Boxing

Meldrick Taylor - Two Seconds In Time

02.02.05 - By Matthew Hurley: There is an image of Meldrick Taylor that is haunting. It's not of him falling from a right hand thrown by Julio Cesar Chavez and being stopped with two seconds remaining in their classic encounter. It's not a selected image of any bout that came afterwards as this once great fighter quickly fell to pieces in the ring in subsequent fights. It's not even a recent image of a man whose mind is clouded and whose mouth seems stuffed with cotton when he speaks. It is an image of man, a fighter, teetering on the precipice of tragedy. He sits, slippers on his feet, and stares at the television set watching himself stumble to his feet against Chavez only to have referee Richard Steele steal away his moment of glory. He freezes the picture with his remote control, his eyes far away, and then he rewinds the tape and watches it all over again. He watches his life come apart in seconds on the television screen. When he's had his fill he turns the television off and rests his head in his hands.

Two seconds. He knows if he had those two seconds back he probably still would have evolved into the nearly incoherent figure he is now. But he would have achieved his victory and his destiny. He deserved as much. Instead, he rewinds the tape, watches himself fall over and over again and wonders what might have been.

There are so many tragic stories in boxing and this particular fall from fistic grace is as powerfully moving as any. Yet Meldrick's story resonates because we all sometimes feel the fates are lined up against us, itching to knock us to the ground. At some point in time even the most optimistic of us experiences a sense of fatalism. It's not a human failing, just human nature and Meldrick Taylor, a Philadelphia fighter in every sense of that proud tradition, was blessed by the boxing gods with gifts any fighter would kill for. However, Taylor seemed to tempt those fates until they finally had enough of him. Meldrick had speed of both hand and foot. He had the steely resolve of a champion even before a belt was wrapped around his waist. He also had a warrior's heart, one that beat fiercely in his muscled chest. That heart made him neglect his gifts and jump right into the mix, making fights more difficult and more dangerous for him than they should have been. It's what made him so compelling. It was also his undoing. The clock on his career ran faster than it did for other fighters and it ran out two seconds before it should have.

Meldrick Taylor won an Olympic gold medal at the tender age of seventeen in the 1984 games. He was perhaps the most overlooked member of a team that included Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Tyrell Biggs. When he turned professional, however, everyone focused their attention from those big name fighters to the little boxer with the blazing fists, bright smile and the colorful, cocky personality. He won his first title on September 3, 1988 when he took the IBF junior welterweight championship from James "Buddy" McGirt on a twelfth round technical knockout. He followed that upset victory with five more wins before taking on the preeminent fighter in boxing, Julio Cesar Chavez, in a unification match-up that became the high water mark bout of the 1990s. It was one of those rare fights that surpassed its prefight hype. It was a fight that left boxing fans gasping for air and relief for nearly twelve rounds. Then, with just two seconds remaining, all the air left the boxing world and fans stood in shock as Steele waved the bout to a halt. Chavez became a national icon in Mexico while Taylor returned to Philadelphia a broken shell of the fighter he once was. Two seconds was all it took to send two proud men in two very different directions.

Boxing scribe Pedro Fernandez opined, "He should have had his victory because he beat him for thirty-five minutes and fifty-eight seconds."

For nearly twelve rounds Taylor dazzled the sellout crowd and the unbeaten Chavez with combinations that flowed from him like an out of control flood. Speed was the "kid's" ace in the hole, but Meldrick wouldn't have been so beloved if he simply tossed jabs and danced out of harm's way. No, Taylor embodied the tough streets of Philadelphia where he grew up and where he learned, for better or not, that a man who deems himself a fighter fights with his heart and his stubbornness. He loved trench warfare in the ring and prided himself on his ability to brawl as well as box. It was a flaw he got away with to an extent for most of the early part of his career. But it finally caught up to him. Against Chavez, a fighter who defined the word tough, his love for planting his feet and throwing leather cost him dearly. He beat Chavez for eleven rounds but Chavez beat Taylor up for twelve.

Ron Borges, the boxing writer for the Boston Globe, described the bout's unbelievable finish perfectly when he compared Taylor to a Boston marathoner. "He's just falling apart. Can this guy just make it to the finish line?"

He couldn't, or he wasn't allowed to depending upon how you feel about Richard Steele's stoppage of the fight.

The controversy over the bout's ending will always be hotly debated amongst boxing fans. In the end though, all that was left were the remnants of Meldrick Taylor, his face and body beaten so badly all he could do was recline wearily on his couch, slippers on his feet and watch that night, that moment, endlessly on video and shake his head. Two seconds two seconds stretched into a lifetime of silently screaming in his mind, "Why?"

Taylor fought on. He even fought Chavez again, losing badly in eight rounds and then things like thoughts and memories seemed to slip away from him. Although he'll tell you otherwise, his present condition, viewed with a compassionate but analytical eye, is heartbreaking. All that had made him so wonderful to watch as a boxer conspired against him in the end. That blood lust many boxing fan's harbor, which skyrocketed him to stardom, pumped so furiously through his veins it finally attacked him from within. He fought with so much heart his body just couldn't take it anymore. His is a tragic story.

Meldrick Taylor wants to continue to fight but several districts, such as New Jersey, refuse to license him. And still that fighting spirit continues to delude him. "I want to show that I'm still as good as I was ten years ago," he says, the words slurring together. "I didn't like to box all the time. It was too boring. I wanted to get in there and mix it up. Maybe I was too brave for my own good. I don't know."

He was too brave for his own good, and we loved him for it. And now we pray for him and wonder if all it takes in anyone's life is two seconds to take it all away.

Article posted on 02.02.2005



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