Outside of African-American boxers, the culture that dominated the sport hail from Mexico. The most beloved fighter ever to come out of Mexico is Julio Cesar Chavez. Chavez was the prototypical Mexican fighter; great chin, tremendous body puncher and an incredible will. These attributes, plus his winning world titles at 130, 135 and 140 lbs., all add up to Chavez being the 28th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.
Chavez turned pro at the tender age of 18 in his hometown of Culiacan, Mexico. Chavez won the vast majority of his first 43 fights in Mexico, with 37 of those wins coming inside the distance. On September 13, Chavez received his first title opportunity against fellow Mexican Mario Martinez for the vacant WBC super featherweight world title. Martinez was no match for the mental and physical aggression Chavez put on him. Chavez brutally battered his Mexican compatriot before the fight was finally called off at the end of round eight. Less than a year later, my father and I would see him fight on television for the first time.
On July 7, 1985 Chavez made the second defense of his title against former 130-pound champion Roger Mayweather, the future trainer of his nephew Floyd. Round one saw Mayweather dominate by moving and landing crisp combinations off of Chavez’s head. My father and I were fans of Roger and thought that he could continue to dominate the 23-year-old Mexican champion. Our joy was short lived as early in the second round, Chavez landed two consecutive right crosses that dropped the challenger. Referee Richard Steele erroneously ruled it a slip, but as soon the action resumed, Chavez dropped Roger with another vicious right cross. A minute later, Chavez knocked Roger down again with a right cross, left hook combination that was the end as Steele stopped the fight. My father and I saw that Chavez was going to be great for a long time.
Chavez would successfully defend his 130-pound crown seven more times before moving up to 135 pounds to challenge for the WBA 135-pound crown against the power punching champion from Puerto Rico, Edwin Rosario. I was attending college in New Orleans at the time and was out on a date with my girlfriend at the time. When I got back to my dorm room, my roommate gave me a message to call my fighter right away. It was two o’clock in the morning when I called my father back in New York. My father answered the phone before I could even hear it ring on my end. My father proceeded to explain to me how Chavez beat the living hell out of Rosario before the fight was stopped in the 11th round. My father said power punchers like Rosario were dead meat for an aggressive stalker like Chavez. It would take a master technician like a Pernell Whitaker to defeat him.
Chavez, after winning world titles at 130 and 135 pounds, moved up to the 140-pound division and on May 13, 1989 faced Roger Mayweather again, this time for Roger’s WBC version of the world title. Chavez faced a much stiffer test. Mayweather started off strong, using a quick jab and right cross to keep Chavez at bay. However, it was Chavez’s body punching that ultimately slowed Mayweather down. After suffering damaging punches the second half of the fight, Mayweather quit in his corner after the 10th round. Just a few months away from his 27th birthday, Chavez was now a three-division world champion. After two successful defenses of the title, Chavez would face Meldrick Taylor in an epic encounter on March 17, 1990.
The fight between Taylor and Chavez 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 Chavez 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-Chavez 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 like my father and I expected he would. He boxed brilliantly, landing at will against the always aggressive but easy to hit Chavez. Chavez was like a lot of Mexican fighters who were great offensively, but defense was not their forte. Chavez had one of the greatest chins in boxing history and throughout this fight exhibited it. Taylor bounced one rapid fire combination after another, yet Chavez kept coming. A strong right cross in the second round by Chavez opened up a cut inside Taylor’s mouth. Chavez was able to land some good shots to both Taylor’s head and body, but 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. Chavez 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 Chavez to hit him. But by fighting inside, it gave Chavez more opportunities to punish Taylor with his clubbing punches. Between rounds five and nine, Taylor out landed Chavez three to one. But my father was correct in his assessment. Chavez’s clubbing punches were also landing. Even though Taylor had dominated the first eight rounds of the fight, both his eyes were swelling rapidly and he was swallowing a lot of blood.
Round 10 began with Taylor swarming Chavez with an incredible 20-punch combination to the head and body, yet it didn’t seem to affect Chavez at all. Chavez 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. Chavez 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 was also the much more exhausted fighter going into the 12th and final round.
The 12th round was an all out war, but it was Chavez whose punches had more power and snap left. Chavez 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. Chavez 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 I 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, Chavez continued to reign supreme over the 140-pound division, including his September 12, 1992 brutal 12-round beating of Hector Camacho. 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 Chavez miss all night while landing combination after combination. The decision was one of the most pathetic I’ve ever seen. Chavez received a gift draw and then lost his 140-pound title and undefeated record four months later on January 29, 1994 against Frankie Randall. At the time of his shocking loss to Randall, Chavez had been unbeaten in 90 fights. After winning back the title in an immediate rematch four months later, Chavez gave Taylor a rematch on on September 17, 1994. This rematch happened four years too late as both men were nowhere near the fighters they were in their first encounter.
Chavez lost his title for good on June 7, 1996 when a young Oscar de la Hoya chopped him up like a stuck pig and stopped him in the fourth round. Chavez received two more unsuccessful shots at the WBC 140-pound crown. Substance abuse drained him financially and caused Chavez to fight way past his prime. Despite the latter part of his career being so sad to watch, there was no denying his legacy as one of the greatest Mexican and Super Lightweights of all-time. He would finish his career with an incredulous record of 107-6-2 with 86 knockouts, cementing his position as the 28th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.