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BOXING / EARL GUSTKEY : His Biggest Fight Isn't in the Ring

June 05, 1993|EARL GUSTKEY

Late on the night of Nov. 6, 1992, boxer Johnny Chavez left the Forum with his girlfriend, Michelle Wilhelm, and his sister, Donna Valenzuela.

Chavez didn't know it then, but he had become an ex-boxer.

He was walking away from the last bout of his promising boxing career, an eight-round decision over Gabriel Castro.

"I knew something was wrong with my eyes because they felt like they had Vaseline or something in them," he said recently.

"Then Donna asked me, 'How come your punches were missing so badly those last two rounds?'

"During the last two rounds, I was seeing Castro about two feet from where he really was. I couldn't hit him, and I couldn't figure out why.

"Donna was driving us home, so in the back seat I covered my left eye with my hand . . . and I couldn't see a thing through the right eye. Finally, I told Donna about my eyes, and she took me to a hospital in Covina right away."

That was six months, $67,000 in medical bills and several broken dreams ago.

The morning after the fight, Chavez called Robert Karns, a California Athletic Commission physician. Karns told him to come to his West Los Angeles office immediately, and there Chavez and his sister met Karns and two eye specialists, Henry Ullman and Neil Brouerman.

Diagnosis: Massively torn retinas in both eyes. And now, after several operations, a new complication: cataracts.

Meanwhile, friends of Chavez in Azusa and Covina are out to show him that more than a few people care, some of them people he has never met. Television boxing commentator Ruben Castillo mentioned Chavez's plight on a Prime Ticket boxing telecast that was seen on the East Coast.

Recently, Jerry Rocha of the Azusa Helping Hand Club showed a reporter a letter from Renton, Wash.

"Dear John," it began, "I wish I could afford more. I hope everything goes good, and your operations are a complete success. --(signed) Keith Weil."

Inside the envelope was a check for $5.

"Johnny's gotten about 20 pieces of mail," Rocha said. "One guy from Beaverton, Ore., sent two dollars, but didn't sign his letter."

Rocha and his co-organizer, Ray Noriega, have established a trust fund to help Chavez. Donations may be mailed to the Johnny Chavez Trust Fund, P.O. Box 40, Azusa, Calif., 91702-0040.

There also is a fund-raising party Sunday to help Chavez pay his medical bills. Chavez, 24, of Azusa, faces several more operations and perhaps years of treatment--all in the hopes his vision can be improved to where he can have a job, perhaps drive a car or somehow support himself and his 18-month-old son. Right now, he can't see much of anything.

"Everything's kind of cloudy," he said.

He says he understands that his vision won't ever be what it was, and has accepted that.

Already largely forgotten is a promising boxing career cut short. When he won that night at the Forum, Chavez improved to 17-1. A competent boxer with a sturdy left hook, he was ascending in the featherweight division.

"I was just a few fights away from making some serious money," said Chavez, whose largest purse had been $4,000.

"What happened to me was a freak thing. Boxing was fun, I enjoyed everything about it . . . well, except for making weight. I never enjoyed that much."

Chavez, a cheerful young man, has leaned heavily on his sense of humor in recent months. He jokes about his weight, which has zoomed to the light-heavyweight class since his fighting days.

The party Sunday at Azusa Memorial Park, will include celebrity "sparring" matches, and will be followed by a dinner-dance. General and VIP admissions are available for $20 and $50, respectively.

Among the celebrity boxers scheduled to appear are Michael Carbajal, Ray Mancini, Danny Lopez, Frankie Duarte, Jerry Quarry, Castillo, Art Aragon, Mando Muniz, Henry Tillman, Bobby Chacon, Jorge Paez, Roger Mayweather and others.

Ticket details: (818) 969-1150 or (818) 334-7607.

Boxing Notes

Rock Newman, heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe's manager, still appears to be seeking the path of least resistance for his fighter. Since winning the championship six months ago, Bowe has easily defeated Michael Dokes and Jesse Ferguson. Now, instead of committing to a Lennox Lewis fight or a challenge of Monday night's George Foreman-Tommy Morrison winner, Newman has asked the International Boxing Federation to make either Oliver McCall or Michael Moorer Bowe's first mandatory challenger. The World Boxing Assn. made Moorer its No. 1 challenger last week--the result of Tony Tucker's loss to Lewis last month. Moorer (32-0) will fight James Pritchard (28-9-2), June 22 on USA Network.

San Fernando heavyweight Alex Garcia (32-1), still trying to position himself for a big-money match, will fight Mike Dixon (12-8) Tuesday on USA Network. . . . Azusa's Zack Padilla (16-1-1), who surprised many with his upset of Roger Mayweather on April 24, is a 3-1 underdog against Mexican Carlos Gonzalez (36-0) on the pay-per-view Foreman-Morrison card. Oscar De La Hoya (7-0), who could find himself in a title fight this summer, is a 17-1 pick over Troy Dorsey (12-7-4).

IBF super-middleweight champion James Toney (36-0-2) will fight Glenn Thomas (24- 1) Sunday in Las Vegas on ESPN. . . . The Foreman-Morrison show can be seen at the Del Mar Fairgrounds' satellite wagering facility.

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