Bearing The Burden

Feb. 22, 1993
Feb. 22, 1993

Table of Contents
Feb. 22, 1993

Daytona 500
Alpine Worlds
Natalie Williams
Cliff Robinson
Swimsuit Issue '93
Atlanta Games
Point After
Photo Credits: Bill Frakes

Bearing The Burden

Living in violence-plagued Culiacán, boxing champ Julio César Chávez fights to keep his extended family secure

In the place where the world's greatest fighter lives, men eat a leg of goat and drink a can of beer for breakfast. They drive with a gun jammed in their pockets and with a cold beer sweating between the denim heat of their legs and with a small red crescent of chili powder sprinkled on the backs of their hands to dab upon their tongues between each swallow. From the speakers in their cars thump songs that tangle love and bullets and longing while their dark eyes sweep from left to right, alert always for enemies but more so for the beautiful women with their skirts tight as skin, for which their state, Sinaloa, is renowned. And then, in the morning, a few more bodies are fished from the three rivers that run through the place where the world's greatest fighter lives.

This is an article from the Feb. 22, 1993 issue Original Layout

It is October in Culiacán, the drug capital of Mexico. In the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental just east of town, the poppy seeds are ripe, the marijuana leaves full-fingered and ready to be taken. Traffic in Culiacán is thick, the shops hum. No federal troops have come this year to suck the city's lifeblood.

Outside a modest white house at 1181 Río Churubusco, men of all ages have gathered in the heat. They are the children of the world's greatest fighter: brothers, brothers-in-law, cousins, neighbors, childhood friends, house-watchers, car-washers, car-starters, cornermen, cameramen and journalists, all waiting for him to awaken. "¡Somos una armada! [We are an armada!]" exults the fighter's brother-in-law Miguel Molleda. "¡Un batallón! ¡Una infantería!"

It is 10 a.m. It is nearly 90°. The world's greatest fighter is upstairs. The world's greatest fighter is sleeping one off. There's a coldness inside of him that makes him think he can keep people waiting for hours—and a warmth that makes him right. On the fringes of the infantry now are gathering the poor and the gaunt, come from the far reaches of Mexico to beg alms from him. One of them is a cross-eyed man named Andres Felix. In the sixth round on Feb. 5, 1980, he became the first professional boxer to fall at the feet of the world's greatest fighter, but now 13 years have gone by, 68 more knockouts and 83 more victories without a defeat have passed, and Andrès Fèlix has returned with his hand out too.

Like the others, he is patient. In Spanish, one word means two things: Esperar is "to wait"; esperar is "to hope." Inside the house, though, a pretty young woman holding a three-week-old baby peers through a window at the crowd that awaits her husband. Her eyes fill with sadness. This is what happens to every great Latin fighter: His family, his friends—his whole nation—begin to wait and hope for him each day on his doorstep, often until he buckles beneath their weight or severs his roots and runs away. And even though Amalia grew up here as one of 10 children, just as her husband did, sometimes she wonders why he stays and lets this happen to their lives.

There are things she doesn't know yet. The world's greatest fighter has never told his wife that he's afraid to be alone.

But wait, already we speak of intimacies, and you may not even know the name of the world's greatest fighter: Julio Cèsar Chávez. In the 1970s Tibetan monks would have chanted "Ali! Ali!" had Muhammad Ali passed them in a parka on a Himalayan trail; in the '80s there were grandmothers in Grand Rapids who could spot Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson through a tinted limo window. But on a brilliant autumn day just a few months ago, hundreds of New Yorkers stopped and gawked at a horse-drawn carriage carrying four singing and laughing members of Chávez's infantería through Central Park, never recognizing that the best fighter, pound for pound, of recent years was sitting in the next open-air carriage, directly in front of their eyes.

No man in the history of boxing has been undefeated for longer than has Chávez—13 years. In 84 bouts the only part of his body ever to have touched the canvas are the soles of his feet. He creates no dark aura as Tyson or Roberto Duràn did; he takes away no one's manhood before a fight with looks or words. His is a methodical, matter-of-fact devastation, devoid of persona, the product of a man who knows exactly why he is involved in this sport. With a cranium—abnormally thick, according to a CAT scan taken four years ago—capable of absorbing enormous shock, with his eyes fixed on his opponent's sternum, he comes at his foe slowly and carefully at first, and then with a terrible linear relentlessness, a cold, patient fury, savaging the torso with short hooks and uppercuts for seven or eight rounds, making the head above it sag and the legs below it fold because there is nothing between them but pain. Then he finishes him, leaves him, often, a lesser man. He puts his opponents in hospital beds, he turns their toilet bowls red. "Meldrick Taylor, Edwin Rosario, Roger Mayweather, Juan LaPorte, they were never the same after Chávez," says Bobby Goodman, the matchmaker at Madison Square Garden. "LaPorte told me he couldn't make love for weeks after they fought in '86."

"The toughest fighter I've ever seen," says trainer Angelo Dundee, "bar none."

Chávez has averaged one bout every 57 days over his pro career, two or three times the frequency of other top fighters—the conscientious laborer bringing home the bimonthly bacon. He explains his 84-0 record in an unusual way. "I could not bear the thought of losing," he says, "because it would hurt my family." The world is looking—no, it is not looking—at a rare stone, a Latin fighter who has no trouble with the scales, no trouble with the law, no trouble in the bars, no lapses in the ring. A Latin fighter in control of his life. At age 30, Chávez, who is the reigning WBC super lightweight champion, has won five titles in three weight divisions—super featherweight and lightweight as well as super lightweight—and after he defends his crown against Greg Haugen before 120,000 people in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium Saturday night for $2.5 million, he will fix his eyes on a fourth championship, the welterweight. So why do none but the Latin faces light up when Julio Cèsar Chávez walks by?

"It's a puzzle to me," says Goodman. "He's good-looking, intelligent, sensitive, bright-eyed, quick to smile and such a tremendous lighter. But the average guy on the street still doesn't know who he is."

"He never became what he should've," says trainer Lou Duva. "He should've been taught English, he should've had much more p.r. You don't fight for Mexico when you're as good as Chávez. You fight for the world. But you can only do that by speaking to people. Maybe he's done great things, but who the hell knows?"

No doubt his lack of renown outside Mexico is partly because Chávez does not speak English—beginner's mistakes singed his fierce pride the few times he has tried—but, then, did Duràn? It's also because of the promotional neglect of Don King, whose preoccupation with the heavyweight division and with Tyson often left Chávez languishing on under-cards as Tyson's warm-up wrecking ball. And, yes, there was Chávez's lack of a foil—no household name to dance to the edge of death with, no Ali's Frazier, no Leonard's Duràn or Hearns. "Sure," says Goodman, "but a fighter this good. . . ."

Roosters peck at the streets in the neighborhood where the world's greatest fighter lives. Black ribbons flutter from the doors of those murdered in the drug wars. Donkeys nibble on the weeds and rust eats at the corrugated metal roofs. But when people ask Chávez why he has not moved to a more exclusive neighborhood, he shrugs and says he would be content to live in this house forever, if only there were more room for his three limousines, three Corvettes, two Grand Marquis, two Lincolns, two Suburbans, two antique Fords, a Cougar, a Jaguar, a Lamborghini, a Mustang and a Stealth.

It is nearly 11 a.m. now, and the egg salad sandwich on the knee of Chávez's stumpy, bald-headed trainer, Cristóbal Rosas, grows stale as he sits on the sidewalk, beneath the security camera that peruses the men who wait on the street . . . but still no one grows impatient. They help two of Julio's sons, Julio Jr., 6, and Omar, 2, lace on boxing gloves that come up nearly to the boys' armpits, and they laugh as the children whale away at each other. They turn on their car tape players and sing along as Culiacán native son Chalino Sànchez sings songs of men cradling machine guns and beautiful women. They know something: Julio needs them. Not for the spit bucket or the Vaseline, not for audience or ego or lies, as other fighters need entourages. No matter how many bodies surrounded the great fighters, nearly all had one thing in common. Each, deep within, was a lone wolf stalking the woods, a solitary man on a quest, one Me against the World. More than money or fame, what kept drawing them back to the ring was this: Nowhere else can a man more purely define his singularity, hammer out his selfhood.

But Chávez doesn't go into the ring to forge a persona, and so—is it any surprise?—he has none. Consider the entrances that he and Hector Camacho made for their fight last September in Las Vegas. Camacho fluttered down the aisle in a tricolored cape and mask, his arms thrust to the sky, his shoulders shimmying to the music, lost in the swirling vortex of himself. Then came Chávez. Julio Jr., whose shirt his father had just made sure was tucked in, was perched upon the shoulders of Julio's cousin Juan, right behind the champion. Julio was one of a group, the head of a phalanx, and the instant that one of his brothers was jostled by a security guard, Chávez lost the businesslike calm that he always carries to a fight, turned his back to the ring, shook his fist and screamed, in Spanish, "Leave my brother alone!"

Julio's mother, Isabel, remembers the evening 17 years ago when her family hugged the ground as bullets from the drug gangs' machine guns ripped the air all around them. She remembers the sobs from Julio's chest when he realized what a quiet family evening in Culiacán could become. "Ever since he was a very little boy, he has had this idea in his head that he must take care of all the people around him," says Isabel. "He was the little father of our family. If his brothers earned a few centavos, he would scold them for spending it on tortillas. He would say, 'We must give all of it to our mother.' "

When Julio was a child, there were so many mouths and there was so little money in his home that his family often hacked a green weed called quelite and boiled it to cat. His oldest sister, Perla, invented pains all over her body to con free medicine from the doctor; she would then sell the medicine in order to buy food. When the mangoes ripened, Julio's older brothers swam across the canal behind their house and raided the grove. One day, before Julio had learned how to swim, one of his brothers pressed a 20-centavo coin into his palm to ease his frustration and told him to wait. Julio stood there in the shallow water, the great six-year-old provider, picturing himself handing the coin to his mother, unmindful of the current sucking at his legs. All at once the water had him, and the bottom was gone. He tumbled and flailed and gasped as the water swept him in over his head, an image of the family he would never see again flashing in his mind and then fuzzing. "Look! It is Julio!" One of his brothers' friends raced along the bank and dived into the canal. When it was over, when Julio had coughed up all the water and was lying on the dirt, somebody peeled back the fingers of his pale blue hand. Inside was the copper coin for his mother.

"Man, I can't explain Julio," says Camacho. "I spent a few days with the guy in Culiacán. He's a gentleman. He's always smiling and drinking beer. He always has a lot of people around him. But you barely notice him. It was me carrying the show wherever we went. He's got to be crazy in some way. To do what we do, you can't be in your right mind. I just don't know what kind of crazy he is."

Death is such an easy thing for great Mexican fighters to find. It hangs every night like the moon, just waiting, over a land of men brought up to believe that the beer can between their legs and the accelerator beneath their feet are part of what makes a man a man; it hangs there, so pale and fat and low you can touch it, right above the shoulders of Mexico's purest strain of machismo, its men of men, its boxers. Just a few drinks and a few minutes to touch his girlfriend—that's all Salvador Sànchez, the 23-year-old world featherweight champion, wanted when he sneaked out of training camp one August evening in 1982. He died that night when he ran his Porsche head-on into a truck. Then there was Gilberto Romàn, twice junior bantamweight world champion in the '80s, who died two years ago in a beer-and-wine-soaked collision with a truck. And former super featherweight world champion Ricardo Arredondo, who was drunk when he died on impact with a bridge stanchion in '91. And Clemente Sànchez, ex-featherweight world champion, who on Christmas Day 1978 exchanged insults with the driver of another car, jumped out to confront the man and was met by a bullet.

The moon hangs over Chávez too. He can open the next Tecate and squeeze the lime around its rim and swivel his eyes at the skirts and throw back his head to sing with the best of men, but he does it all the way he docs it in the ring: a controlled discharge of life, checked before it staggers over the edge. Somebody else can pick the fight with the idiot slurring insults at the next table. Somebody else can come into the ring with a roll of fat hanging over his waistband. In 1986 Chávez gasped past Rocky Lockridge to retain his WBC super featherweight title, and shortly afterward he met a Culiacán high school track coach named Daniel Castro. Ever since, in addition to his three-to six-mile morning runs, Chávez has done timed interval workouts on a track—perhaps 10 100-meter sprints, five 400s, five 800s or five 1,000s a day. Six weeks before each major fight he goes into the mountains outside Mexico City, sweats out all the beer and runs through the pine trees at an altitude nearly two miles above sea level, so that when he descends to a fight site, he is drinking oxygen as if it were Tecate. Sometimes he shatters boxing ritual by running two or three miles on the morning of a fight.

He has a sense of duty, a governing purpose for his life. The people ask, One-hundred-and-oh? Is that his governing purpose now? If there's a beer in his fist and he's in the mood to talk, he'll admit it: He believes he can reach that fat, round number, and then retire within the next few years. But stubbornly he adds that this is not his true motivation; over and over he repeats the same seven words that interviewers keep wanting to sweep past, that his reason to continue is the same as his reason to begin, "para asegurar la seguridad de mi familia [to assure the security of my family]." He might scrape the paint off the bottom of all 19 cars on the two massive speed bumps he has had poured a few yards apart in front of his house, but Chávez is going to assure the security of his family.

You want to know what kind of crazy Chávez is? Drain a couple beers and slam a car into his house, as a teenager did early one morning three years ago, and then you will know. "See this crack in the stucco in the corner of Julio's house?" asks Juan Antonio Valenzuela, Chávez's friend since school days, as he runs his finger across it. When Chávez heard the collision, he bolted from a dead sleep and raced downstairs, his head turning wildly to make sure his children were inside the house. Then he exploded out the door and into the teenager's face, a madness in his eyes that we never see in the ring. "If you kill my kid," he screamed, "I kill you!" The teenager blinked at him groggily. How could he know that he had just awakened a ghost, the spirit of the dead little brother—killed by a young drunk in a barreling car 11 years earlier—to whom Chávez prayed during his most desperate moments in the ring? How could he know that Julio had felt responsible when Omar, 4, was struck down . . . no, not because Julio had been at the scene, not because Julio could have done a thing about it, but only because God had given him an assignment in life, to assure the security of his family, and somehow he had failed.

Rat-tat-tat-tat. . . . SOLDIER SHOT BY DRUG DEALERS. . . . Rat-tat-tat-tat. . . . YOUTH MURDERED DURING ARGUMENT OVER CARDS. . . . Rat-tat-tat-tat. . . . The infantry stirs from its stupor. A small, battered car cautiously approaches the two speed bumps, the news vendor inside hollering the day's headlines over a loudspeaker between tape-recorded bursts of machine-gun fire. No car bombs to report today, like the ones that Culiacán's drug kingpins planted in front of each other's houses a few months ago. No military helicopters swooping in on raids, no assault teams on rooftops. The vendor's car scrapes bottom. No one bothers to buy. Slow news day.

Here we go. Chávez is awake, maybe rat-tat-tatted awake, and coming out of the house, stretching and blinking in the midday light. Already his arm is wrapped tightly around the waist of one of his lieutenants. Already he's smiling, such an easy, affectionate smile. That's something else Amalia doesn't understand: He smiles so easily during the day. But when he sleeps, he frowns.

Chávez looks up and down the street. His hangover has outlasted the poor today; they've surrendered and gone. He won't have to peel off a few hundred dollars worth of pesos to buy a coffin for a widow who can't afford to bury her husband, as he did a few weeks earlier. He won't have to sneak out the back door, cut between houses and meet his infantry on the next block over, as he often must.

He issues one quiet order. The infantry mobilizes. There is a moment of flux as the keys to his 19 cars are sorted and the men decide who will go in the Stealth, who in the Lincoln, who in the Suburban. Amalia shakes her head and sighs, sighs of pride and exasperation. She doesn't know many other men who come home from a job and give their wives $100,000 to $200,000 to spend as they wish, as he docs after each big fight. She doesn't know many other men who each year on April 30, Mexico's Day of the Children, blast the stereo outside the house, organize dance contests on the street, cook hot dogs and give away boxes of toys to all the neighborhood kids. "But I want to be married to a normal man," she says. "He is always going. Always with other people. I see him only when he comes home to sleep. The first day of our honeymoon, he was called to go train for a fight, and we have never been alone since. We plan a day at the beach with just us and our children, and suddenly there are five cars and 15 little ones from the neighborhood going with us, and he is telling me to relax, they will keep our children occupied. He is a good man, but he crosses the line of goodness. I don't want more money or fame. I want him."

Julio backs the Stealth out of the garage. Amalia doesn't understand. He leads the five-car caravan to Isabel and Perla's new restaurant at the train station, decorated and equipped with $50,000 he gave them. The infantry piles out. He hurries in, gives his mom a kiss, makes a phone call, poses for a picture and leaves. Perla says, "He is our saint. He solves all our problems. When I broke up with the man I loved, Julio rented an apartment in Tijuana for me and gave me money every month, so I could go away and forget. I just wish he could sit and have a beer with me and talk and listen to mariachi, but he is never alone anymore, there are always four or five others squeezed in the car with him."

Julio backs his car away from the restaurant, glancing back at the caravan in his rearview mirror. Perla doesn't understand. He is leeching as much from them as they are from him: They are his burden. They are his ballast. He fights to start his brother Rafael's pool table business, his brother Sergio's car repair shop, his sister Cristinà's discotheque, his mother Isabel and his sister Perla's restaurant, his brothers Cristiàn's and Roberto's gasoline stations. He fights to keep his brother Rodolfo going as his cornerman and his brother Ariel as manager of his properties. He fights to buy them all homes and automobiles, to break ground on the hotel, the office complex and the 1,000 town houses he's about to have built, to keep his cousins and in-laws and neighbors and old friends working in his minisupermarkets and washing his cars and guarding his home and waiting on the street outside to follow him in a caravan wherever he might go, because if he couldn't do all that, if someone ever took that away from him. . . .

He shoves a Chalino Sànchez cassette into the tape player and sings along: "Already they left, the snows of January, already they arrived, the flowers of May, already you have seen me restrain myself like a man, and my bitter pain silence me. . . ." It was less than a year ago that Chalino made what can be a fatal mistake in Culiàcan for anyone with a lot of power or a few enemies. He was traveling without his boys, driving home after a performance, when a vehicle pulled across the highway in front of him, blocking his way. He was found on the roadside with a bullet in his head, and now he is more popular than ever. "My city is very conflictive," says Chávez. "Very violent. It is dangerous for all. It scares me. I worry about my children, my family. Not everyone can like me. But there is nothing I can do. If someone really wants to kill me, he could kill me anywhere."

He drives past the gym he had built to train in a few years ago—with the big fiesta room for family reunions attached to it, of course. He drives past shops with music pouring from their open doors, past people walking with their arms tight around each others' necks in the heat. "But I love my city too," he says. "Most of the people are kind and simple. The shrimp are delicious. The weather is so hot it makes the beer taste so good."

He parks in front of his mother's house, the house where he grew up. Right here the family was sitting that evening when he was 13, just chatting on a bench, when suddenly they heard the squeal of wheels, the rat-tat-tat. It wasn't the news vendor. They dived behind the bench as the machine-gun bullets began biting into the stucco just over their heads. The pock-marks are covered now. Everything's changed. Back then the house was a two-bedroom box that the 12 of them were crushed into—seven boys sleeping in one bedroom, three girls in the other, mother and father in the living room. With his first meaty paycheck, Chávez expanded and renovated everything. But somewhere right out here there used to be a garden, and he was weeding it alone one day, just a few months after the shoot-out, when he heard the burst of gunfire again. This time two men carrying guns leaped over the wall and into his garden, and he froze, too stiff to cry, holding his breath as the men ran in the front door, through the living room and kitchen . . . and finally out the back.

He enters the house. It's so hard to tell, everything has changed. Somewhere near here, he stood that night when his father, Rodolfo, came home drunk and threatened his mother. Somewhere near here, Julio, 16 years old, with a bat in his hands, said, "If you touch her. . . ." Rodolfo, who no longer lives with the family, was a 40-year man in the railroad company, brave enough to leap into the cab of a train that had burst into flames as it unloaded petroleum in front of a refinery in 1970, brave enough to grab the controls after the engineer and his three aides had fled and to drive the train into the countryside before the tanks blew and people died—but not brave enough to come home at night sober.

Julio knew it by then. He was the fourth oldest, but he would be the one who took care of this family. Some people know these things before they have any notion of how; but, god, he would need something much bigger than his childhood jobs—selling gum on the streets, shining shoes, washing cars, running six miles through the city every morning at 4 a.m. to beat the other newspaper boys, even slicing cows and pigs up the midsection, gutting them, filling them with salt and skinning their hides for the shoemaker.

Two of his older brothers, Rodolfo and Rafael, boxed. As a child, Julio used to fight a 14-year-old girl who could beat most of the boys in town. Their last bout took place when Julio was 11. "She was my sister," says former featherweight Juan Antonio López. "I was the referee. He threw punches at her body, the way he does now. She was just growing breasts then, and he hurt them so much that she quit boxing. I could see then how great he would be." That was what Julio needed to hear: There was his how. It gave him a goal each day when he awoke, an imperative. It put his life on a set of rails. It made some sense out of Culiacán.

He quit school at 16 and began training every day, driving out to ranches on weekends to fight amid the dogs and the dust for $5 or $6 a bout. He went wild with the paycheck from his first pro fight, against the cross-eyed boxer. He bought his mom a washing machine.

From the very beginning he was so willful in the ring, so self-assured. "The important thing is to want," he says, "because to want is to be able. That is what has always separated me from other fighters, much more than talent. I know what I want, and I want it more. I am fighting for a whole family. I am a sponge for their problems. It has given me many worries, this role, but it has matured me. It has stabilized me. It has made me who I am."

Now Chávez is pointing to the converted railroad car in the backyard, rusting and rimmed with weeds, which Chávez used as a retreat from his crowded house. A kid in rags walks past. If a wealthy man who once was poor is strong enough to remain near the poverty, if the squalor docs not drive him to a Miami suburb with a security guard at the gate, then that poverty could impel him. It could keep the fire in his gut stoked, the breath on his neck hot. Now Chávez is walking back through the house and pointing to where his bedroom was. He can't stand or sit in one place—it's as if the floor or the chair beneath him is hot, as if his inner calm in the ring somehow escapes him when he exits the arena. As soon as there is empty time to fill, he wants a beer and a salt shaker and a plateful of lemons, something that will relax the wound spring inside, that will let him sit a little bit still. It tells on a man, to make sense out of Culiacán, to take on so much weight.

He remembers his mother clearing all the boys out of that bedroom when he was seven and bringing in Aunt Angelina. She was dying slowly—another car accident. For three months the boys all slept in the living room with their parents, and then one day Julio looked in his bedroom window. It was frightening, mysterious—he had never seen anyone have a room alone. He watched his aunt's head roll back and forth and then drop to one side, still. He let out a cry. His mother came running. Aunt Angelina was dead, he had seen her die. The memory still chills him. From then on, all his mother had to do to make him obey was threaten to send him into that room alone.

Now he's walking out the front door. Right here, on the road in front of the house, is where Perla felt the wind of the car driven by the drunk that evening. The wind and the separation of hands, that's all she recalls, then finding Omar way up the road. A few hours later Julio came home from a party. He rushed to the hospital, crazy with grief, to see Omar before he died. Omar had his own room, just as Aunt Angelina had. That's when death comes—when you are in a room, alone.

"I cannot believe how much it still affects Julio," says Perla. "He still cries about it all the time. He still feels so responsible, I don't know why—maybe for not being there at that moment or for not having more money, so Omar could have gone to a better hospital."

Every June 24, the anniversary of Omar's death, the Chávez family goes to the cemetery. They made Julio promise last summer not to break down at the grave, to let Omar rest, but he wept anyway. "Now I am rich and famous and I have everything," he said, sobbing, "but I still don't have you."

But for just a few seconds, for just a few times in his life, he did. Omar, that's whom he conjured when he was in trouble in the ring, he confided once to Perla. That's who was in his head as he sat on the stool, exhausted and trailing on two judges' cards, just before the last round against Meldrick Taylor in 1990. The one brother whom the brother's keeper hadn't kept, the one family member he could never help. "Suddenly I felt this incredible force come into me, this power," he told Perla. He rose and came at Taylor. With 25 seconds left in the fight, he buckled Taylor with an overhand right, then collapsed him 10 seconds later with another short, terrible right, convincing the referee to stop the fight with two seconds left. No fighter has been good enough to make Chávez need Omar since.

And yet, every night that he's not home, whether it's at training camp or a New York City hotel, when it's time to say good night, he makes sure someone from his infantry is in the bed beside his.

What I see is an idol coming forth. An idol that the public has not had for a long time. This is how idols come forth, suddenly, spontaneously, when they, the people, decide it." Two days had passed since Chávez's demolition of Camacho. Rafael Herrera, Mexico's former world bantamweight champion, spoke as he stood amid several million people who had thronged the streets of Mexico City to receive Chávez. Fame in his homeland had come to Chávez years earlier, but it was only now, after he had destroyed Camacho on the weekend when Mexico celebrated its independence and on the heels of the country's humiliating one-medal showing in the Summer Olympics, that he had truly become an idol. His reluctance to fight in Mexico City—only once before 1989 had he risked it, after being fleeced by local judges there in his final amateur fight—had limited his media exposure. But now he inched through the masses toward the embrace of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari at the Presidential Palace.

First a family, then an infantry. Now the circle for which Chávez was responsible had once more enlarged. Now it was a nation. Dutifully the boy from Culiacán lowered his shoulders—more burden, more comfort. "All of Mexico trusts me now," he says. "All of Mexico is depending on me. It's a big responsibility. I cannot fail them. All the money from my lesser fights, I am giving to disaster victims, to hospitals, to orphans, to the elderly."

With Tyson in prison, and with the pay-per-view telecast of Chávez-Camacho surprising everyone by attracting 750,000 customers, perhaps Chávez is finally on the threshold of an even larger acclaim, a larger yoke. "I know that I am not a Tyson, an Ali or a Leonard," he says. "But I have beaten all of their records. I am satisfied with what God gives me. I do not have big endorsements. I understand that much of it is because I am Mexican, but I am happy that way. Don King did not promote me well, he was not fair to me. But now. . . ." His eyes dance. "Now he loves me. I finally have him by the hairs. He docs what I want."

He climbs back into his Stealth and leads his infantry back through the city, taking the same route by which he returned to his home from the conquest of Camacho, shouting out to the 2½-mile-long parade of humanity that surrounded him that day, "I invite everyone to my house!" Back to 1181 Río Churubusco, where tables and a tent covering the entire block were erected, where people drank and sang Chalino Sànchez songs until morning, and then the news vendor came, crunching over the glass and debris and speed bumps, hollering headlines of Julio Cèsar Chávez's triumph between bursts of machine-gun fire.