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CHAVEZ'S ATTITUDE IS . . . : Down to Earth : Unbeaten Boxer Leaves His Mountain to Prepare for Bout Against Whitaker


Julio Cesar Chavez has come down from the mountain, so the transformation from sacrifice to symbolism has begun.

He is in Los Angeles--his loud, rumbling city of good luck--moving from hotel to gym to dinner at a friend's house, gulping down the brown air that he says makes him fuerte --strong.

He is down from the Mexican mountain village of Temoya, where he has spent several weeks training near a shrine of the Otomi Indians, who live as they did centuries ago. From there, Chavez comes here, where he has added a new red Ferrari to his car collection.

"Always, before every one of my fights, I come here," Chavez says through an interpreter in the back of a limousine taking him to the Azteca Gym in East Los Angeles.

"I like to sacrifice and battle very hard in the mountains . . . and when you come here, you feel strong."

Sacrifice and denial, then strength.

"Temoya is a place that's isolated from everyone," Chavez says. "You can only concentrate on your training there. There are no distractions. You live life in a very different way. There, you learn to value life, to appreciate the things you have.

"This," Chavez says, meaning Los Angeles, "is a place where I feel very good, thank God. People are a little pushy at times, but I accept it. It comes with the flow."

Here, he cannot walk through the narrow lanes of Olvera Street without drawing a swarm of well-wishers who scream when he climbs onto a wooden platform and dons a sombrero.

Here, he can barely watch the action when he goes to the Forum to see the fights because of the fans pouring toward his seat.

Here, he walks across a hotel lobby right in front of Raider Coach Art Shell and draws more attention.

Julio Cesar Chavez has come down from the mountain, and it is not quiet anymore.

"May-hee-co! May-hee-co!" They shout. "Cha-vez! Cha-vez!"

Chavez says: "I love the people around me and I know that they love me. . . . But sometimes it's very tiring. To move away from it all, you kind of need it.

"(After retirement) I don't want to be around people. I am going to be sure I can just be alone. Very quiet."

But for now, in the last days before Friday's fight in San Antonio against Pernell Whitaker, Chavez accepts and abides by the pull of his fans.

When you have an 87-0 record--his only defeat, a referee's decision on a foul early in Chavez's career, was reversed a few days later--are the World Boxing Council junior-welterweight champion, have never been knocked down and are considered Mexico's No. 1 sports figure, what you say and do takes on monumental importance.

"I know I symbolize something," says Chavez, 31. "I don't really know what."

Chavez acknowledges that his resistance to moving from Culiacan, his hometown, is part symbolic, that he will not run from the place that nurtured him. And he grudgingly concedes that other parts of his life--his devotion to family, his sacrifice in the mountains, his pride in Mexico--do have great meaning to others.


The limo doesn't leave the front of the hotel until Chavez is ready, which he is not. Three other cars are ready to go, but he sits in the back, staring out the window.

Then the side door opens and Chavez lets out a loud, happy roar, "Omaa-aaaar!" Suddenly, Omar, his 3-year-old son, is in the limo, and now it can go.

For the next 15 minutes, as the car nudges through traffic, a national hero holds his son to him.

In the gym, Omar is a warrior, of course, putting on his father's gloves, attacking the legs of the man commonly referred to as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world today with high-pitched battle yells.

In the car, on his father's lap, he throws elbows that find a neck, a cheek, a chin.

"Stop," his father says. "You might hurt me."

"No," Omar says, laughing. "You are too strong."

Chavez teases Omar about the family's new pet, a baby lion.

"Did you name the lion Macho Camacho?" he asks Omar, playfully referring to Hector (Macho) Camacho, the fighter Chavez beat last year--also the name of one of the family's dogs.

"No, not Camacho!" Omar corrects, "Leo."

"I am the lion," Chavez says.

As the limo passes the Forum, Chavez tells his son to look, that this is the place where Chavez won two world titles--his first, Sept. 13, 1984, and his third--May 13, 1989.

Omar looks, staring at the building as if it were a shrine.

"When the children are with him, they motivate him," says Chavez's wife of nine years, Amalia, who has joined her husband in Los Angeles with their three sons--Julio, 7, Omar and Cristian, 9 months.

"Sometimes I will just send the children to him when he is training, and that motivates him," Amalia says, "gives him life."

In May, before Chavez's last fight, a sixth-round technical knockout of Terrence Alli in Las Vegas, Omar was not there to ride with his father before the fight.

Omar, namesake of the 4-year-old brother Chavez lost 11 years ago in a car accident, was ill then, in fact could barely breath.

Suffering from severe meningitis, Omar was in a hospital in Culiacan.

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