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Chavez Kept His Word to King and a President

March 18, 1993|GREGG BARRIOS | SPECIAL TO NUESTRO TIEMPO

MEXICO CITY — Azteca Stadium shook as Julio Cesar Chavez finished off his challenger, Greg Haugen, in the fifth round of their World Boxing Council super lightweight title fight.

The crowd of 132,000 had come to hail Julio Cesar and they were not disappointed. Chavez knocked Haugen down in the first round and pounded him repeatedly until the battle was stopped by the referee at 2:02 of the fifth round.

It was the 85th straight victory for Mexico's national idol, who rose from humble origins and who now commands millions of dollars for each fight.

At the post-fight news conference, about 125 hand-picked listeners heard a triumphant Chavez, who was wrapped in a Technicolor serape with a resplendent image of the Lady of Guadalupe sewn on the front.

Some pundits claim Chavez has not achieved as great a status worldwide as he has in Mexico because he doesn't speak English. That night, however, the first words he spoke were in English.

"Don King, where's my money?" Chavez asked, referring to a $100,000 bet he had made with his promoter that the fight would not go the entire 12 rounds.

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During the week before the Feb. 20 fight, fans camped outside the stadium hoping to see Chavez work out or trying to get his autograph.

Bright red headbands with the embroidered initials "J. C." were everywhere, including the forehead of Chavez's son. The boxer says that he wears the headband to keep away bad spirits.

Mexico's president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, arrived unannounced at a workout. He wanted to offer words of encouragement to Chavez and to tell him that he would be in Yucatan the day of the fight.

"I am not going to let you down, Mr. president," Chavez told him.

"I know you won't," Salinas replied.

Some Mexican journalists wondered why Salinas had decided to avoid the fight, although Chavez was dedicating it to him. Would the crowd turn angry if Haugen knocked out Chavez? Others felt that Salinas didn't want to steal any thunder from the boxer. People were paying to see Chavez, not Salinas.

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The Sunday before the fight, both boxers waged a battle of words, coming close to blows during a live TV show.

"Someone give me some gloves. We'll start the fight now," an angry Chavez shouted after Haugen called him a loudmouth like his promoter, King. Chavez was already angry over Haugen's earlier putdown that the Mexican boxer had fought "nothing but stiffs. Every one of them was a taxi driver from Tijuana."

At the official news conference, Chavez stuck his tongue out at an undaunted Haugen, who replied with an obscene hand gesture.

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The Chavez-Haugen fight was one of four title fights on a boxing card that was billed as "The Grand Slam of Boxing." Ticket prices ranged from five new Mexican pesos ($1.65) to $1,000.

Security included mounted police officers, 60 police dogs and scores of plainclothes officers. A few squabbles near ringside were quickly squelched by the imposing presence of Mexican boxing champ Miguel Angel Gonzalez and former "A-Team" and "Rocky III" star Mr. T.

Michael Nunn and Terry Norris dominated in methodically winning their title bouts, but it was the Azumah Nelson-Gabriel Ruelas super featherweight fight that electrified the crowd.

Many Mexicans consider the Mexican-born Ruelas an American because he lives in Sylmar. But Ruelas entered the stadium dressed in trunks and a robe trimmed in bright red and green, moving to the strains of "Yo soy de Jalisco." He was instantly transformed into a native son returning to Mexico as a representative of Yerbabuena, Jalisco.

The Ruelas-Nelson bout was the only one of the night to go the distance, 12 rounds, before Nelson won a controversial majority decision to retain his title.

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The next day, Haugen and Ruelas, part of the Dan Goossen team that co-produced the event, returned to Los Angeles. Their plane made a fuel stop in Mazatlan, where a Mardi Gras carnival was in full swing. But there was no party on the somber flight home.

Ruelas, who had angrily darted from the ring when the decision had been announced in favor of Nelson, was keeping a brave face. Both former champion Carlos Palomino and Mr. T, who are both associated with the Goossen team, appeared apologetic.

Haugen slept through the flight. Later, walking through Customs, he wore his bruised, blackened eyes with an amount of pride. He said he felt OK considering the "beating" Chavez had put him through.

A few hours earlier, Chavez had left Mexico City for Culiacan. Although Chavez had said he would accept Goossen's offer of $10 million to fight Norris, King rejected the idea, at least initially.

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