Chavez meeting Randall in farewell fight

Updated: May 20, 2004, 2:20 PM ET
Associated Press

ZINACANTEPEC, Mexico -- He was once considered the world's greatest boxer, an angry and punishing fighter who intimidated opponents outside the ring and beat them badly inside it.

Today, Julio Cesar Chavez is a soft-spoken, middle-aged man who grumbles about cold weather and lies awake at night worrying about the prizefighting career of his 18-year-old son.

Chavez will square off against Frankie Randall in Mexico City on Saturday at the 45,000-seat Plaza Mexico in a bout dubbed "Goodbye, Mexico ... Thanks.''

He has been talking about retirement since 2000 and has had a slew of "final'' fights. But Chavez insists he's hanging up his gloves for good this time.

"I'm not coming back,'' he said during an interview in the mountain town of Zinacantepec, where he trained for the Randall fight. "The fans wanted me to fight in the United States after this. They wanted me to fight one last time for all the Hispanics there. But no, sincerely the answer is 'no.' ''

Wearing a knitted cap and sweat suit, Chavez looked older than his 41 years. His compact frame is still menacingly muscular, his chin still chiseled. But deep creases and wrinkles now cut deeply into a face and forehead that have absorbed decades of blows. The skin around his biceps has begun to sag slightly.

"I think 113 fights are really enough,'' he said.

Chavez, 105-5-2 with 85 knockouts, began his career by going an astounding 90 fights without a loss, capturing WBC titles in three weight classes.

It was Randall who knocked Chavez down for the first time during an upset victory by decision in Las Vegas on Jan. 29, 1994. Chavez, who has never been knocked out by an opponent, recovered to beat Randall in a rematch four months later.

Chavez said the first Randall fight served as a wake-up call, helping him to hone ring habits that had become sloppy. The farewell fight is also called "The Final Revenge.''

"It's the fight of my life, and I wanted it to be against Randall,'' Chavez said.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Randall said beating Chavez was the highlight of his career.

"That was my best fight,'' the 42-year-old fighter known as "The Surgeon'' told reporters in Mexico City. "Knocking him down, that really meant a lot to me.''

Chavez, who was once represented by Don King, made at least $11 million during his 21-year professional career. But exorbitant spending, legal battles with his estranged wife and questionable accounting practices have often left him strapped for cash.

In June 1998, he was arrested in his hometown of Culiacan for tax evasion and had to fork over more than $1 million in fight purses to cover debts to the Mexican government.

Financial trouble is a major reason he has kept returning to the ring in recent years -- even when many questioned his worthiness. Chavez says this month's fight is not about money, however.

As his career declined, Chavez fell out of the world sports spotlight. But he remains a hero in his homeland, on par with countrymen Hugo Sanchez, who broke goal-scoring records with soccer powerhouse Real Madrid, and ex-Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Fernando Valenzuela.

"He is a fighter who everyone, including other boxers, thought was the best, invincible,'' said Jose Sulaiman, president of the World Boxing Council, the sport's governing body, based in Mexico City. "The boxers knew he was unbeatable, and they never spoke badly of him. They didn't want to make him mad and give him another advantage.''

Sulaiman said Chavez's 37 fights with the world championship on the line are the most by any fighter in history.

"There are a lot of boxers who don't reach 37 fights in their lives,'' he said.

Chavez drew the largest crowd in boxing history when 130,000 fans packed Mexico City's Azteca Stadium to watch him finish off Greg Haugen in the fifth round on Feb. 20, 1993.

Saturday's fight will be aired on satellite television, but later carried on the country's largest network. Organizers also plan to broadcast it live on screens set up in the capital's historic city center, allowing those who can't get tickets to catch a final glimpse of the fighter known as "JC,'' "The Emperor'' or "The Lion of Culiacan.''

To reacquaint himself with Mexico City's high altitude, Chavez trained in Zinacantepec, more than 12,800 feet above sea level.

His son of the same name, who will fight on the undercard, trained with him. Chavez said watching his son's career evolve will fill the void left by the end of his boxing days.

"For me it's very difficult to watch my boys fight,'' he said. "I have to support them, but it's hard.''

Chavez is less articulate than he once was, perhaps because of all those years in the ring. He often dodges questions by cracking jokes or starts thoughts that trail off.

"Perhaps there will be some tears, but I don't know,'' Chavez said. "I'm ready to go there and give all of the little I have left. I think, the night of the fight, that will be quite a lot.''


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press