It's a boom time for boxing, with one of the sport's finest years in recent memory barely two-thirds finished and a handful of blockbusters still to come before the calendar flips again.
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. defending his pound-for-pound crown against Mexican darling Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14, Juan Manuel Marquez taking aim at a fifth title against welterweight belt holder Timothy Bradley Jr. on Oct. 12 and Manny Pacquiao preparing to bring world-class boxing to China against Brandon Rios on Nov. 23, there has never been a better time to celebrate the pomp of the must-see prizefight than right now.
And so, over the next several days, we'll be counting down boxing's top superfights of the ESPN era (since Sept. 7, 1979, for those of you scoring at home), as picked by our panel of boxing experts. Of course, we know there can be, ahem, disagreement on such a subjective topic, so we'd like to know what you think about our choices, get your picks and hear any other comments you might have related to our project. Just tweet using the hashtag #ESPNsuperfights, and we might feature your comment below.
In two seconds, a giant hummingbird can beat its wings 24 times. An Olympic sprinter in full flight can cover close to 75 feet. Two seconds is almost -- but not quite -- enough time for a Bugatti Veyron car accelerating from a standing start to reach 60 mph.
In the annals of boxing, however, of greater import -- and an argument that burns no less fiercely 23 years after it was first raised -- is whether two seconds was enough time for Julio Cesar Chavez to travel from one corner of the ring to another and land at least one more devastating blow to the chin of Meldrick Taylor. There is a corollary argument: whether that mattered. Even if the Mexican great had been able to land one more punch, which is uncertain, would it have been enough to cause further damage, to risk Taylor's health, or to render moot any disputes over the winner between the two men? Or even if there was insufficient time for him to do so, was the battering that Taylor had already received reason enough to halt the fight, as referee Richard Steele chose to do that March night in Las Vegas?
It is arguably to Steele's good fortune -- or at least the good fortune of his psyche -- that the events that unfolded at the Las Vegas Hilton did so in an age before Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, before the air-wave assault of round-the-clock sports talk radio, before -- one shivers at the very thought of it -- the tsunami of anonymous abuse that is Twitter. As it was, Steele -- a noble man who was recognized by Nelson Mandela for refusing to referee fights in apartheid South Africa -- would, largely as a consequence of his decision that night, find himself the target of boos during ring introductions for years afterward. He would force a stiff smile as the opprobrium descended, consoling himself that, by the end, after two decades had passed, a good percentage of those who joined in the catcalls likely had no understanding of why they were doing so but went along anyway because it seemed like the thing to do.
The irony is that, for all the focus on the two seconds of the fight that did not occur, the preceding 2,158 seconds of in-ring action had been of sensational quality. Taylor, a member of the legendary 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team, entered the ring with a professional record of 24-0-1 and a 140-pound title. Chavez, 66-0 with 58 stoppage wins, held a separate junior welterweight belt, having previously been a titleholder at 135 and 130 pounds. The conventional wisdom said that Taylor would win if he were able to deploy his lightning hand speed and turn the contest into one of boxing skills, footwork and angles. Chavez, while far from a one-dimensional slugger, would seemingly be best served if he could turn the fight into a war of attrition.
The reality proved to be more nuanced, as reality often does. Taylor's hands were indeed quicker and landed with greater regularity on Chavez than the Mexican's fists struck the American, but they were launched with bad intentions, Taylor blurring the boundary between boxer and fighter, digging his toes into the canvas and seemingly winning a battle that he was waging on his opponent's terms.
But if the great majority of the first 10 battles went Taylor's way, they did so at the cost of winning the war. After a valiant and triumphant 10th round, Taylor's body was feeling the effect of Chavez's heavier punches. At the end of the 11th, he almost walked to the wrong corner. With about 25 seconds remaining in the 12th, a Chavez right hand buckled Taylor's knees, and he stumbled forward toward a neutral corner, where Chavez unleashed a combination that culminated in a powerful right hand.
Taylor dropped to his back, using the ropes to haul himself up to his feet. He was unsteady but vertical as Steele's count reached eight.
"Are you OK?" Steele yelled.
No answer. Taylor looked uncertainly toward his corner, where trainer Lou Duva was climbing onto the ring apron, screaming at Steele to make Chavez retreat to the other neutral corner.
Steele cast a final look at Taylor, then waved the contest to a sudden and dramatic halt. Taylor had been leading on two of the three scorecards and would have won the fight if he could have lasted just a little longer.
Taylor finished the night in a hospital. He had broken orbital bones in his left eye. His lip was bleeding so badly that he had lost two pints of blood, at least some of which he had swallowed. He had bleeding in his kidneys.
He would win another world title, but the punishment he suffered in that fight diminished him. He was never quite the same fighter again.
In the aftermath, before the damage had set in, the injustice burned within Taylor, fueled by Ring Magazine naming Chavez its fighter of the year. He had been so close to taking that honor for himself. So close that he could still feel it.
Just two seconds away.