Date: March 17, 1990.
Venue: Las Vegas Hilton.
Nicknamed: “Thunder Meets Lightening“
Mexico’s emerging legend Julio Cesar Chavez entered this showdown of undefeated champions on the back of a
professional career that had to that point delivered an incredible 68 consecutive victories. Chavez had already won world titles at Junior Lightweight & Lightweight prior to claiming the WBC’s version of the Junior Welterweight championship from none other than Roger Mayweather in May of 1989.
Chavez & Mayweather had of course met 4 years earlier at Junior Lightweight with El Gran Campeón Mexicano taking the series 2-0. JCC had been taken past the third round in only one of the five fights that punctuated the Mayweather rematch & his long awaited unification match up with 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Taylor.
Whilst Julio Cesar Chavez was transcending from mere boxing champion to ubiquitous symbol of Mexican national pride a notable & game challenger was emerging in Philadelphia’s own Meldrick Taylor. Taylor had supersonic hand-speed comparable to any fighter in modern boxing history. He also, for better or worse, as it was to transpire – had a willingness, a need even, to stand & trade & had thus crafted out a niche in the sport as an exceptionally fan friendly commodity. Here was a fighter who was one half Ray Leonard & one half Joe Frazier.
“In one sense these debates were a deliberation over the identity of the sport itself. A sporting discipline that stands so unashamedly at the juncture between supreme human virtue & unremittingly cruel savagery will always be predisposed toward these differences of opinion between the logical mind & the warrior’s heart.”
Six years on from his exploits at the Los Angeles Olympics his professional career – which had of course already delivered a world title at 140lbs – was chronologically at the same adolescent phase as Amir Khan’s was when he waged his engrossing war with Marcos Maidana in 2010. Unlike Khan though, the ramifications of this timeless classic of pugilistic warfare were incurably fatal, terminal in every sense to what seemed a burgeoning & inescapably championship strewn career as we headed into the new decade.
Chavez vs. Taylor was an ageless classic in every sense of the expression. Meldrick came out of the gate the faster; which was not altogether unanticipated given Chavez’s by then long-established custom of opening slow before progressively & systematically wearing his opponents down with a veritable death march of body punches that cumulatively ruined their facility to sustain their own offensive yield into the later rounds. What was unforeseen was Taylor’s readiness to trade on the inside against the harder hitting Mexican icon. For the opening six rounds Taylor, astonishingly, pitched a virtual shutout.
Taylor started to exhibit facial swelling and he was bleeding from the mouth but his movement remained polished & his punches retained their zip. What was most disquieting for the Chavez corner was the reality that his punches did not give the impression of slowing Taylor down sufficiently for him to exploit a slowing foe into the latter rounds. Chavez might have fully anticipated losing the majority of those initial six rounds though surely have budgeted on landing an aggregation of sapping body blows that cumulatively would have extracted an untenable toll on the less seasoned & battletested Olympian Taylor. The return on his body barrage investment, though, appeared only later as a supremely well conditioned opponent seemed to take the punishment well.
At least that is how it appeared from the outside looking in. As the fight headed into deeper waters, the laws of physiology & of physics caught up with Meldrick Taylor as he limped stubbornly toward the finish in a fight he had surely won on the judge’s scorecards.
The dispute that encircled Richard Steele’s judgment to cut short proceedings with only seconds remaining was
bitter & highly divisive. In one sense these debates were a deliberation over the identity of the sport itself. A sporting discipline that stands so unashamedly at the juncture between supreme human virtue & unremittingly cruel savagery will always be predisposed toward these differences of opinion between the logical mind & the warrior’s heart.
Apparently there was a second fight, though the very – at times exquisite & at pulses wickedly barbaric – nature of The Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Decade” for the 1990s made a true rematch of the two great champions who graced the boxing world with an endowment of era recalibrating significance that March night back in 1990 a material impossibility. Lightening only struck once.
Matt Hamilton, for ESNews Reporting!