As if being a professional boxer weren’t hard enough, add the day-to-day worry of being an illegal immigrant and the stigma of being an ex-con.
For Jesus Chavez, born Gabriel Sandoval, life never was a beach. His family came north from Mexico, without the requisite paperwork, and fetched up in Chicago. They were a tight unit, long on values and the work ethic. Gabriel was respectful and a good student, but drawn to the solidarity of gang life. He took part in a robbery and, despite being a youthful first offender, pulled a seven-year sentence. He wouldn’t back away from a fight in jail and spent two years in maximum security. Upon release, he was deported to Mexico. Illegally immigrating again, Gabriel avoided the temptations of Chicago gangs by moving to Austin, Texas. Gravity and fate drew him to a local gym, and a boxer was born. Soon he was rechristened Jesus Chavez, to obscure his identity. Time contributor Pitluk never overplays his narrative hand in telling Sandoval/Chavez’s story. He smoothly charts his subject’s wild, moving ride from jail to youth counselor to multiple world champion in the featherweight, super-feather and lightweight classes. The second half of the book describes Chavez’s work in the ring and the harsh world of boxing. Even as world champion, he had to fight when injured or risk losing his standing. When he did lose, Pitluk draws it in all its unloveliness: one fighter “landed 284 punches all over Chavez’s head.” He battles on, enormously dedicated and charismatic, regaining a title at the expense of his opponent’s life in 2005.
Jail, deportation, world championship, even a green card: the trajectory of this convict-turned-gentleman can only be marveled upon, and Pitluk’s account does Chavez proud.