28 long years ago today, Saint Patrick’s Day in 1990, a truly great, controversial and simply unforgettable prizefight took place in Las Vegas; a fight so crammed full of drama that, had it been a piece of fiction depicted in a boxing movie, it would have been highly criticised for being far, far, far too unrealistic. Yet the once-in-a-lifetime classic Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez and Philadelphia’s Meldrick Taylor engaged in was very much real. And brutally raw.
On one hand, the bout was unforgettable simply because of the intensely high quality of the blistering action we were privileged to have witnessed in the ring. And on the other hand, the fight stands supreme as the greatest, the most talked about and the most controversial fight of the 1990s (with the possible exception of the Douglas-Tyson Upset of The Century) due to the shocking and massively debatable ending it had.
As we all know, Referee Richard Steele called a halt to the action, after the knockdown Chavez scored over Taylor in the twelfth and final round; with a mere two seconds left on the clock.
Many people – chief among them Taylor’s trainer/corner-man Lou Duva (RIP) – went crazy, while a few did support Steele’s decision. Over the years, it seems more and more people have decided that yes, Steele did do the right thing – Taylor’s current shocking and upsetting physical condition being a major factor in why.
Taylor certainly suffered a lot of punishment at the hands of Chavez, even before the twelfth-round knockdown. He had a bad cut inside his mouth that led to his swallowing a significant amount of blood, while he was also badly swollen around the face and eyes (the result of a broken eye socket). Added to this, was the fact that the 140 pound star was suffering from badly bruised kidneys and dehydration. All this despite the fact that Taylor was winning the fight – on points, that is.
Taylor was way ahead on the cards going into the final round yet, incredibly, both of the Philly warrior’s chief corner men – Duva and George Benton (RIP) – gave their fighter instructions to fight hard and make sure he won the last session of the fight. This advice, given to Taylor by two usually sage boxing brains, Benton especially being a master tactician, proved disastrous.
Had Taylor danced and stayed away, victory would surely have been his. But he did as he was told and this gave Chavez a chance. A chance the Mexican legend took by scoring the dramatic knockdown in the bout’s final remaining seconds.
Taylor, as we all saw, bravely beat the count at about “five,” but then insufficiently convinced Steele of his capability of continuing. Taylor seemed to look away to his right (it was later revealed how he had been distracted by Duva, who, absolutely fuming, had ascended the ring apron at this time) and the third man waved the fight off. Chavez had won with a mere two seconds remaining, in doing so becoming the undisputed 140 pound king.
Looking back almost thirty years later: should the fight have been permitted to go on? This is a question fight fans are still asking themselves now and will possibly continue to ask for many more years to come.
What might have happened had the fight been allowed to continue, albeit for just a couple of seconds?
Chavez, who was hovering menacingly in the immediate background as Steele’s count was being administered, would have rushed forward as soon as the referee moved away from the badly shaken Taylor. The stricken fighter who is fatigued and groggy would have tried his utmost to move his legs and retreat from his advancing opponent, yet Taylor may well have been tagged by one more punch, maybe two. Chavez, had he landed a vicious right on Taylor’s jaw, might have inflicted serious damage. Maybe the Mexican with the superb finishing ability might have even cracked a falling Taylor on the way down. In short, letting the fight continue was simply not worth the risk.
Chavez had done enough irreparable damage to Taylor and in his hurt condition, one more clean punch might well have hurt Taylor bad. Very bad, as in permanent.
All these years later and yes, Steele did the right thing.