It was one of those fights that felt like it happened yesterday, although this yesterday was 25 years (and now a day) ago.
On March 17, 1990 at the Las Vegas Hilton arena, Meldrick Taylor met Julio Cesar Chavez for a semi-unification of the junior welterweight boxing championship. Both fighters were undefeated (although Taylor had an earlier draw against his record), with Taylor holding the International Boxing Federation version of the championship while Chavez simultaneously held the World Boxing Council belt of the same weight class.
All is going well for Taylor, the Philadelphia fighter, as he’s winning round after round of the fight scheduled to go a maximum of twelve rounds. As Taylor is winning most (if not all) of the rounds, you could see that Chavez was getting his own quality of punches in. Taylor’s face was taking most of it, as you could see a cut inside his lip and one of his eyes looked in bad shape. After the fight, Taylor was diagnosed as having a fractured orbital bone in one eye.
Chavez was down in the scoring, or so it was speculated. (Scoring is kept by three judges stationed at ringside, and typically only they know the score. It is usually not posted anywhere in the arena like other sports do.) In boxing, if you’re down on points, there is one great equalizer: the knockout. Score a stoppage and you win the fight, no matter the scoring. The Mexican fighter, known for his knockout power, wobbled Taylor with 25 seconds left in the fight, scoring a knockdown with a thunderous right seven seconds later.
All Taylor had to do was get up and survive the last few seconds to win. Taylor rose with 11 seconds to go, with referee Richard Steele’s count at six. The count had to go to a minimum of eight to comply with the mandatory eight seconds a fighter gets once he falls. Steele looks at Taylor, asking twice if he is okay. Taylor doesn’t respond to either of the questions, so Steele waves his arms to signify the fight was over, and that Taylor was finished.
Only two seconds remained in the fight, stopped at 2:58 of the 12th round.
A crescendo of emotion and amazement hit the arena, some amazed Chavez could pull off the fight, others amazed Steele had the huevos to stop the fight so close to its conclusion, denying Taylor what would have been a legendary victory. Neither fighter was ever the same after that night, with Taylor taking the worst of it, moving up in weight and taking more beatings from more skilled fighters.
Fast forward to June of 1996. I had briefly lived in Las Vegas for that month, and Chavez had another big money fight with 1992 Olympian Oscar De La Hoya while I was there. The day before the fight, I went to the weigh-in at Caesars Palace, and they were showing the Taylor fight on the sportsbook TV screens with no ball games going on that morning.
I already knew the outcome, but when I had to go to the bathroom I can hear people reacting to the fight outside as if they had seen it for the first time. Someone came into the bathroom, talking to a buddy, saying “Did you see that f***ing fight?!?”
I did, six years prior to that. I wasn’t a Meldrick Taylor fan, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. I still can’t. But those are the travels of a prizefighter.