Ask 10 boxing fans to name the greatest Mexican fighter ever, and eight or nine will probably say "Julio Cesar Chavez." For good reason. Chavez is a living legend, a gritty, lion-hearted six-time champion of the people who began his career with 87 straight victories and ended with a career record of 107-6-2, a win total that is unheard of in boxing's modern era.
But before there was Julio Cesar Chavez the legend, there was Julio Cesar Chavez the hard-to-market champion. He never learned to speak English, didn't have extraordinary one-punch power, and many of his victories came in Mexico over unfamiliar names, so he was underappreciated or unknown by many U.S. fight fans. If it weren't for a fateful two seconds, it might have stayed that way.
The buildup to Chavez's long-anticipated match against 23-0 Meldrick Taylor on March 17, 1990, was overshadowed somewhat by Mike Tyson's stunning defeat to Buster Douglas a month earlier. True boxing enthusiasts, however, were eagerly anticipating this fight, which became 1990's Fight of the Year.
From the opening bell, Meldrick dominated the fight. Two of the three judges had him ahead by margins of five or more points going into the 12th round. With 90 seconds left in the fight, Jim Lampley said "at this moment, Chavez doesn't have the stuff to win this fight." But Taylor was clearly slowing, and a beleagured Chavez managed to knock him to the ground with 16 seconds left on the clock.
Before Larry Merchant could finish saying "If he gets up, he wins this fight," Meldrick had already stood up at the count of six, as referee Richard Steele finished his 8-count. He asked Taylor "Are you alright?" and stunningly, Taylor didn't respond. With two seconds left on the clock, Steele called off the fight. A screaming Lou Duva came into the ring to protest Steele's call, but the decision was final.
It was one of the most dramatic finishes in boxing history, and added to the great legend of Chavez. His reputation grew and he continued to draw big fights, winning 18 more (including a rematch against Taylor) before finally suffering his first career defeat. Taylor went on to have a very impressive career as well, but it's hard not to wonder how both fighters' careers would have been different had it not been for that fateful two seconds.