The name Gabriel Sandoval is not well known in boxing circles, but call him by his public name, Jesus Chavez, and you’ll get a reaction. Fight fans will know you’re referring to “El Matador” (The Killer) - one of the most determined boxers in recent ring history.
Gabriel was born in Mexico but swam across the Rio Grande as a youngster with his father and mother, to settle in the mean streets of Chicago. The boy’s parents were classic humble, hardworking immigrants, and Gabriel was the classic street-fighter. He enjoyed going to the local gym and learning to box, but he also had a twisted destiny as a gang member, and then as a criminal who served several years in some of the state’s least forgiving pens, including the infamous facility at Joliet, Illinois. When he got out, the young man felt himself helplessly gravitating towards the gang scene again, and in desperation he agreed that a change of environment might help him rehabilitate. He’d promised himself and his family that he’d become a champion someday, so he went to Austin, Texas and lived a monkish life of training and more training among hardened pros who saw his potential.
Once he was ready to fight professionally, he’d become known as Jesus “El Matador” Chavez, an identity that allowed him to hide his criminal past. Jesus was a brilliant, determined boxer who showed remarkable promise, but a budding career was blocked when his record was discovered and he was deported back to Mexico. He kept fighting, not only as a boxer who had to prove himself south of the border, but in the U.S., where his case was finally settled and he was granted a green card. After that, there was little that could stop his rise to championship.
This book is written by Adam Pitluk, a journalistic biographer who has the ability to take a wealth of factual material and blend it skillfully, making it exciting to the average reader (like myself, hardly a boxing
aficionado). The fight scenes are appropriately gory and detailed. Though the time sometimes lags a bit for the reader, as it must have for Jesus as he lived in prison and then in exile in Mexico, the story overall is compelling and cinematic. In fact, a documentary,
Split Decision, was made about El Matador while he was duking it out with the INS and served to sway public opinion in his favor. Though Pitluk’s book will mainly interest fans of the boxing world, it could be read by anyone who wants an inspiring story of the machinations and ultimate triumph of the American dream.