Boxing promoter and TV-film producer Lou DiBella said that when he heard of Bobby Chacon's death Wednesday, his thoughts immediately went back to a poignant moment during a 1990s news conference for an Oscar De La Hoya fight.
Chacon, the 64-year-old former two-division boxing world champion from the San Fernando Valley, died from a fall at a Hemet care facility. For several years before, he had been racked by the effects of brain damage suffered in the ring.
His descent was in progress when DiBella, then an executive in charge of boxing for HBO, looked over a massive crowd after finishing a speech on a news conference dais.
"Thousands of people there, but I was drawn to this guy at the back of the room going table to table, picking up soda bottles and cans," DiBella said.
As the man moved toward the front of the room, still picking up empty cabs and bottles while people had their attention drawn to the fighters on stage, DiBella was able to get a clearer look.
"I'm like, holy …, it's Bobby Chacon!" DiBella said in recounting the story Wednesday.
DiBella now promotes fights on the East Coast, including many involving powerful boxing manager Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions organization.
DiBella said that by the time Chacon had reached the front of the room, he caught the former fighter's attention, mouthed, "Bobby" to him and signaled a thumbs-up.
DiBella said that as he sat there, promoting a multimillion-dollar fight at the Forum, the same venue where Chacon had won a major bout in his early 20s against eventual longtime featherweight Danny "Little Red" Lopez, the moment became a sobering reminder about just how fleeting fighting fame can be.
"I was touched by the poignancy of this exceptionally great fighter now picking up cans," he said.
"But in typical Bobby Chacon fashion, he was working.
"He had a dignity to him. I think that's why I was transfixed on him in the crowd."
DiBella said he ultimately rose from his seat, found Chacon and, while shaking his hand, slipped him some cash.
"I've always been moved by the people I see with big bags of cans to redeem," said DiBella, a New Yorker. "Those people literally are working to survive … not begging."