By Austin Killeen February 5, 2017 – (click on picture to enlarge)
In the late 60’s and early 70’s a young father worked hard to provide food and clothing for his young family in Chihuahua, Mexico. Economic opportunities were few for someone who had a fourth grade education. That didn’t stop Edmund Chavez from taking any job that might provide a few pesos to meet his family’s basic needs. Long hours driving buses and taxies provided the major source of income, while trips across the border added additional earnings for his wife Rosa Maria and their boys. At first his little ones had no idea they were traveling to a foreign country, just that it was a long way from home. Their destination each year when crossing the border was Grants, New Mexico where Edmund would earn money going house to house, picking up trash and throwing it in the back of a truck.
Each trip north his brother Jose would encourage Edmund to leave Chihuahua and move to Grants where there was greater opportunity for his family. Finally in 1971 he took his wife and three boys and their personal belongings and moved to Grants for good. Edmund Chavez was a proud man and he wanted a better life for his family in America. For Sergio and his two older brothers Armando and Javier it was a happy time, even though they had to repeat a grade due to the school time lost each year traveling back and forth across the border. His uncle Jose had boxed professionally and would often shadow box in front of his three nephews, something they found interesting. For nine year old Sergio and his twin brothers, who were a year older, they loved their first trip to the gym. They couldn’t wait to go back and their older cousin Luis became their first coach. His brothers took to the sport quickly, but Sergio found the win column hard to find. After five fights he had an unblemished record; zero wins and five losses.
Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi once said that “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” During our interview, I never asked Sergio if he even knew who Vince Lombardi was. But apparently he must have heard what the legendary coach said, because the sixth time was a charm; he had won his first fight. I asked if he remembered his first win and his face lit up. He replied; “Wow, I’ll never forget it. I was ten years old; my five losses happened when I was nine. What a feeling, I was learning in my earlier fights but that night it finally came together for me.” Sergio had proven Vince Lombardi right, he never got discouraged and now he was a winner.
When he was boxing for his cousin Luis it was around Grants, but the next town over also had a boxing team and they would take trips out of the area to compete. The town was Milan and the Chavez brothers were now boxing for the Milan PAL Boxing Club. The coach was Abe Romero and the opportunities were far greater than just boxing in Grants. It was with the Milan PAL Boxing Club that Sergio had captured his first win. There were more boxers in Milan and the competition at the gym was at a much higher level. Sergio’s career took off under the tutelage of Coach Romero. Although Rosa Maria didn’t like her three boys boxing, fearing they could get hurt, she supported their efforts along with her husband. This was a great time in Chavez’s life, because Abe Romero was more than just a boxing coach. “We would travel in vans to California with Henry Anaya’s boxing team out of Albuquerque. To help pay for expenses we would have car washes and bake sales and this would help us bond as a team. When we got to California Romero and Anaya would take us to Disneyland and other side trips, it wasn’t just boxing. This took place in the mid 70’s; I was in my early teens. I got to meet Carlos Palomino, Armando Muniz and Danny “Red” Lopez.” These trips to the West Coast exposed Chavez to competition he never would have met if he just stayed in New Mexico. Although he was too young to fight in the open division it was clear that he was no longer a rank novice. Sergio continued; “after awhile the kids would get restless in the vans and start getting rowdy. We’d be going West on I-40 and the coaches would stop the vans and say ‘hit the pavement.’ After a few miles they would let us back in the vans and we would be worn out.”
By now Sergio had turned eighteen and enjoying success, winning many tournaments. On his resume were several Junior Olympics titles, but he failed to win the silver gloves; something his twin brothers accomplished. He commented, “I was excited, winning many first place ribbons and feeling good about myself. One day a gentleman from Roswell came into the gym, his name was Frank Garcia. He came to Grants because of the mines, but he also was a heavyweight fighter. He was very talented and I learned so much from that man, I have the greatest respect for him. I thought I knew everything from the boxing side of things, but Garcia made me realize I could learn so much more.” By this time Abe Romero was getting older and not as active in the sport. So Frank Garcia stepped in and took over as Sergio’s coach on a daily basis. Sergio commented; “He took me to open competition, I had some open experience before, now it was full time.”
Chavez entered the New Mexico golden gloves competition for the first time under the supervision of Garcia and won the open division. There was also a four state tournament held here between California, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico. In 1981 ESPN hosted the tournament and Sugar Ray Leonard was a ringside commentator. Sergio won his division and got some face time on TV. Chavez has no video of the competition, but thinks Abe Romero’s wife might have it. Chavez commented, “I’d love to have a copy of the tournament. It was exciting fighting in front of Leonard, and hearing his assessment of me.”
That year Chavez once again fought in the golden gloves finals, against Russell Mora the referee from Las Vegas, Nevada. Mora is often seen on TV fights from Vegas that are broadcast on HBO or Showtime. At the time of our fight Mora had moved to New Mexico from Colorado and was being trained by Henry Anaya Sr. Chavez felt that Anaya was one of the best trainers in the state and Mora was an outstanding amateur. Chavez remarked; “After a hard fought fight, I lost a close decision to Mora. Commenting on their match Sergio said: “Russell always bugs me about it, good naturally of course. But several years later in the early 90’s I got my revenge. I beat him for the title in a ‘Tough Man Contest’ held in New Mexico. I won two Tough Man Contests in successive years here in New Mexico. I knew little of Mora’s background other than seeing him referee on television. Apparently Mora was a very talented amateur, who fought several bouts in New Mexico.”
1982 proved to be one of Chavez’s best years in the amateurs, as he went all the way to the national golden gloves. In the state tournament he had to fight three fights in three nights against Steve Barrera, Alfred Parra and Henry Anaya Jr. to win. It may not look fancy, but the trophy in the photo is very special to Chavez. Commenting on his special year Chavez said, “Next I won the Regional Championships which punched my ticket to the Nationals in Kansas City, Missouri. When we arrived there we were immediately called to the officials’ office. We were told we could not fight in the nationals because the team’s paperwork was not filed with the Amateur Athletic Union. I was so disappointed because I would have had Frank Garcia working my corner and I felt fantastic. For the next few years I stayed in the gym, but was not as active as I had been. Four years later I won the golden gloves again and made it all the way to the nationals held in Des Moines, Iowa. In my opening bout I was flat and gave a very uninspiring performance.”
I was curious why Sergio never turned pro like his rival Henry Anaya did. They were close in age and had successful amateur careers. Chavez responded; “My dad was very cautious about it because he knew the game and what went on. There was no promoter who was going to pick me up. There was an older gentleman for Arizona who wanted to train me, he wanted me to move there, but my dad was not in favor of it. I was working construction building the coal mines right there in Grants. Then I was doing iron works and getting paid real well. So I stayed amateur, finishing my career under the guidance of Henry Anaya Sr. who was an excellent coach. He was a great teacher who taught me even more satellites of the game. Among the stable of fighters I trained with were Anaya’s sons Henry Jr. and Charles and Sean McClain.”
Although Chavez had stopped boxing he never left the gym. In 1992 he was asked if he would like to help out with Danny Romero and he accepted. From day one Chavez worked with Romero, holding, mitts for him, running with him, working out with him. He was his shadow. Chavez stated, “We traveled with Danny when he signed with Cameron Duncan. He was his only fighter. Duncan moved to Albuquerque to work as his manager and he signed a promotional contract with Top Rank. Romero beat Francisco Tejedor for the IBF world flyweight title by unanimous decision at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in April of 1995.”
When Romero’s contract with Top Rank ended he signed with Cedric Kushner who promoted his fights. Kushner flew Danny’s entire team to Madison Square Garden to see the Naseem Hamed/Kevin Kelley WBO world featherweight title fight. Chavez commented, “It was an amazing experience, superstars were sitting all around us.” Romero would eventually win his second world title in August of 1996, knocking out Harold Gray in two rounds at the “Pit” in Albuquerque for the IBF world super flyweight title. The biggest fight of Romero’s career was the title bout with Johnny Tapia in July of 1997, which was held at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The fight was deemed too big for New Mexico hence it was moved to Nevada. That night Romero was good, Tapia was great, resulting in a unanimous decision for “Mi Vida Loca.” At the end of his contract with Kushner Romero would lose a close majority decision to Vuyani Bungu at the Convention Center in Atlantic City on October of 1998. (Note to all boxers: Never take a fight at the end of a promotional contract, unless you are going to resign with that promoter) Romero would continue to box until 2006, but Sergio Chavez would terminate his duties as trainer in 2000.
Chavez credited the experience of working with Romero as invaluable and he has continued to work with some of the best pros in New Mexico including; Ray Sanchez, David Martinez, Jackie Chavez, Archie Ray Marquez, Ranee Ganoy and Alex Holguin. Holguin is his latest prospect with a record of (10-1-0, 6 KO’s). The lanky junior lightweight throws sweet combinations, can fight surprisingly well either left or right handed, and has an uncanny resemblance to the legendary Alexis Arguello. Whenever someone mentions how Holguin looks like Arguello, Chavez breaks into a big smile. Sergio is also an excellent cut man and is in big demand. In addition to working with many boxers in that capacity, he has also worked with Bellator MMA Promotion Company and Glory Kickboxing.
In 2005 Sergio saw an advertisement for a reality television series called The Contender seeking experienced fighters would like to try out. Produced by Mark Burnett, the show would be hosted by Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone and shown on NBC. Chavez was now forty three years old, but not encumbered by false modesty. Sergio’s wife encouraged him to try out for the show, and spoil everyone’s party. He went to Las Vegas, for the tryouts at Richard Steele gym, which was a big warehouse. Each sparring session was filmed and evaluated to judge each candidates’ potential. Sergio commented, “they had me spar twice, so they must have like something about me. They said they would call me back if they wanted me but they never did.” In telling me about the show, it was obvious that he had fond memories of that experience.
Sergio Chavez was not born into great wealth, but he was born into something more important; a loving home. His parents instilled in him the importance of working hard at anything he did. They supported him in all his endeavors, encouraging him to always give his best and never get discouraged. When he talks about his parents, it is with great love. They may not have had a great education, but they were both good teachers and role models he could look up to. They came to this country seeking a better life for their family and willing to make sacrifices to reach the American Dream. They obviously succeeded in their goal.
Ask Sergio what he’s most grateful for and he’ll answer; “besides my beautiful wife?”
America has given him the opportunity to fulfill his dreams and he’s proud of what he has achieved. His pride-n-joy is the beautiful home that his wife Tammy and he share in a lovely neighborhood in the Westside of Albuquerque. I couldn’t help but notice that they both have bikes in their garage; she cheats, her bike has a motor.