Three years later, his voice sliding beyond enunciation, his career slipping into a series of defeats, and his former teammate about to take a shot at toppling his own nemesis, Meldrick Taylor is not much more than an afterthought.
On March 17, 1990, Taylor marched into the ring at the head of an army--including 1984 Olympic teammate Pernell Whitaker--and slammed Julio Cesar Chavez for 11-plus rounds.
But, with less than a minute left in the 12th and final round, Chavez caught Taylor with two savage rights, prompting referee Richard Steele to make one of the most controversial calls in boxing. With only two seconds remaining, he stopped the fight, giving Chavez his 69th victory and Taylor his first defeat.
Taylor would have won a decision if the fight had gone two ticks longer.
Now, Taylor journeys to the Alamodome alone to watch Whitaker fight Chavez tonight, and he admits he hopes Whitaker doesn’t beat Chavez before he, himself, gets his rematch.
“That’s what I’m fighting for, to get that rematch with Chavez,” Taylor said. “People still talk about that fight. People still ask me about the rematch, am I going to fight a rematch?
“I know and I still believe I will beat Chavez. I’m the only guy who knows what it takes to beat Chavez. I can beat him any day.”
Taylor has switched from his old handlers, the Duvas--who still manage Whitaker--to Chavez’s man, Don King, because he believes the warring between the two factions prevented a rematch from happening. And King apparently has told Taylor he will get him that rematch, which Chavez’s camp says could occur in December at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“I should have had the rematch two years ago,” Taylor said. “Maybe like six or eight months after the first fight, there should have been a rematch right then. But the Duvas basically stopped me, basically hurt me.
“I’m still the best fighter in the world. Because I’m the only one who really beat Chavez. No one ever came close to beating Chavez the way I beat him. So I don’t see how nobody can ever mention me as one of the best fighters in the world, pound for pound.”
Three years ago, Taylor-Chavez was a dramatic, scintillating fight, two great junior-welterweights at their primes.
But, although Taylor scored more frequently, Chavez inflicted the heaviest physical damage. Taylor was hospitalized after the fight, and many observers, including his former cornermen, say he was never the same afterward.
The fight and its circumstances only broadened Chavez’s legend as a warrior. Since then, Taylor has struggled and has been knocked out twice recently.
“I’d like to see him do good, but not in boxing,” said Lou Duva, Taylor’s former trainer. “He’s had it. He’s gone as far as he could in boxing.
“He has signed with Don King. And I wouldn’t doubt that the vulture would set him up for a fight with Chavez. To me, it’s not a good thing. All he can do is get hurt.”
Taylor, of course, is still remembering the way he felt 11 rounds into the Chavez fight, and thinking that even Whitaker cannot gain the control over Chavez he had established.
How did he stay so strong against a fighter renowned for wearing down his opponents?
“My will, more than anything,” Taylor said. “My relentless attack. I fought him on the inside constantly. I worked him down to his body. A lot of things I did in that fight I don’t think he was expecting me to do.
“I showed a lot of resilience in that fight to hang in there, toe to toe, and bang it out with him for every round. I think my body shots wore Chavez down. That was the first time in his career where he actually had doubts in his mind that he could lose this fight.”
Steele said he stopped the fight because Taylor was not responding to his questions, though Taylor said he was merely looking over to Duva, who was shouting instructions.
Taylor said he blames trainer George Benton, also still Whitaker’s trainer, for telling him he needed to win the last round, though the scorecards later said he did not.
“If they wouldn’t have told me I needed that last round, just go out there and box him, stay away, give him the last round . . . then I probably would have went out there and given him the round and won the fight,” Taylor said.
Taylor predicts: Admittedly in an awkward position, Taylor says Whitaker does have a chance to beat Chavez.
“I’ll say he has the ability to elude Chavez for 12 rounds and win a decision,” Taylor said. “But I’m not saying that’s my prediction.”
So his prediction?
“Chavez in 12 rounds.”
Asked if he could possibly root against his friend once the two men are in the ring tonight, Taylor said he didn’t know.
“I’ve always rooted for Pete in any fight he had. But under the circumstances . . . So it’s really hard. I really can’t say what I’ll be feeling at the time.”
Sugar Ray Leonard predicts (kind of): “You know, it’s like Leonard-Hagler, the same thing,” Leonard said, referring to his split-decision upset of Marvin Hagler in April, 1987, when asked about Chavez-Whitaker.
“You’ve got the indestructible, devastating guy like Hagler--that’s Chavez. And you’ve got the smaller, quicker guy like me--that’s Whitaker.
“I told (Whitaker) he can win it, he sure can. Chavez isn’t unbeatable just like Hagler wasn’t. People say he is, but nobody is. He just has to stay awake. Get insomnia in that ring, because if he gets caught, could be trouble.”
Of the two main undercard fights, the Terry Norris-Joe Gatti bout for Norris’ World Boxing Council super-middleweight title is causing the biggest sparks. The fight is Norris’ first since he was knocked down June 19 by Troy Waters in the second round. Norris knocked Waters out in the third. “I read where Gatti said he was going to finish what Troy Waters started,” Norris said at a news conference with Gatti in attendance. “All I say: Bring it on.” The Gatti camp response, with trainer Stanley McKinney doing the talking: “We’re going to wipe out the whole Norris family, gone,” his allusion being to another fight involving Norris’ brother, Orlin. “Geez, talking about wiping out whole families, that’s serious, man,” Pernell Whitaker said.
Sugar Ray Leonard said it’s not quite time to compare Oscar De La Hoya with himself, although he likes what he has seen so far. “I think he’s a good fighter,” Leonard said of the 1992 Olympic gold medalist from East Los Angeles. “I think he needs to learn, he needs to fight. I want to see what happens when he gets hit. Get in there with a veteran fighter and get hit. I don’t necessarily mean he has to get knocked down or something, but get in there with somebody who’s a little dangerous.”