Author: Justin Mckibben
Like a classic Cinderella story, Julio Chavez began as one of 11 children from a poor family who eventually would grow up and carve out a name for himself in the boxing world. He fought fiercely, and he won his way to the top, but also found his bottom in a bottle and got put in the ring with a different kind of enemy; addiction.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, Julio Cesar Chavez was known for his iron chin, and feared for his ferocious left hook. This man is one prized fighter who was known for his spectacular rise to fame, as well as a furious boxing career during which he racked up 6 world titles (in 3 different weight divisions) and tallied over 80 knockouts. All in all, Chavez was widely regarded as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of his era, and one of Mexico’s greatest boxers of all time.
Most remember renowned boxer Julio Cesar Chavez for his incredible fights, but not many remember or are even aware of the fight for his life that lead to his greatest victory up against alcohol and drug use. Excessive use of drugs and alcohol had actually beaten down Chavez’s career and his life, but he was not down for the count. Now, Chavez has stepped out of the ring and into the public spotlight to tell his story in hopes of inspiring more conversation about drug use, especially in his home of Mexico.
The Fight of His Life
When reflecting on the gradual progression of his addiction, Chavez was very open about how his star-fighter status had a resounding impact on his drinking and drug use. He stated,
“I had it all—money, women, fame, cars, yachts, everything a man could want—but it didn’t give my life meaning. I felt nothing. So what did I do? The most stupidest thing I could.”
Chavez had it all, but like any good addict will tell you, the disease of ‘more’ can be overwhelming, and he still wanted more.
“At first I [could] control it, but I just needed more alcohol and more cocaine and more and more. That’s when the problems really started. That’s when the failures began, the defeats.”
4 years after he started using, Chavez experienced somewhat of a hit to the ego that would set a new tone for his life in the ring. He was knocked to the ground for the first time in his career. And like any downward spiral, this one was shocking and abrupt, even the fans were shocked. Chavez lost 5 more fights before retiring in 2005, but because of his alcohol and drug addictions he nearly lost his life.
Waking Up in Rehab
A few years ago, while anesthetized at a doctor’s office for a procedure for his ulcers, Julio Chavez’s son took matters into his own hands in an effort to save his father’s life. He called an ambulance and took him, unconscious, to rehab. Of course this lead to a rather shaky introduction to drug and alcohol treatment. Chavez said,
“I woke up in the clinic in a room with the IV still in my arm, and I just ripped it out and started cussing at everyone,”
Despite his initial protests, Chavez stayed for 6 months in treatment, and has managed to remain clean ever since. Now Chavez is trying to help other addicts. He’s already opened clinics in Tijuana and in his old stomping grounds of Sinoloa. He also says he plans to open at least two more.
In the past the people of Mexico have been unforgiving of their fallen stars. However it seems now that the country has embraced Chavez’ recovery with open arms and has even erected a 20-foot bronze statue in his honor in his hometown of Culiacan, the capital of Sinoloa. He said,
“I felt excited, happy and proud. At the same time, I feel the pressure, the commitment. I really have to stay clean now.”
In his native Mexico, the drug problem is typically focused on the cartels and publicized on drug trafficking, with very little done to talk about addiction. Clinic psychologist Guillermo Rangel Mendoza says that while Chavez’s story of inspiration is incredible, the types of drugs taking off in Mexico now weren’t problems back in Chavez’s days. Drugs such as:
That being said he has definitely qualified himself as an addict, and that kind of hero’s journey can really make a difference in inspiring others, especially for a home-town legend with a rags-to-riches story. President Enrique Pena Nieto has even dubbed Julio Chavez an “anti-addiction ambassador” at a recent conference on combating Mexico’s growing drug problem, and Chavez intents to keep his own addiction issues down for the count.
Sometimes the fight for sobriety from drugs and alcohol seems like the fight of our life, and a lot of times we are fighting just to stay alive. But with the right strategy victory is possible. Get the right people in your corner. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135