SI Vault
William Nack
March 26, 1990
In the final seconds Meldrick Taylor blew a sure win and was KO'd by Julio César Chávez
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March 26, 1990

The Brink

In the final seconds Meldrick Taylor blew a sure win and was KO'd by Julio César Chávez

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"I saw a great fighter who was beaten," said Steele. "His eyes, his condition, told me that he'd had enough. Meldrick Taylor got up, but I was not going to let him take another punch." Only two seconds were left in the fight when Steele raised his arms in the air and waved the bout to an end.

Duva went berserk. Figuring that his boxer was probably winning on points, Duva leapt through the ropes and went racing over to confront Steele. "Unbelievable! Unbelievable! What the hell are you doing?" he yelled. "What did you stop it for? He was on his feet at five!"

Steele did not respond. He simply turned and walked away. As security guards climbed into the ring to protect the fighters, the spectators stood by their seats and applauded for several minutes in a moving, almost reverential tribute to Chávez and Taylor.

In the weeks leading up to the bout, many boxing observers had thought it might rank among the best fights of the past 10 years, and it more than fulfilled those expectations. At times the battle recalled the barn-burning, give-no-quarter featherweight title fights of the late 1940s and early '50s between Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler. The matchup was ideal, with the older, more cunning and implacable Chávez, who hits hard from both sides, against the younger, quicker Taylor, a Philadelphian who entered the fight with a 24-0-1 record, including 14 knockouts, and who has two of the fastest hands in the sport.

Chávez is a destructive body puncher, particularly when he has an opponent on the ropes. Thus, Taylor spent most of his 12 weeks training for the fight by working the center of the ring and by staying out of the corners. Chávez never did pin Taylor on the ropes. Instead, Taylor took the fight to the middle of the ring, spinning off the ropes whenever he found himself there, and leaning on Chávez as he worked the body and head with hooks and uppercuts. At times, as the two boxers drove their heads into each other's shoulders, Chávez and Taylor looked like two horned animals locked in bitter territorial combat.

With Taylor winging the jab and moving in circles around the center of the ring, Chávez lost the first round on the scorecards of all three judges. From his seat at ringside, Taylor's promoter, Dan Duva, Lou's son, exhorted Taylor to control the fight from the center. "Make him back up," Duva kept saying. "Get off the ropes. Get out. Turn and walk away. Don't stand in front of him."

Chávez pursued Taylor, looking for a chance to fire the overhand right, and he and Taylor battered each other inside with hooks. By the second round, Taylor was bleeding from the mouth. Chávez was hitting harder, but Taylor was scoring repeatedly with his jab and hook. He was throwing more punches and making Chávez miss. Taylor dominated the early rounds, and then the fighters quickened the tempo in the fifth. In the sixth, the predominantly Latin crowd began chanting their man on: "CHA-vez! CHA-vez!"

Although Taylor was winning, he was suffering the more visible punishment. In the middle rounds his left eye began to close, and his face became swollen and lumpy. His mouth and nose were bleeding, and his white satin trunks were streaked with his blood. But Taylor never stopped moving and banging away. He would land an average of 38.1 punches a round to Chávez's 21.5, and 128 jabs to Chávez's 37. By Round 8, doubling up on the hook, Taylor had Chávez backing up, and Dan Duva was yelling, "Now you got him, Mel! This is your time in history!"

The action intensified in the ninth. Both men worked the body in close with hooks and uppercuts and with winged shots as they came out of the crouch. For the first time they appeared tired, but then in the 10th Taylor put on his show of the night. Looking to seal his apparent win, he scored early with a right hand-left hook combination, which snapped back Chávez's head amid a halo of sweat spray. Chávez recovered quickly, boring in and driving Taylor back with a jarring right hand to the head. However, as he had been doing all night when he was tagged, Taylor began firing punches from all points on the compass. He raked Chávez with three fast right-left combinations, scored again by doubling up with a left hook, caught a hard right by Chávez and banged Chávez with a right of his own.

There they stood, in the middle of the ring, furiously snapping punches at each other—lefts and rights, jabs and uppercuts. At the bell, the crowd was on its feet and cheering wildly in appreciation of a truly remarkable show. The fighters went at it again in the 11th, pounding each other at center ring, until the bell finally rang, and Taylor, now tasting victory as surely as the blood in his mouth, threw his arms in the air in triumph as he walked back to his corner.

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