11. Julio César Chávez Vs Meldrick Taylor
March 17, 1990
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Hilton Hotel
In the 40 years since I started following boxing, one of the most naturally gifted fighters I ever saw was Meldrick Taylor. He was so gifted that at the tender age of 17, he won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1984 Summer Games. He had blinding hand and foot speed. At 5’7“ he was the perfect height with his skill set at 140 pounds. He threw beautiful hooks and uppercuts off his jab. His right cross was straight out of a boxing handbook. Going into his fight with undefeated Mexican superstar Julio César Chávez, Taylor was on the verge of becoming the next dominant force over the next 10 years in boxing. Chávez was a great fighter in the tradition of great Mexican fighters who broke their opponents down by first destroying their body. A win over such a great fighter would be Taylor’s ticket to boxing immortality.
The fight between Taylor and Chávez was one of the rare world title unification fights back then. The 23-year-old undefeated Taylor was the IBF Jr. Welterweight Champion, while the 27-year-old Chávez held the WBC version. This was the biggest fight at 140 pounds since the two early 1980s Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello fights. Like Pryor and Arguello, the Taylor-Chávez fight would be a matchup of two of the best fighters in the world. Since I didn’t have cable where I lived, I took my father to my girlfriend’s apartment to see the fight.
Taylor fought the first four rounds just as my father and I expected he would. He boxed brilliantly, landing at will against the always aggressive but easy to hit Chávez. Chávez was like a lot of Mexican fighters. They were great offensively, but defense was not their forte. Chávez had one of the greatest chins in boxing history and throughout this fight exhibited his prominent chin. Taylor bounced one rapid fire combination after combination, yet Chávez kept coming. A strong right cross in the second round by Chávez opened up a cut inside Taylor’s mouth. Chávez was able to land some good shots to both Taylor’s head and body, but he was woefully being outmanned the first four rounds of the fight.
Beginning in round five, Taylor made a tactical decision to make the fight an inside affair. Chávez was so easy to hit that Taylor took the fight to him. My father felt it was a huge error on Taylor’s part. My father pointed out that if Taylor stays outside, it’s harder for Chávez to hit him. But by fighting inside, it gave Chávez more opportunities to punish Taylor with his clubbing punches. Between rounds five and nine, Taylor out-landed Chávez three to one. But my father was correct in his assessment. Chávez’s clubbing punches were also landing. Even though Taylor had dominated the first eight rounds of the fight, both eyes were swelling rapidly and he was swallowing a lot of blood.
Round 10 began with Taylor swarming Chávez with an incredible 20 punch combination to the head and body, yet it didn’t seem to affect Chávez at all. Chávez came roaring back with thudding punches to Taylor’s head. Both men then took turns snapping each other’s heads back with one power shot after another. The 11th round saw both fighters again engage in a savage display of infighting. Chávez was utilizing his hard chin as a major weapon. It didn’t seem feasible for him to have withstood the incredible amount of punishment he had taken through 11 rounds. Taylor’s face, on the other hand, was a complete mess. Both of his eyes were almost completely swollen and he was bleeding from both his nose and inside his mouth. Taylor also was the much more tired fighter going into the 12th and final round.
The 12th round was an all out war, but it was Chávez whose punches had more power and snap left. Chávez landed several right hand missiles and with 24 seconds left one of those rights badly hurt Taylor. A few seconds left, another right hand knocked Taylor down. Taylor got up and after referee Richard Steele asked him if he was okay, Taylor didn’t respond. Steele responded by stopping the fight with only two seconds left in the fight. Chávez won with one of the greatest come from behind victories in the history of the sport.
The stoppage was one of the most controversial in boxing history. Referee Steele was heavily criticized by boxing pundits and fans worldwide for stopping the fight with only seconds left in the fight; a fight in which Taylor was comfortably winning on all three judges’ scorecards. My father and were in agreement. Steele stopped the fight appropriately. When he asked Taylor if he was okay, Taylor stared blankly ahead and didn’t respond.
After his miraculous victory over Taylor, Chávez continued to reign supreme over the 140 pound division. In 1993, he moved up one weight class to face one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time, WBC Welterweight Champion Pernell Whitaker. Whitaker put on a masterful display of boxing, making Chávez miss all night while landing effective combinations all night. The decision was one of the most pathetic I’ve ever seen. Chávez received a gift draw and then lost his 140 pound title and undefeated record in his next fight against Frankie Randall. After winning back the title in an immediate rematch, Chávez gave Taylor a rematch. This rematch happened four years too late as both men were nowhere near the fighters they were in their first encounter. Chávez lost his title for good in 1996 when a young Oscar de la Hoya chopped him up like a stuck pig. Chávez, because of issues with substance abuse and mismanagement of his finances, fought another nine years before finally returning in 2005 at the age of 42.
Regardless of whether or not Taylor was robbed of a victory the night he fought Chávez the first time, he was never the same due to the amount of punishment he took that night. A year later he defeated Aaron Davis to win the WBA Welterweight title, but even in that fight you could tell, even though he was only 24, that he wasn’t the same fighter that fought Chávez. In 1992, he was massacred by Terry Norris in an attempt to win Norris’s WBC Super Welterweight title and then lost his 147 pound title to Crisanto Espana by knockout. After getting knocked out by Chávez in their 1994 rematch, Taylor, who’s speech had already been noticeably slurred, fought 10 more times until retiring for good at the age of 35 in 2002. Taylor’s career, in my opinion, was one of biggest disappointments considering his incredible talent in boxing history.