June 12, 2001 – Larry Tornambe talks to Hall of Famer and former WBA bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler, one of the greatest 118-pounders ever to grace the sport.
“I blew my stack when they told me I was going to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame,” said Jeff Chandler, when he got the news in 2000. “I was exuberant.”
“There is no better thing for a retired fighter than to be recognized as one the best of all-time,” he added.
Chandler was worried that his eight year career was too short to receive the accolade his talents merited. He returned to the Hall of Fame this year and spoke with SecondsOut about his experiences and career.
Joltin’ Jeff had only two amateur bouts before he decided to punch for pay in 1976. After a four-round draw, he reeled off 25 straight wins before another contest ended even.
Chandler fought many of the best bantamweights in the world on his way to winning the WBA title with a 14th round knockout of Julian Solis in November 1980.
His reach advantage, good defense, nearly perfect uppercut and superior discipline allowed him to successfully defend his title 10 times. Unsuccessful challengers included former WBC king Jorge Lujan, Eljiro Murata, Julian Solis, Johnny Carter, Gaby Canizales and Oscar Muniz.
Chandler reigned as WBA bantamweight champion from 1980 to 1984, but half of that time Jeff had a dangerous secret. Nobody outside of his most intimate circle knew that the champ was diagnosed with cataracts in 1982. But Jeff was neither ready or sure about corrective surgery and wanted the doctors to investigate other methods to cure him.
Meanwhile, Chandler battled the cataracts and Richie Sandoval in Atlantic City on April 7, 1984. The combatants gave a hearty performance, but Sandoval jumped through Chandler’s defense and scored a crushing 15th round knockout. Now it was time to turn his attention toward his eyes.
Chandler’s mother and his manager, KO Becky O’Neill, joined with Philadelphia’s famed Wills Eye Institute to finally have the cataracts removed and, in October 1984, the fighter had the necessary surgery.
But Chandler said his eyes were never the same. In the heat or sunlight, they would swell and they were on his mind as he considered taking a return bout with Sandoval.
“Defending all of my body in the ring was second nature and now I would have to concentrate more on covering my eyes,” said Chandler, who wasn’t comfortable with the spectre of further injury.
He watched Sugar Ray Leonard return to boxing after eye surgery and learned the lesson. “I just didn’t see myself at peace with that scenario,” he said and wisely called it quits.
“I thought about coming back,” added Chandler, who was satisfied that he fought the best challengers and didn’t duck anyone. He is very proud of remaining undefeated for seven-and-a-half years and happy with the hard-earned money he was able to save.
Chandler wants to be remembered for being the best because he fought the best. His final record stands at 33 victories, 18 knockouts, 2 losses and 2 draws.
After his retirement, the former champion worked a couple of construction jobs and trained boxers at the Lonnie Young Gym in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Since last year’s induction, he landed a ‘non-teaching assistant’ job with the Roosevelt Middle School, close to his home. “I work directly with the kids,” he said as his face lit up with pride.
Chandler has three sons, Tarik, 21, Jeffery Jr, 16, and Julius, 13, who all live with him though the former fighters is now separated from his wife. Joltin’ Jeff still has his faculties, appears in good health and has now returned to training kids at the Waterview Gym in Philadelphia.