"Gabriel meets a college student, Terri, a nice Jewish girl from a traditional upper-middle class family. He falls totally for Terri. They're inseparable. And she falls in love with Jesus Chavez, the ex-con deportee, illegal immigrant, professional boxer, and Roman Catholic."
"Hmm. Who would play her?"
"It seemed like a nice Jewish girl's parents' worse nightmare. But Gabriel was so charming, her family just loved him. In fact, it was her mother who sought me out later to help him."
"So," I prompt, "dreams are coming true."
"Yes. On top of friendship and romance, three years after getting out of prison, Gabriel wins the North American Federation Super Featherweight Championship. Everyone is stunned and weeping with joy. A national title. He is ranked fifth in the world. This puts him next in line to face the WBC featherweight champion. He defends his own title four times and dreams of capturing the other championship belt."
"But another hitch develops," I comment. "It came out that he was undocumented. He was deported all over again, back to his hometown in Mexico and his grandparents."
"Which is where I found him in 1999," says Adam, "training alone in a dilapidated gym underneath the bleachers of a small stadium. There was no ring, just a concrete square. He couldn't even spar, and he was alone."
"Normally when a boxer trains, how many people are involved in supporting him?"
"A trainer. Often a fitness or strength coach. Sparring partners. Between 5 to 15 people at a training camp for a serious fight. He had none of that. He had to do it all himself."
"He's down there nearly 4 years."
"Right," says Adam. "And all of the boxing action is up in the States, except he does have one significant fight with the Mexican national champ. And beats him and wins over his countrymen."
"Afterward a brilliant lawyer found a loophole and Gabriel returned to the U.S. legally."
"Yes, for the first time he crossed the border legally. And by then his father was a citizen and simply sponsored him."
"How old is he, in boxing terms, when he comes back at that time?"
"Getting up there: 28. He's lost roughly eight years: four in prison, four exiled in Mexico. But he's boxing in the States again, and once again he fights his way into the top ranks. Then, the big title fight was scheduled in San Francisco. Mayweather, his opponent, is undefeated, and may be the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. He's fluid, technically accomplished, and has ferocious punching power."
"But Gabriel wins!"
"No, it's a great fight, he's doing great, but he loses. His new trainer throws in the towel in the ninth round. Technically a knockout. Richard Lord is apoplectic, but there's nothing to be done."
"Maybe life isn't like the movies," I observe.
"And he and his girl split up."
"Gabriel's next big bout is with Singmanassuk, the Thai boxer who holds the World Boxing Confederation super featherweight title. The opponent is 26 and in great shape, with a record of 39 wins and 1 loss. Gabriel -- Jesus Chavez -- is 31 years old. The Thai fought well, Gabriel fought brilliantly. And won. El Matador was a champion once again."
"That would have been a great ending," I say, "but boxing goes on. Boxers don't stop."
"The next name opponent is Erik Morales, 'El Terrible,' who is pursuing a third championship in a different weight class. Only one other fighter had done that. The fight was savage. In the second round, Gabriel tears his rotator cuff and separates his right shoulder, gets knocked down twice, and proceeds to box the next 11 rounds left handed. He throws 856 left-handed punches, 17 with his right. He won't quit. He goes the distance and loses the decision, of course. Both fighters are battered. Like a lot of the Mexican fighters, Gabriel doesn't move his head in the ring. He just takes the punches. Morales, it turns out, has broken both his hands on Gabriel's head."
"Things do get better," I say. "He meets Aunisa Stroklund in a Barnes and Noble in Austin."
"She's a graduate of the University of Montana and a lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard. Yes, they become an item."
"So the last loss was a huge disappointment for Jesus Chavez," I say, picking up the storyline. "And it gets worse. A year after losing to Morales, Gabriel is fighting in Las Vegas again, but this time there is scant publicity, even though it's a championship fight. His is the third bout on the card, against International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Leavander Johnson. It's the first fight televised on HBO's pay-per-view programming and starts at 6 p.m., mountain time"
"Gabriel did really well. The referee stopped the fight in the 11th round. Jesus 'El Matador' Chavez dethroned Johnson and was the IBF champion. Victory. Except Leavander Johnson was rushed to the hospital, suffering from a subdural hematoma. I was sitting there watching it happen and didn't know it. None of us did. Johnson had left the ring on his own power. They operated, but he died five days later."
"What a story," I said. "The life of the boxer is almost manic."
"It's really played on him psychologically. I remember, right before a big fight, someone wished him luck, and a fan said, 'I'll be praying for you in there.' And he replied, 'I'll be praying for both of us. I don't want to hurt anyone.' That's the type of guy he is. Leavander Johnson's father told him he's not to blame, that he should go on and keep fighting. He welcomed Gabriel at his son's funeral in Atlantic City. During the service, Jesus Chavez was asked to stand, and the congregation applauded him in support. But at the same time, it's still weighing on him."
"What's he doing now?"
"He lives in a very modest ranch-style home in a working-class neighborhood of North Austin. He married his girlfriend. She was serving in Iraq at the time of the Johnson fight."