The boxing world was still buzzing from Buster Douglas’ massive upset of Mike Tyson to win the undisputed heavyweight championship a month earlier when it was rocked again, this time by one of the great fights of modern times -- the 1990 fight of the year -- and perhaps the single most controversial stoppage in the history of the sport.
The junior welterweight title unification fight between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor was highly anticipated and delivered more than anyone could have possibly asked for. Nobody will ever forget the March 17, 1990, fight at the Las Vegas Hilton (although most surely have forgotten Chavez’s one-sided victory against the shot Taylor in the rematch four years later).
Even more unforgettable than the action-packed fight, however, was the ending, which can still fire up a heated argument over the validity of the stoppage.
Just say “two seconds” to any fight fan and he or she should know what you’re talking about. There were two seconds remaining in the epic battle when referee Richard Steele stopped the fight, giving Chavez one of the most dramatic comebacks in boxing history and perhaps the greatest victory in his Hall of Fame career filled with big ones.
Conversely, it was the most bitter of defeats for Taylor, who had dominated the fight and was on his feet after getting dropped in the final moments when Steele waved his arms to end it, denying Taylor what would have been a glorious victory.
The match was a perfect one: two undefeated champions who had exciting styles that meshed perfectly -- the fight was titled “Thunder and Lightning” -- with a little nationalism thrown in for good measure.
Chavez, the Mexican superstar with a nation behind him, was the thunder, a relentless break-you-down thumper who beat and battered opponents into submission with a grinding attack. Taylor was the lightning, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist and flashy Philadelphia fighter with blinding speed who threw punches with the rapidity of a machine gun.
Going into the bout, Chavez was 66-0 with 56 knockouts, including a 16-0 record with 11 KOs in world title fights, and Taylor was 24-0-1 with 14 knockouts, including 3-0 with two knockouts in world title fights.
Chavez was the slight favorite, but Taylor started fast and banked the early rounds. He was boxing circles around Chavez, and although he was not a big puncher, he was obviously outlanding him with sweet combinations that Chavez could not fend off.
But as was the Chavez way, he never stopped pressing forward. Although Taylor continued to win rounds, it wasn’t easy. Chavez was losing but doing damage. If Chavez was going to lose a decision, Taylor was damn well going to know he had been in the fight of his life.
To many, Taylor won the first nine rounds. But as the fight got into the later rounds, the damage Chavez was doing was apparent. Taylor’s face was swelling (due to a facial fracture) and bleeding from the mouth, which caused him swallow blood.
Slowly but surely, Chavez was breaking him down but would need a knockout to win. It became a game of beat the clock. If Taylor just could make it to the final bell, he’d win.
Going into the 12th round, Taylor was leading on two scorecards -- 108-101 and 107-102 -- and absurdly trailing 105-104 on the third. Rather than play it safe, Taylor’s corner told him he needed the round. Taylor went out to fight and paid the price, finally getting nailed with a right hand that floored him in a corner with a few seconds left in the fight. Taylor got up, and Steele looked, didn’t like what he saw and stopped the fight, leaving many in utter shock but Chavez and his fans celebrating.
I’ve always felt Taylor was robbed of the victory. I know many say that there was no way Steele knew how much time was left, but he was an elite referee. He had to have known instinctively that there was little time left, not to mention that the red light on each cornerpost was flashing red, indicating fewer than 10 seconds were left in the fight. Taylor would never be the same again, but after dominating most of the fight, he at least deserved two more seconds.