Last Friday the people who monitor the suffocating smog in Mexico City issued a Phase 1 alert, which pulled the plug on 30% of the city's industry and half of the government's vehicles. The following night, in massive Azteca Stadium, an angry Julio Cèsar Chàvez of Culiacàn, Mexico, enforced some pollution controls of his own. Chàvez, the undefeated WBC super lightweight champion, unmercifully hammered Greg Haugen of Henderson, Nev., and closed down Haugen's bile-spewing mouth at 2:02 of the fifth round.
Like the poisoned air that usually paints Mexico's capital the grubbiest of grays and browns, the brief fight was not pretty. Except, of course, to the 130,000 fans—the largest crowd in boxing history—who packed the arena where Pelè and Maradona made soccer history in the 1970 and 1986 World Cups, respectively. For those in attendance, it was not enough to witness Chàvez's 85th victory without a defeat; they wanted to see their national idol punish the ugly American with the arrogant words.
Haugen had ridiculed Chàvez's countrymen—the stadium could not be filled, he had reportedly said, because there were not enough Mexicans with the money to buy tickets—and he had scoffed at Chàvez's record. "Look at the first 40 or 50 guys he fought," Haugen had said with a sneer. "Nothing but stiffs. Every one of them was a cab driver from Tijuana."
"He said my family was worthless; he said Mexicans were not worth anything," the 30-year-old Chàvez said with uncharacteristic anger a few days before the fight. "I really hate him bad. When he looks at me, I want to vomit. I am going to give him the worst beating of his life. I am going to make him swallow the words that come out of his dirty mouth."
March 1, 1993
Haugen took it all in stride. Not even his status as a 26-to-1 underdog penetrated his prefight calm. "I'm where I want to be, under his skin," said Haugen, who last held the IBF lightweight title from February 1988 to February 1989. "I want to be there like a vein. If he's ticked off, he'll make mistakes, and in boxing you only have to make one mistake."
As the star of a pay-per-view show that featured four title fights, Chàvez earned $2.5 million and traveled to the stadium by helicopter. Haugen, who made $1 million, was still mired in one of Mexico City's epic traffic jams at 8:30, two hours before his fight was to start. By then Michael Nunn, the WBA super middleweight champion, had disposed of "Irish" Danny Morgan, an unknown challenger from Minneapolis. "I had never heard of the guy," Nunn said before he stopped Morgan with one second to go in the first round. "Wish I had had more time to train," mused Morgan.
Azumah Nelson, the 34-year-old WBC super featherweight champion from Ghana, found the going more difficult against young Gabriel Ruelas, who gave away nine years in experience. After 12 uneventful rounds Nelson was awarded a majority decision over Ruelas, a 22-year-old Mexican now fighting out of Los Angeles. Judge Josè Medina of Mexico, no fool he in front of 130,000 of his countrymen, called it a draw.
The crowd, rising 14 stories from the grass field to the $1.65 concrete seats at the top of the stadium, then began warming up its derisive whistles on the evening's second-biggest attraction, WBC super welterweight champion Terry Norris, who has seriously challenged Chàvez for the title of best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Two days earlier Dan Goossen, Norris's promoter, had offered Chàvez $10 million to fight his man at 147 pounds. On Saturday, Norris, weighing 151, dressed up his credentials by stopping IBF welterweight champion Maurice Blocker 49 seconds into the second round. "I'm the best," Norris said after raising his record to 34-3. "If Chàvez still thinks he is, he knows where to find me. I'll drop down in weight. All he has to do is get into a ring."
At that moment Chàvez had other things on his mind. After being escorted into the ring by two of his sons and what appeared to be half of his neighbors from Culiacàn, Chàvez was ready to apply hurt to his tormentor. Chàvez is usually a slow starter, but his anger brought him quickly from the blocks. A hard right dropped Haugen 25 seconds into Round 1. After getting up at the count of two, Haugen fell back under a murderous assault.
With a half-minute to go in the round, the crowd began to chant, "íDuro! íDuro! íDuro!"—meaning "hit him hard." The spectators wanted a first-round knockout; Haugen's heart and chin denied them their wish, though Chàvez continued to punish him, digging hooks to his ribs, driving both hands to his head.
In Round 2 the crowd began yelling "íQuè lo mate!"—"Kill him!" The angelic assassin needed no encouragement. Haugen's nose began to swell, and lumps formed around both eyes. Just when it seemed that one more punch would end the fight, Chàvez appeared to back off. Later he would say he had not.
No matter. The punishment continued; Chàvez piled pain upon hurt. Midway through the fifth round a furious six-punch combination dropped Haugen to a knee. Badly hurt, he was up at eight and willing to go on. Chàvez moved in, a deer-hound chasing down a wounded stag. He fired off 23 more hard shots before referee Joe Cortez wisely stepped in and stopped the fight.
A moment later Chàvez said to Haugen, "Now you know I don't fight with taxi drivers."
Haugen, blood dripping from his nose, grinned at his conqueror. "They must have been tough taxi drivers," he said, and the two men embraced.
That done, Chàvez encountered Norris at a postfight press conference presided over by promoter Don King, who artfully ducked the question of exactly when the world might find out which of the two is indeed the best pound-for-pound fighter.
"Chàvez demanded two things," said Goossen to reporters. "He wanted Terry to come down to 147 pounds, and he wanted $10 million. We said yes to both. So let's get it on." Then he turned to Chàvez. "What about it, Julio?"
The fire came back to Chàvez's eyes. "I'm not afraid of Terry Norris," he said. "Put the contract in front of me, put up the $10 million, and we'll fight."
All eyes turned to King, who is Chàvez's promoter. "Why do you keep calling 'Don'?" said King, gesturing toward Goossen. "He's the one shooting off his mouth." Then King introduced another of his fighters, Julian Jackson, the WBC middleweight champ who knocked out Norris in 1989. "Let Terry fight Julian, then the winner can fight Julio."
Chaos ensued. Charges of cowardice were tossed about: Jackson at Norris, Norris at Chàvez, Chàvez at Norris, Goossen at King, King at Goossen and Norris. Later that evening King would say, "A Chàvez-Norris fight will never happen. That would be like throwing [Chàvez] to the wolves." But at the press conference he was still playing the game, scoffing at the notion that anyone would be silly enough to negotiate multimillion-dollar fight deals in public.
In the middle of the shouting, Haugen got up and quietly walked out. No one noticed that he had left.