By Matt Waters
They called him a “Philadelphia Fighter” a definition that may require further explanation of its rather blunt meaning. A Philadelphia Fighter doesn’t quit, a Philadelphia Fighter never stops throwing punches, bobbing and weaving, never ceases to extract all the flight and fury his body could possibly handle. A Philadelphia Fighter never plays it safe, never allows his score on a card to dictate strategy, and most importantly, until he collapses, a Philadelphia Fighter answers the count.
While Meldrick Taylor indeed had the lifeblood of “A City of Brotherly Love” careening violently through his veins, it was his equal measure of talent that defined his climb toward glory. It was his speed, movements missed with any single blink, and reckless combinations, arrogant in their immediate punctuation, that launched him into a stratosphere of stardom. Gold Medals, championship belts, these were only deserved spoils.
A legend isn’t made, only forged, through the constant reinforcement of undeniable greatness. If any one Boxer ever deserved such haughty stature it was Julio Cesar Chavez. Undefeated, untarnished, seemingly untouchable, Chavez had been an unstoppable champion of both his people and his legacy for an entire decade. The power packed behind his punches was staggering in both subtle quickness and devastating aftermath, leaving opponents often bloodied and bedraggled. Chavez’s fighting style, his formula, was perfectly suited to the Sweet Science: Grace and gore.
For a fighter to be truly valued through the generations, one battle of his, one that rises above any possible embellishment to stand on its own merit, must stand out from a collection of venerable masterpieces. It should highlight his every strength and weakness, his prime, all of what he was and could have been. When a fight mirrors both it’s duel combatants however, it becomes more than an event, it becomes a mythological expression, timeless.
On March 17, 1990, a bout of Title Unification would take place between Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez.
Las Vegas had been ordained, playing host to history. The hype machine roared into full effect, with the far more charismatic Taylor taking on a role of brash contender, necessary juxtaposition against the staid, dignified Chavez. Despite his outward appearance, Meldrick was usually a quiet and composed young man, mature enough to handle success without embracing excess.
Eyes that could see through the flimsy, arrogant machinations of Taylor at pre-fight press conferences could actually discover an articulate, calculating person with a definite gift for expressing himself both verbally and athletically. His responses during interviews were timed perfectly, planned in their varied spontaneity. It seemed almost a laconic ease for Meldrick to get his point across, crisply, efficiently.
Hype had given way to action. Chavez, characteristically quiet in the days preceding the bout, was now free to express himself in the ring. Early, he tested Taylor with his usual tenacity, testing the heart and jaw of his opposition, his opposite. Taylor absorbed the punishment, shrugging off the attacking Chavez. He peppered Chavez with quick jabs, patiently waiting for an opening while avoiding deadly risks, respecting the punching power of his undefeated adversary. Early on, Taylor’s intelligent objective, conjured by both himself and his handlers, soundly staggered the momentum of Chavez.
Chavez adeptly refused to panic, continuing a methodical pounding of Taylor’s body, even while clearly falling far behind on every single judges scorecard. Meldrick’s continual flicks may have lacked the immense strength of Chavez’s haymakers, but they kept his opponent at bay, creating an open book for tantalizing combinations, done with rapid yet measured swiftness. A pattern had positively emerged. There would be Taylor, moving to and fro, in and out, catching Chavez with a left here, a right there, a quick, seemingly harmless combo, before escaping once more. Chavez, a ring warrior, could have let his mounting frustration overcome his sensibility. Instead, he waited. And waited. And waited some more, getting his shots in when the narrow opportunity arose, acutely aware the entire time that his nimble adversary couldn’t possibly keep this frantic pace up all night long.
Relentless. This is just one adjective that could reasonably quantify Julio Cesar Chavez. A seismic shift in the fight had occurred; Chavez’s immeasurable instincts had been entirely truthful, his nobility in trusting them even while losing amazingly admirable. It was now Julio executing his plan, a concoction of fists and fury, destroying the cheekbones of Taylor. So unmerciful was the beating, absorbed by a tired Meldrick, that he ended up swallowing his own blood routinely between rounds, his face puffy and swollen, his eyes almost bruised shut, his aforementioned cheekbones a fractured mess.
And with his portion of assault on Chavez already previously exacted, Meldrick’s only bullet left resided within his chest, a beating heart that refused his tired mind and body to waver in the face of this punishment. He wobbled but refused to fall, bent but would not break. Still ahead on the scoreboards thanks to his brilliance earlier in the fight, Taylor’s heart could have conceivably carried him to victory. The bell tolled for the final round, Chavez needing a knock out for his comeback to be complete, Taylor only needing to remain on his feet.
Two champions, only one crown.
Referee Richard Steele had seen a lot during an extended career of officiating pressure packed, Championship Bouts. But the abuse heaped on Meldrick Taylor courtesy of Julio Cesar Chavez horrified him, and he made a decision before the final round of their epic encounter that would ultimately decide it’s outcome. It was in his determination that Taylor had taken far too much punishment, and if he, after being knocked down, could not properly affix a definite equilibrium, the match would end in a technical knockout in favor of the resurgent Chavez. This issue may have weighed so heavily on Steele’s mind that time itself became of little consequence.
With his last ounce of strength, with his last measure of will, Meldrick Taylor fought back. Shady advisement from his corner had prompted him into action, resulting in an uneven, ugly slugfest during Round 12. It’s important to note that Taylor was not thoroughly pounded without recourse at any point of the fight, rather, rounds eight, nine, and ten, were all contested evenly, however, it was the effect of Chavez’s blows on Taylor that caused such disparity in how the fight was judged and how it was actually fought.
Simplicity offers a view of Chavez mauling Taylor from the middle rounds on, but reality preaches a wholly different tale. Despite being spent, despite being wounded, Taylor stayed in the fight, consistently, before finally wearing down after round 11, where he proceeded to almost wander into Chavez’s corner.
Round 12 belonged to Chavez, and Taylor, abiding by his corner’s foolish plan, fell right into the Legend’s palms, leaving himself absently open for further abuse. The contested battle, skewed toward the power of Chavez and defined by the fighting spirit of Taylor, had vanished, replaced by rapture. Seconds ticked by, Taylor remained standing. Finally, with his undefeated streak nearly engulfed by the jaws of defeat, Chavez backed the weary Taylor into a corner and wouldn’t let him escape.
The right hand connected, knocking Taylor to the mat, and surely out cold. Chavez exulted in utter victory. It had been the most extreme of endurance tests, and it had ended with a bang rather than a limp and undeserved whimper. Taylor moved restlessly, grasping for the ropes.
And than, impossibly, he rose. To his feet, upright, strong, resolved, a Philadelphia Fighter to the End. He answered the count.
Two seconds left. Chavez is in shock, with no time left for redemption.
Taylor had survived. He had won.
Richard Steele looked in his eyes, after administering a standing eight count.
” Are you OK?”
” Are you OK?” He asked it again.
Before Meldrick could even respond, Steele declared that the fight was over.
Julio Cesar Chavez had won, a Technical Knockout.
Meldrick’s eyes welled, bewildered, his face twisted, confused, as Steele forcibly removed his mouthpiece. He would never be the same, would never again capture the glory that had so harshly avoided his deserving caress. Two seconds short of nirvana.
Julio Cesar Chavez celebrated his greatest victory.
Years later, Meldrick Taylor is interviewed. His speech is slurred, his eyes noticeably unfocused. Doctors warn of possible brain damage. Someone behind the camera questions him, querying about a fight he lost once. The only one he ever fought.
He takes his time in answering.
3 replies on “Timeless: Chavez Vs. Taylor”
Great article That Taylor-Chavez fight was one of the best fights I ever watched. Taylor definitely wins if they don’t stop it and I think it ruined the rest of his career.
Good article idea. I love delving into the vault and this was a good way of doing so.
One of the Best fights of all time I think. Two true champions going one on one in the ring. Thanks for the feedback.
awesome Great article.