1.1990 – Julio Cesar Chavez KO 12 Meldrick Taylor I, Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas Nevada – WBC and IBF junior welterweight titles
This was a match straight out of boxing fans’ dreams. First, Chavez-Taylor would unite two of the three major title belts. Second, Chavez’s rock-fisted aggression and Taylor’s laser-like hand and foot speed promised a beautiful mix of styles. Third, Mike Tyson’s shocking knockout loss to James “Buster” Douglas in February created an unexpected opening at the top of the mythical pound-for-pound list and the winner of this fight would likely become boxing’s newest world number one.
Finally, the fight far surpassed the build-up.
Told to fight within an imaginary circle that extended to within a few feet of the ropes, Taylor executed a disciplined fight plan in the first eight rounds. His lightning-quick combinations vaulted him to a huge lead on the scorecards and prepared the crowd for a potentially historic end to Chavez’s 68-fight winning streak from the start of a career. But even as Taylor continued to score points Chavez determinedly stuck to his own blueprint and the effects graphically manifested themselves down the stretch.
Already dealing with a lower lip cut that forced him to swallow copious amounts of blood and with a broken orbital bone, Taylor’s stamina was the next target on Chavez’s hit list. His hammering body blows and pinpoint crosses gradually chipped away at Taylor’s resolve and resiliency, if not the scorecards.
Trainers Lou Duva and George Benton didn’t know Taylor was far ahead on two scorecards entering the 12th and the proof was their advice that Taylor go all out to secure the decision. Despite his exhaustion, Taylor obediently fired 116 punches. But Chavez had the final word as a miraculous right cross dropped Taylor for a five count.
As the crowd yelled themselves hoarse and referee Richard Steele twice asked Taylor if he was OK, the Philadelphian’s attention instead was focused on Duva, who had climbed onto the ring apron. Taylor’s scrambled brain – as well as his scrambled priorities at that critical moment – moved Steele to wave off the fight, for Taylor did not adequately answer Steele’s queries in a timely manner. With only two seconds left Chavez had saved his belt, his undefeated record and his legacy while Taylor lost everything Chavez had gained.
Chavez-Taylor I upheld the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day as we know it today in three respects. First, it was a sensational, pulsating battle. Second, Steele’s stoppage will forever be the subject of bar debates – and maybe bar fights. Finally, the sudden switch from a potential split decision win for Taylor to a TKO for Chavez caused plenty of “green” to change owners – and we don’t mean pitchers of beer.
Lee Groves can be emailed at email@example.com. Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won five writing awards, and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. and the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.