then that round would end, and they would give him another one. And another one, and so forth. Though he was a gory mess, Chacon did reasonably well throughout the fight, usually beginning each round with a strong flurry and then trying to hang on as Edwards got his momentum going in the second half of each round. It was a difficult fight to score, with a lot of close rounds. I had it even through 11, and then in the 12th and final round, Chacon put Edwards down for a third time. Edwards got up and finished the fight, but the judges gave Chacon the unanimous decision victory.

It was an ugly fight, more of a butchery than an athletic contest. It's the type of fight that makes you question your life choices as a boxing fan. But there was something beautiful in it as well: Chacon himself. Throughout the whole ordeal, Chacon looked to be in his element, smiling, laughing, enjoying himself amidst all the carnage. The Las Vegas crowd picked up on his energy and chanted his name in the latter rounds, willing him to not only stay in the fight but to win it. The announcers worried several times about what this beating would do to him for the rest of his life, and in hindsight, we know a piece of him died in that ring on this day. But we also know that as a member of the lumpenproletariat, pieces of Bobby Chacon had been dying since the day he was born. If not for the ring, no one would have cared. That is the ugliness of boxing. It is not the violence of the ring itself, but rather that fighters need to suffer so publicly to be acknowledged in the first place. The ugliness of boxing is the ugliness of life in a capitalist society. The beauties of the ring are the beauties of a humanity that persists and even triumphs in the midst of that ugliness.

But make no mistake: if you ever want to know why fighters today don't fight as much, or why they retire earlier, or why they avoid taking lots of damage, Bobby Chacon is your answer. A Floyd Mayweather or a Guillermo Rigondeaux has no interest in dying of dementia in their early 60s. When they fight a risk-averse style that limits the punches they take, they are dancing with the demons of the sport, hoping to come out clean the other side. There's a beauty in that, too. And maybe, for both fighters and fans, a more sustainable kind of excellence in the CTE-aware universe of the 21st century.

Here is a video of the fight. Not for the faint of heart:

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