1. Jan. 29, 1994, Frankie Randall W 12 Julio Cesar Chavez I – MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada
In most people’s minds, the result of Super Bowl XXVIII was a foregone conclusion. The Dallas Cowboys, led by quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin, had destroyed the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in the previous year’s championship game and despite the Bills’ unprecedented fourth consecutive appearance in the final game no one believed they could reverse their curse.
For a while, however, things looked good for the 10 1/2-point underdogs as they went into halftime with a 13-6 lead. But any dreams of an upset were shattered 45 seconds into the third quarter when Dallas safety James Washington recovered Thurman Thomas’ fumble and raced into the end zone to tie the game. From that point forward it was Smith’s ball game as his runs steadily wore down Buffalo’s defense and eventually led to 24 unanswered points. Smith’s 132 yards on 30 carries netted the Cowboys a 30-13 victory and Smith the game’s MVP award.
Less than 24 hours earlier at the MGM Grand boxing experts were equally dismissive of Frankie Randall’s chances of dethroning Julio Cesar Chavez, who, despite his draw-that-should-have-been-a-loss against Pernell Whitaker the previous year, was still thought to be among the sport’s elite. Chavez’s historic 89-0-1 (77) record and three divisional championships dwarfed the accomplishments compiled within Randall’s 48-2-1 (39) ledger. Experts believed that while “The Surgeon” offered a pleasing boxer-puncher blend, his skills wouldn’t be near enough to upend the man known as “J.C. Superstar.” They thought Chavez’s grinding body punches would rip through Randall’s defenses much like Smith’s runs gashed the Bills’ defensive line the following day and that Randall’s finesse would experience the same fate as Jim Kelly’s vaunted “K-Gun.”
What they forgot was that Randall had won 17 straight, 13 by KO and seven straight inside the distance since his KO loss to Primo Ramos six years earlier and in that time Randall picked up valuable experience. That experience told him that Chavez was a notoriously slow starter and Randall took full advantage by winning the first three rounds with slick movement, sage punch selection and excellent execution. By comparison Chavez fought as if he were mired in mud and although the 31-year-old Chavez was one year younger he seemed to be encased in age. At times he appeared disengaged and disinterested.
That changed in the fourth as he picked up his work rate and fired in his trademark body shots. The fifth and sixth rounds saw Randall throwing more, Chavez landing more powerfully and the pace escalating. As Chavez attacked Randall’s body he drew several warnings for low blows from referee Richard Steele and with 28 seconds remaining in the seventh a hook to the hip prompted Steele to take a point.
Knowing he had a mathematical mountain to climb Chavez swept the eighth, ninth and 10th rounds to draw closer but in the 11th everything came crashing down. First came a second point deduction for a hook to Randall’s protective cup and with 31 seconds remaining the unthinkable happened – a pulverizing right to the point of the chin dropped Chavez for the first time in his career.
Believing he was well ahead on the cards, Randall danced away the 12th while a discouraged Chavez failed to produce the last-ditch surge that allowed him to escape defeat against Meldrick Taylor in their first fight four years earlier.
The final drama came when the scorecards were read. American Chuck Giampa saw Randall a 116-111 winner while Mexico’s Abraham Chavarria scored it 114-113 for Chavez. The tie-breaker was provided by Puerto Rico’s Angel Luis Guzman, who turned in a 114-113 card for the winner, and new champion, Frankie Randall.
Many called it the upset of the decade, and it may well have been because Randall’s shocking win stopped Chavez’s historic unbeaten streak. As for the Cowboys, they ended up becoming the NFL team of the decade as they added a third Super Bowl title in four years by beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
Photos / John Gruzinski-AFP and Al Bello-Getty Images (Chavez-Randall), The Ring (Whitaker-Hurtado), George Gojkovich-Getty Images (Super Bowl XVI), Sylvia Allen-Getty Images (Super Bowl XV), Ross Kinnaird-Getty Images (Tyson-Francis), Timmothy A. Clancy (Super Bowl XLV)
Lee Groves, a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va., can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won seven writing awards, including a first-place for News Story in 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is 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.