Speed Thrills

By Ted Spoon on September 20, 2012
Speed Thrills
“He’s even closing the inside exchanges, and that was supposed to be Chavez’s forte.”

Had the slightest sign of enthusiasm been flashed (a snarl may have sufficed) Richard Steele would have waved the fight on and Taylor would have triumphed…

Leveling your opponent is not the only way to excite spectators, nor is absorbing leather at the same rate as your heartbeat. 

Having said that, when we come to categorize history’s truly exciting performers the usual suspects will almost certainly possess at least one of the two traits mentioned above. Lew Tendler and his cracking left, Jake LaMotta and his ability to eat cracking punches. 

Admittedly, there is that particular breed of fighter who isn’t a big puncher but constantly chips away, prized for his sheer aggression, but this can prove something of a vague field including widely different operators like Ricky Hatton and Aaron Pryor. 

Meldrick Taylor was one of an exclusive breed. There was no big punch, and he was a boxer foremost, but the Olympian who rocked a flattop was engaging in a way that Pernell Whitaker never was.

When he was in full flow Meldrick was something to behold. A measly reach of 66” powered combinations that may very well be the fastest recorded on film. The jab was decent, nothing spectacular, and his movement was nice, but when Taylor sat down to flurry it was as if his swipes created a vacuum. Following each round Lou Duva’s unashamed hyperbole was digested and converted into blurs of leather. 

It was a style made to burnout, and it did.

His great loss was his masterpiece. There Meldrick stood, thoroughly battered, but a trifling two seconds from tarnishing the super legacy of Julio Cesar Chavez. Had the slightest sign of enthusiasm been flashed (a snarl may have sufficed) Richard Steele would have waved the fight on and Taylor would have triumphed via split decision. 

As it memorably went, Steele awarded the fight to Chavez and Taylor went onto fit a classic stereotype, leaving part of himself in the ring. Two pints of blood and a cracked orbital bone weren’t everyday injuries. Ringside doctor Flip Homansky remained positive. “A young healthy body will come back” he assured us. The reality wasn’t so forgiving.

Joe Louis’ catchy line of “He can run, but he can’t hide” runs deeper than a game of cat and mouse. A fighter can’t hide his faults, and the cracks in Taylor’s make-up were showing after his bitter episode. Skewering the WBA strap was nice, on paper. Fans aren’t easily fooled, and a rematch highlighted the sharp decline. 

Rather than retire, Meldrick continued to invest in a hopeless cause, eventually recognizing the futility of continuing a career that resembled a $5 fireworks display.

Once in a while memories of Taylor come back like streaks of lightening. 

“The Kid” made up one sixth of America’s stellar 1984 Olympic team. Evander Holyfield’s disqualification provided the big scoop, and more eyes may have been on Mark Breland, but Taylor secured a gold medal, and he was exciting.

He never did have a problem with being first, and Taylor’s feisty edge may be traced back to Joe Frazier’s gym. Philadelphia is known for cropping bravery and a stubborn attitude would see Taylor catch punches a little more care would have foiled.

But caution wasn’t part of the recipe.

Taylor began as a hefty lightweight. For nine fights the dependable duo of George Benton and Lou Duva were content with him flogging journeymen. Next was Robin Blake who had just challenged for a world title. He stretched Taylor but the scores smiled at the Olympian. Harold Brazier marked another notable and Meldrick had to dig extra deep after going a little nuts with the double and triple hooks. 

Having just lost his third contest, Team Taylor figured that the once sharp fists of Howard Davis Jr. were sufficiently blunted. Even still, he was no body. The clash of two gold medalists attracted a decent crowd and Davis was insistent on making life difficult. Smooth movement made Meldrick fight an inaccurate fight. A draw was fair.

Often clad in snazzy trunks with tasseled boots, you could appreciate claims of Meldrick being hype over substance. That blistering bent of his was evident; world class was another question. A move up to light-welterweight and a title shot at Buddy McGirt was a sure way to see whether or not the professional ranks suited him. 

The experienced Buddy was quite the puncher; Davis did not last a round with him, and McGirt attempted to mug Taylor when the bell sounded. The young challenger showed resolve, and after a few rounds he took charge. The champion wasn’t quite being out-punched “100 to 1” as he humbly claimed, but it was definitely one-way traffic. 

A bicep injury on McGirt’s behalf had postponed the bout and in that time the IBF rules had ditched 15 rounds for 12. The new, shorter distance was expected to favor Meldrick, but, to his credit, the challenger forced a stoppage in the final moments. McGirt had been on track to crash into Julio Cesar Chavez. Now it was the Philadelphian flash who was given the chance to tame the bull.

After dealing with the very game John Meekins and Courtney Hooper speculation began for what was surely going to be Chavez’s toughest assignment.

When the hair was cut short Meldrick was more than a little reminiscent of Smokin’ Joe, and he could be just as tenacious as his regional hero. Against Chavez there was going to be a strategy, but you could forget running. Taylor corrected Jim Lampley’s expected tactic about using the whole ring.

“Well, I won’t utilize the whole ring. I look to stand right there and use my upper body movement.”  

The whole ring didn’t come into it. Part of Taylor’s preparation had involved staying inside a circle drawn on the floor. Taking away the four corners would force Chavez to box. It all sounded very nice, but when the mood struck him you could bet on Meldrick to “switch through the gears” in that stupendous manner of his. 

Experience was the key difference. What was Chavez’s 69th bout was going to be Taylor’s 26th. Even more alarming was the difference in championship competition with Chavez having worn a belt since 1984. Taylor was no club fighter, but stylistic booboos were visible; sometimes backing up in straight lines and dangling his left. 

There were many potential scenarios before the first bell. Meldrick starting fast became a speedy reality. He wasn’t just fast though, he was clever. Turning at the shoulder and doubling the jab, the IBF champion made a lovely start. After three rounds it corresponded with predictions, but after six you wondered when Chavez was going to make his move. It soon became a case of could he make his move?

Part of HBO’s commentary team, Sugar Ray Leonard, claimed to get genuine pleasure from watching Taylor go about his business. He wasn’t overly fond of him trading with Julio, but Lampley did his job in pointing out the stone cold facts: 

“He’s even closing the inside exchanges, and that was supposed to be Chavez’s forte.

A regular body attack was one of Taylor’s strong points and he often started 8-10 punch combinations with a belt in the ribs. They weren’t crushing blows, but when he cut loose it must have felt like your skin had suddenly been stricken by the worst kind of rash. 

“Look at the speed of Meldrick Taylor!” exclaimed Lampley. The crowd were well behind El Grand Campeon, but in such moments they couldn’t help but gasp at the natural ability of the man who was running away with the fight. 

“Throw more punches…do it for your family!” Things weren’t exactly relaxed in the Mexican’s corner. After nine rounds the slight favorite was the victim. Never again would Chavez receive such desperate orders.

Good as Taylor looked his swollen face was another matter. Left uppercuts and lead rights by Chavez had steadily etched him an ugly portrait. To many people’s liking, The Kid need only remain upright to win. Considering his state it would have made every bit of sense to cruise. To the crowd’s ecstasy there was to be no such thing, and Meldrick paid a most unfortunate price.

In fairness, Duva wasn’t unjustified in demanding a strong finish. Las Vegas has this awful reputation for crookedness, and Chuck Giampa’s scorecard was another example. Surely, even with the knockdown, ending up with Chavez ahead was a stretch. 

Still only 23, logic suggested Meldrick should continue, alas, when you fail to climb Everest there is only one way to go, and quickly.

Outpointing Aaron Davis for the WBA welterweight title kept his name alive but a tough defense against Glenwood Brown (in which he was floored twice) prepared the script for disaster.     

Finding himself at another loose end, Taylor jumped up to 154 lbs. to oppose a primed Terry Norris.

Failing to make the fifth round, it was a bruising defeat. Dropping down to welterweight, Crisanto Espana now disputed his vacant title. This time the conclusion was even grimmer when Taylor was rescued in the eighth. Fumbling about before the inevitable, Larry Merchant surmised, “If Taylor was a shot fighter going into this bout, he’s a dead fighter now.”

That was it for Lou. The fiery mentor had to curb a natural impulse and discourage his fighter.

“I love the kid and I’m not going to let him get hurt. As far as I’m concerned, he shouldn’t fight again.”

Taylor’s actions were as predictable as his flashy attire when he strolled further into no-man’s land.

Against all reason but the mighty buck an inglorious rematch against Chavez was arranged. Competitive, but not a patch on the original, Chavez cleaned up in the eighth. Two years later and the softly-spoken boxer was back. Three meaningless fights, one loss and then back he came again following another two year gap.   

Slurred speech pointed at brain damage. Supporters of his career insisted on Taylor having a speech impediment since day one. Wherever the truth lay there, thankfully, 2002 marked his last fight. 

Whitaker was another veteran who found it difficult to walk away. Taylor’s fellow Olympian was on the slippery slope during the late ‘90s, but it had been a gradual process. Having just given Oscar De La Hoya a tricky fight, Pernell’s cunning was precisely the reason why he wasn’t as engaging. He fought to win.

It is often championed that time is a great healer, but whenever we revisit Meldrick’s big night we find the controversy is yet to let up, forget subside. 

He was, as his book puts it, two seconds from glory.

Taylor later questioned Duva’s advice to light the final boiler.

Not sounding overly sure of himself, if that 12fth round could be replayed he concluded, “I would use my own judgment, I would basically listen to myself.”

Truth was the Philadelphian with the blazing fists did listen to himself.

And in doing so he traded victory for a spectacle.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Meldrick Taylor vs. Harold Brazier

Meldrick Taylor vs Buddy McGirt - 1/3

Meldrick Taylor vs Buddy McGirt - 2/3

Meldrick Taylor vs Buddy McGirt - 3/3

1990 - Julio Cesar Chavez Vs Meldrick Taylor 1 Fight of the year 90

Glenwood Brown vs Meldrick 'TNT' Taylor - Part 1 of 6

Glenwood Brown vs Meldrick 'TNT' Taylor - Part 2 of 6

Glenwood Brown vs Meldrick 'TNT' Taylor - Part 3 of 6

Glenwood Brown vs Meldrick 'TNT' Taylor - Part 4 of 6

Glenwood Brown vs Meldrick 'TNT' Taylor - Part 5 of 6

Glenwood Brown vs Meldrick 'TNT' Taylor - Part 6 of 6

Terry Norris vs Meldrick Taylor (1/2)

Terry Norris vs Meldrick Taylor (2/2)

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  1. Robert 09:32am, 07/17/2015

    I’d be interested in hearing where Jason found something to that degree, Chavez fighting Taylor is an odd thing in itself, as quickly as someone would dismiss it even as a child watching this fixed fight (Chavez would need a judge and a ref to be rational and look at him doing nothing after but racking up victories and losing to Whitaker yet it was a “Draw” and then getting dropped by Randall, 2 points taking off, Chavez lost a SD, so a Judge had him up) as rational as Taylor’s camp opposed Steele as ref and what he would do a year later after this.

    Chavez would win a Jr light title in his 45th fight without a loss yet vs no one, and at jr light his biggest victory was vs Roger Mayweather, who he stopped in the 2nd round (an 11-0 Whitaker beat Roger) Chavez would go to Lightweight and unify two titles stopping a 2 loss Rosario (who messed up a lightweight unification tournament at Preamble to Bramble by knocking out Bramble as Bramble and Camacho defended their titles on that card) Pernell Whitaker at 15-0 would fight 100-6 Ramirez and to everyone’s eyes clearly win in France, yet lose a SD which was you can research as a “Black eye to boxing” that he’s avenge, Chavez would swoop in and stop Ramirez, then holding two lightweight titles, Chavez would vacate them, and go back down to Jr Lightweight to challenge Roger Mayweather for his WBC title? yes, he did and he won it, and while Whitaker beat 23-1 Haugen, 102-7 Ramirez in their second fight and take out 22-2 Juan Nazario in 1 to be the first since Duran to unify the Lightweight titles (during this he also beat 31-1 Azumah Nelson who only lost to Sanchez who then tragically passed, undefeated guys Poli Diaz and
    Louie Lomeli)

    Julio Cesar Chavez Sr WBC jr Light champ (who moved to light and unified two titles) would go up in weight but skip lightweight now, as he wanted nothing to do with it, going to Jr Welter beating a guy with 6 losses and 1 Draw to capture a title Chavez at 68-0 knew he could not beat a Taylor who at 19-0-1 stopped 38-1-1 Buddy McGirt for his IBF title.
    Chavez never injured anyone’s face or body while being epoxed prior or after, as after Meldrick Taylor waited months for the rematch, Chavez would fight a guy who was 5-3 to fight a guy who was 4-3-1, Taylor and Whitaker’s olympic Gold medal winning teammate WBA welter champ Mark Brehland was KO’d by 31-0 Aaron Superman Davis and Melrick moved up to Welter and won the WBA welter title and in ‘92 had it for a year, defending it in Philly vs Glenwood Brown, only welter on P4P list at 5 Meldrick would take on 3 ranked Norris going up to 154.
    Chavez didn’t fight anyone for two years, dropped the IBF title and would beat a shot Camacho at jr welter who lost to Haugen in ‘92 and in ‘92 his highlight was stopping 32-4 Haugen at 140 to raking up an 87-0 record and losing to Whitaker he again, did not lose. He got a Draw.

    Meldrick, in Jan ‘92 started with a defense in Philly beating Glenwood Brown, and was WBA Welter champion, yet that year did get KO’d’ by Norris at Jr Middleweight, going back to welter Duva threw in the towel on Halloween ‘92 and at 32-3 Meldrick had nowhere to go after but Chavez and King, “a rematch at 140 four years later?” King would give Meldrick 3 easy fights and the rematch would happen, an even fight until the 8th as Meldrick could not endure a punch anymore.  The demise of Chavez at 96-1-1 was beaten and bleeding badly by ‘96 from a young, 21 year old Oscar De La Hoya, it did not go four rounds.  In ‘98 at 100-2-2 Chavez would quit on his stool vs Oscar and in 2000 Kostya would beat him up badly as it would be stopped, and Chavez kept fighting after that.

    I don’t know why people as this author in their fictional accounts taken from Fact are going to condemn some at the end and not the others - Pernell fought De La Hoya after Oscar beat up Chavez easy, Pernell knocked down Oscar as it was a controversial decision with Oscar winning, as the author must have seen SI issues of Pernell vs Chavez “ROBBERY” and Pernell “The Best” when he was at welterweight, a title Chavez would never win, a title Whitaker did and Meldrick went onto win, as Chavez wanted no Part 2 in ‘90 nor a superfight vs Whitaker nor the WBC P4P ranked welter champ McGirt, Chavez was a myth, folklore, be nice and give him Meldrick Taylor, he beat Rosario, Ramirez, Camacho and Haugen? And you are 87-0?  Yes, going into that Taylor fight Chavez literally ran out of a weight class because of Whitaker who was with Duva so going into Meldrick’s fight, a judge had him winning (author, look into a mistake you made) and a Ref who knew there was less than 5 seconds remaining and Meldrick got up, right away, standing firm, no wobbly legs when Richard Steele saw his opportunity because in any round vs anyone, under any circumstance that was an awfully quick stoppage.

  2. the thresher 03:57pm, 09/21/2012

    No truth to that whatsoever.

  3. Jason 09:12am, 09/21/2012

    Somebody please help me out here. I know this site has may boxing historians and expert. I have heard, and seen questionable sources online, that Chavez fought with loaded gloves. I can never find the source to these accusations. I’ve looked. However, I did come across a “research” article that compared the damage and injuries to Taylor’s face with other known examples. It was convincing. The rumor is, the Chavez camp feared Taylor’s hand speed, and knew he would lose a 10:1 punch ratio. So they made his punches count more to neutralize the speedy Taylor. In the late rounds, as they planned, Chavez would be able to knock him out in a lopsided fight.

    Any truth to this? Any evidence or “source” knowledge that can back up these accusations. I’ll say I’ve had my suspicions.

  4. the thresher 07:11am, 09/21/2012

    A tragic tale

  5. Jethro's Flute 03:49am, 09/21/2012

    Interesting article.

    Meldrick Taylor, Michael Moorer and Carl Williams have all shown that, if you don’t answer the referee, you’re going to be in trouble.

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