Standing Eight: The Inspiring Story of Jesus "El Matador" Chavez, Who Became Lightweight Champion of the World by Adam Pitluk. Da Capo, 2006, $24.95, 248 pages.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Standing Eight is a riveting tale of a strong-willed boxer who has refused to stay down for the count, both in the ring and in life.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
"Immigrant issues are being hotly contested on the streets and in congress. And Standing Eight ...reads like a timely allegory for the plight of the undocumented.... Precise and passionate, Pitluk chronicles how the Mexican-born, American-bred boxer -- battling inside and outside the ring -- handles numerous obstacles: poverty, incarceration, his undocumented status, and border crossing." -- New York Post
"Adam Pitluk has really created something special...a story that can apply to many boxers that come from the poorest of neighborhoods with very little going for them, with the exception of ambition to conquer the world in the ring. Outstanding." -- Ringside Report
"A gripping sports biography." -- Boxing Digest "A compelling story." -- Texas Monthly
"A story of rags to riches, dreams shattered, dreams attained, and life lived and lost. Pitluk delivers a knockout punch. -- The Saratoga
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adam Pitluk was a reporter for the Dallas Observer. He is today a contributor to Time magazine and has written for People and the Dallas Morning News, among other publications. A native of Cleveland, he lives in Dallas, Texas, where he teaches journalism at the University of Texas.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
"Adam, how did you meet the boxer Jesus Chavez?" "In 1999, I was a cub reporter at the Dallas Observer, a street weekly. I was on the job maybe three days and a lady walked in, asking if she could speak to the youngest sports writer on staff. She told me the story of a boxer with the ring name of Jesus Chavez. It was compelling. I pitched it to my editor and was on a plane to Mexico City. From there I went overland to the tiny town of Delicias. He and I met, and we've been friends ever since."
"What so caught your imagination that you had to meet him and years later write a whole book about him? Who is 'El Matador'?"
"He was born Gabriel Sandoval, in the Mexican town where Pancho Villa was killed and buried. He was raised in Delicias, where his grandfather and father worked as miners 3100 feet under the earth. It was gainful employment, but it destroyed your health. The area was impoverished. Gabriel's father wanted more for his family. His father's brother carried 7-year-old Gabriel on his shoulders across the Rio Grande into the U.S., while his mom pulled his sister across on an inner tube. It was the second attempt to save the family from the grinding poverty at home."
"They were illegal aliens?"
"Yes," says Adam. "Undocumented."
"They settled in Chicago. There young Gabriel, 10, happened upon a grimy gym named The Matador by its operator, a young ex-teacher who taught ghetto kids to box, to keep them off the mean streets of the infamous Westside. Gabriel was fabulous at it. He learned fast and refused to back down, even when he was outweighed or outclassed. He showed real courage. He didn't like to fight so much as he liked to compete and win. He won three Golden Glove titles, had a record of 95 wins and 5 losses as an amateur, so the trainer initiated serious contacts with Mexican boxing people to get Gabriel a tryout for their next Olympic team."
"Gabriel's still in high school at this point," I chime in.
"Yeah, 112 pounds and 16 years old. He was handsome, funny, witty, and on the way to great things, but getting distracted by the Harrison Gents."
"Who were they?"
"A street gang of kid career criminals. Gangbangers. They loved Gabriel's reputation and local celebrity, and lured him in. One of them shows up on a sunny day with an umbrella. In it is a sawed-off shotgun. Gabriel was enlisted as the lookout at a holdup."
"Was it foiled?" I ask.
"No, they pulled it off, but someone must have bragged or ratted. They were busted. Gabriel went to jail, sentenced to 7 years. Just a tragedy. But he promises his father he'll be champion of the world someday and make him proud yet. In prison, he worked out every waking moment in his cell, tied garbage bags filled with water to the ends of a broomstick and used them as free-weights. At night, he would fight his silhouette, sometimes all night. Meanwhile, his exemplary family gained permanent-resident status, thanks to Reagan's Immigration Reform and Control Act. They were on their way to becoming citizens even as their eldest endured prison."
"How long did he serve?"
"He was paroled after four years and released. That was the good news. But as soon as he was out, he was handcuffed and taken to O'Hare International and deported."
"That must have been crushing."
"His father intercepted him in Mexico. By then dad had a green card. He and Gabriel bluffed their way back across the border. Every year 70,000 Mexicans were caught and sent back, but that day father and son made it and flew home to Chicago for a reunion of the family. From there Gabriel went to a relative in Austin. He found Richard Lord's gym and literally took up residence. Gabriel, right out of prison, was slow and heavy: 160 pounds. In great shape but smoking two packs a day. The skills were evident, though. He went to work to regain his form."
I laugh. "This is where it turns into a movie."
The author laughs, too. "Yeah. Gabriel became a local hero. He took the ring name of Jesus Chavez, "El Matador" (for his Chicago gym), and won consistently. A guy named Richard Garriott befriends him, an unconventional computer genius who had dropped out of high school and become a millionaire. Gabriel slept on a worn mattress in the stuffy boxing gym; Garriott, in his marvel of a house, in a huge bed that lifted through his roof so he could sleep under the stars. The two were friends."