Chavez wasted no time in tearing Haugen apart. (Photo by Holly Stein/Allsport)
It was supposed to be a historic fight for many reasons.
It ended up being a personal affair in the ring, and the culminating point of a love affair outside of it.
The mere idea of packing more than 100.000 people in one place to watch a live boxing match was quite insane anywhere in the world. But if there was one place on this planet where this could happen, it would be Mexico during the reign of their greatest fighter ever.
Enjoying one of the longest unbeaten streaks in boxing history, a long and illustrious run as a champion highlighted by high-profile wins over a select group of arch enemies, and being two years removed from his Ring Fight of the Year performance against Meldrick Taylor, the great Julio Cesar Chavez was riding the biggest wave of his life.
He was paraded around as the ultimate example of what a boxer should be: ferocious, skilled, disciplined, determined, and immensely proud. If anything, he was the epitome of Mexican manhood, a champion revered by his people and admired by every boxing fan around the globe.
The time was right for a homecoming, and not just any homecoming. Already boasting one of the biggest stadiums in the world, Mexico City was yearning to receive its hero in an explosive display of national pride, and they got it when Chavez’s handler Don King booked the mythical Estadio Azteca to host the largest crowd to ever witness a boxing match.
Some 134.000 people paid admission to the event, which would place the total amount of people inside the stadium at 150.000 at the very least. A few thousand had already skipped school or work to see Chavez work out at the stadium’s parking lot a few days earlier, and to witness Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari drop in (literally) in a helicopter to climb through the ropes and wish success to the nation’s greatest athlete.
A win was expected by the entire country. A grudge match is what they got.
Tijuana cab drivers are no different to any other type of cab drivers in the world, but they were elevated to celebrity status when Greg Haugen, former champ and sacrificial lamb picked to be Chavez’s challenger on that date, decided that it would be a good idea to say that Chavez had feasted on nothing but Tijuana cab drivers as his main source of opponents.
Haugen, a skilled fighter and a crafty trash-talker, obviously meant this as a provocation. The extent of this provocation, however, was much more damaging (to himself, especially) that what he had envisioned.
Taking this comment as both a personal insult and an affront to his nation’s character, Chavez decided to subject Haugen to the kind of punishment ideally reserved for greater purposes.
Unleashing a two-fisted attack since the very beginning, Chavez executed a progressive demolition job on a largely helpless Haugen to the delight of his roaring fans, who got their first chance to explode in a screaming frenzy of love to their idol when Haugen hit the deck only 20 seconds into the fight.
That was the beginning of a slippery slope towards defeat for Haugen. Unable to find his rhythm against a force of nature in his prime, Haugen found himself on the receiving end of dozens of numbing hooks to the liver, which at this point should have been declared Mexico’s intangible national treasure.
“I will have no compassion,” said Chavez in the build-up of the fight. “I will meet you in the ring and cut your head off, get ready.”
Ready or not, that’s what Haugen got. It took referee Joe Cortez four more rounds to stop the fight, but he finally did, declaring the contest over at 2:02 of the fifth episode to unleash what will have to remain the largest sports celebration in Mexico’s history until the (unlikely) day in which they may lift up the FIFA World Cup.
The loss was the beginning of the end for Haugen, a former lightweight champ who faced some of the best names of his era, but whose final decline towards his retirement (which took place six years later in 1999) began on the night he found out that disrespecting Chavez before a record-breaking homecoming fight was just not the best idea.
Chavez retained the WBC junior welterweight belt, and got ready to move on to some of the biggest fights in his career. But his night of glory under the stars of his nation’s capital remains, to this day, one of his most memorable performances in a career that has had plenty of them.
Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.