Thunder And Lightning: 20 Years After the Storm!
By P.H. Burbridge - In a corner he struggles to his feet wavering ever so slightly back and forth both gloves gripping the top rope trying to steady the earth’s rotation. He finds himself somewhere between total exhaustion and wondering what it would feel like to die. BUT, he’s up. He made it up and he’s able to make that all important eye contact with the referee who is now shouting “6, 7” directly in his face. His appearance has been altered in a manner that could have only been fashioned by a professional prize fighter. His youthful pre-fight features have been reconfigured and replaced with a bloody swollen mask with slits in place of his eyes. His orbital bone has been shattered. His head is pounding like a John Bonham drum fill and the cut inside his mouth suffered in training camp has been pumping blood down his throat since the second round. Blood drips out of the corner of his mouth splattering the white section of his red, white and blue trunks with a sickening pink tint. He doesn’t know it but he’s experiencing the most pivotal event of his entire career. He struggles to regain his senses after being dropped by a perfectly set up yet improbable right hand. In the corner, he wavers and the blood continues to flow, the crowd noise is so loud its as if he standing on the run way at LAX and to add to the chaos he’s now being distracted by a commotion just off to his right side as one of his corner men, Lou Duva shouts out instructions from the ring apron. Trying to process all of this coupled with Duva’s ruckus forces him to take his eyes off the referee for just the briefest of moments and just as his focus returns something unimaginable happens!
Article posted on 17.03.2010
It’s over!! It’s OVER!! BUT, I beat the COUNT?!!
Didn’t I?? I BEAT THE COUNT!!
He can’t be stopping the fight!?
It’s OVER…WHY is he stopping the FIGHT!?!
Tragically, in more ways than Meldrick Taylor could have ever imagined.
Meldrick “TNT” Taylor wasn’t simply a good fighter who won a world championship and made a few dollars he was one of those rare fighters that was so physically gifted that you can’t forget about him. He had a dynamic mix of speed and style that made even the most jaded boxing observers sit up and pay attention. It was impossible not to marvel at his hand speed and intensity in the ring. When he put his punches together his hands became a blur and that’s no exaggeration. He could fire off 5, 6, 7 punches in a blink of an eye and often times his opponents appeared shell shocked by the experience. There was simply no tactical defense for that kind of speed. If you fought him you were going to get hit. Simple as that! But, God has a way of balancing things out and in the case of Meldrick Taylor he chose not to delve out an equal amount of power. That along with an uncompromising desire to fight rather than box was Meldrick’s curse. But early on there was such a large gap between Meldrick’s speed and that of his opponents that it frankly didn’t make a difference. He outclassed his opponents so often that it seemed as if his handlers were putting him in soft. But, they weren’t. No one could match his hand speed. NO one! In the beginning, he was arguably the most talented fighter out of a class of supremely talented fighters that included Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, Evander “the Real Deal” Holyfield and Mark Breland. All of those fighters exploded on to the fistic scene after making their mark at the 1984 Olympics games. Meldrick was a 17 year old prodigy when he won his Olympic Gold medal in the featherweight division. At 17, Meldrick had more poise and determination than most men twice his age. He listened to his coaches, stuck to his game plan and he walked through the door to Olympic boxing immortality. The youngest fighter ever to do so! Listening to his coaches was always Meldrick Taylor’s strong point. He followed instructions. He turned pro as one of the hottest prospects in the game and it was a foregone conclusion that he would turn his gold medal into millions of dollars. It was too early to know if he’d end up becoming a hall of fame fighter but one thing was certain. Meldrick Taylor was going to make some noise. A lot of noise! Maybe even the decibel level of Sugar Ray Leonard. And things went as planned. Meldrick steam rolled his way through opponents on his way to Buddy McGirt and the IBF Jr. Welterweight championship of the world. The only blemish on his record was a draw in his 13th fight against another supremely talented fighter albeit one on the downside of his career former Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis. The fact that he was matched with a crafty seasoned fighter like Davis in only his 13th pro fight tells you how confident his handlers were in him.
Taylor’s hand speed and combination punching was a natural gift and coupled with excellent lateral movement he clearly had all the tools necessary to go a log way in this business. And early on it looked like he would. But, instinctively he was a fighter! His boxing skills would have allowed him to outbox anyone in the world but Meldrick all too often chose to go to war rather than to play it safe. Curse him or praise him for it that was simply his nature. His will to win on his own terms is the reason I write about him years after the cheering has been replaced by an overall sense of dread and mourning for what could have been. It seems almost unimaginable that a fighter of his caliber could be so easily dismissed and defined by a singular loss. A loss that in the eyes of many was one of the most remarkable performances of the modern age against one of the best fighters who ever lived. In his prime, Julio Cesar Chavez was extraordinary. He along with the late Salvador Sanchez ushered in a new age for Mexican fighters but Chavez alone remains the most important fighter ever to emerge from Mexico. We hold our heroes up to impossible standards that mere mortals cannot achieve and as Mexican fans we simply bow to Chavez as a god.
The Chavez – Taylor fight was a big event in the boxing community but it was a phenomenon for Mexican and Mexican-American fight fans. At the time Julio’s star was ascending and I saw this as his greatest challenge to date. There was no one like Chavez and although I didn’t know it at the time there was no one like Meldrick Taylor. Fight fans didn’t need a build up for this bout. Knowing the caliber of each man it was impossible that it could be anything but great. It was 20 years ago today. March 17th, 1990…..St. Patrick’s Day! We were about to find out who really WAS the #1 P4P fighter in the world. At the time many considered Chavez #1 and Meldrick Taylor #2. I definitely considered Chavez #1 but I had this nagging uneasy feeling that Meldrick Taylor had the intangibles to make a run at this thing. A serious run! I knew if this turned into a track meet that Taylor would win easy. What I didn’t plan on was Taylor committing himself to beating Chavez at his own game. No one thought he would be crazy enough to even try.
Some of the questions and comments floating around were “how would Taylor deal with Julio’s constant pressure, his left hook to the body and how Chavez would deal with Meldrick’s blinding speed and combinations. Would Chavez be able to cut off the ring and wear Taylor down or would Julio even be fast enough to stay in range? Surely Meldrick would spend the entire night on his bicycle using constant lateral movement to frustrate Chavez! Right? No way he stands and trades with him. He doesn’t have the inside game to FIGHT with Julio!” At least that was the conventional wisdom going in and I agreed with it. But, Meldrick had a surprise for everyone. He wasn’t going to be on his bike all night, he was going to FIGHT. And as it turns out, he was clearly superior and Julio spent most of his time trying to figure out when to shoot and when not to shoot. It’s hard to get off clean shots when your opponent is out landing you 2 and 3 to 1. The description of the events leading into that fateful historic final round have been told over and over again so I won’t give you my overly dramatic version here other than to say that both men had their moments but Meldrick had more.
For many years I tended to watch this fight from the perspective of Chavez and I think I did this largely due to my disappointment over the commentating. That call left me very disillusioned and I tended to focus on the aspects of the fight that favored Julio. It was my own personal protest for a fight that was called as if Chavez landed no punches and was COMLETELY outclassed. HBO’s Jim Lampley actually said after one sequence that “Chavez is on the verge of going down” and all these years later I still don’t know what he’s talking about. But, eventually I stopped punishing Meldrick for things that were out his control. In recent years, I’ve taken to watching the fight with the volume turned all the way down so I could focus on the actual action of the bout. I also started watching the fight from the perspective of Meldrick Taylor. It took me a long time to get to that point but I finally did and that’s the reason I write about him now.
The message here is simple. Meldrick could have run and out boxed Julio EASY. But, he just couldn’t. He was a fighter and although he may have been a fighter with little power he was still a fighter with incredible will and self determination. Meldrick Taylor fought for himself that night and he chose not to go around Julio but to go THROUGH him. That’s the very definition of a fighter and I’ll always respect him for doing that. The truth is he was given terrible advice in the last round by his trainers and was also distracted at the WORST possible moment after being knocked down forcing or at least creating the platform for referee Richard Steele to stop the fight. Meldrick was victimized by an unusual set of circumstances that night and unfortunately it impacted the rest of his career and life.
But, as fans we have also victimized him because years afterwards many of us still fail to give Taylor the respect his performance that night should have guaranteed.
Well, 20 years after Meldrick Taylor chose to give fight fans what they said they wanted I want to officially thank him for giving me the best fight of the 1990’s.
Meldrick Taylor out FOUGHT the best fighter in the world that night and he did it in a manner that still inspires me 20 years later. I now see his performance as greater than or equal to the character that Chavez displayed in not giving up.
Taylor showed us his soul that night and not every fighter can or ever will do that.
So, in that regard Meldrick Taylor won that fight.
And he won it in the biggest possible way!
(Please feel free to contact P.H. Burbridge via email at PHBboxing@yahoo.com with your comments and feedback.)
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