March 17, 1990 — Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas — KO 12 Meldrick Taylor I
Setting the scene: This eagerly anticipated match was something rarely seen in boxing history — a fight between the top two pound-for-pound fighters when each was close to their peaks. The 23-year-old Taylor possessed a 24-0-1 record and was making the third defense of his IBF belt while the 27-year-old Chavez was 68-0 and risking the WBC strap for the third time.
The fight was dubbed “Thunder vs. Lightning” to highlight Chavez’s power and Taylor’s speed but the moniker would assume a new context after “J.C. Superstar” produced a miraculous ending straight out of a Bible movie. Chavez’s incredible 12th round rally merited this high ranking, but the fact that Chavez was thoroughly dominated en route hindered its standing.
What Happened: Taylor’s sizzling combinations and intelligent boxing vaulted him to a huge lead over the first eight rounds — the CompuBox stats had Taylor up 269-137 in total connects — but as he did so Chavez remained faithful to his strength-sapping punches on the inside. As Taylor inevitably slowed, Chavez picked up steam, both in terms of volume and in the damage his hammering blows inflicted. Almost imperceptibly the fight’s complexion changed and Taylor’s swollen and bloody face confirmed that fact.
Taylor’s trainers Lou Duva and George Benton couldn’t have known their man was well ahead on two scorecards (108-101, 107-102) entering the 12th because then they wouldn’t have implored Taylor to go all-out. “The Kid” obeyed, pushing his damaged body to unleash 116 punches. But Chavez made every one of his punches count — to Taylor’s everlasting detriment.
With the clock running out Chavez produced a Hail Mary cross that dropped the exhausted Philadelphian. Up at five, Taylor stared at Duva instead of answering Richard Steele’s questions, prompting the veteran referee to wave off the fight with two seconds remaining. Steele’s handling remains a hot topic of discussion more than two decades after the fact and will remain so for decades to come.