Nerves of Steele: The Most Controversial Call in Boxing History

What could possibly happen in two seconds? Perhaps a buzz-beating jumper or a game-winning field goal. In boxing, two seconds doesn’t typically amount to very much, unless you are lying on the canvas. But it was a mere two seconds that would prove to alter boxing history forever.

In what is arguably one of the greatest fights of the modern era, a couple of seconds separated the lasting legacies of one Meldrick Taylor and one Julio Caesar Chavez. The expectations for the super fight of 1990 were literally off the charts. The bout, which was dubbed “Thunder Meets Lightning” referring to the punching power of Chavez and the speed of Taylor, was set with the WBC Super Lightweight Championship on the line.  

On one site stood the reigning IBF Junior Welterweight Champion Meldrick Taylor, a chiseled like granite, 23-year old former U.S. Olympic gold medalist from the 1984 Games, On the other side of the ring stood a legend, Julio Caesar Chavez. A native of Culiacan, Mexico Chavez had an incredible, unblemished record of 68-0, including 55 knockouts, while being widely regarded as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. But from the opening bell at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, this record seemed destined to fall as Meldrick Taylor put on a boxing clinic and completely dominated Chavez throughout the fight. He would lean on the Mexican fighter at times, forcing him backwards with a flurry of hooks, jabs and straight right hands in bewilderingly quick combinations. Despite the performance of Taylor, the crowd of an estimated 9,000 was still proudly waving Mexican flags, furiously chanting the name of Chavez to encourage the fighter on.  

Through 11 rounds it was apparent that all Taylor needed to do was stand clear of any final efforts from Chavez who was gunning for the knockout to keep his record intact. Survive the final three minutes and the greatest win of his career was in the bag. But what seemed to be a smart strategy quickly turned into a game changing mistake. With only a minute remaining to go in the fight, Taylor began to back away from Chavez and started to stand up more, making him an easier target. Chavez took advantage of the mistake, staggering Taylor with a quick and powerful overhand right to the face. In a relentless attack, Chavez could sense that he had his opponent in trouble and believed he had a shot to earn a knockout.  

With 25 seconds remaining, Chavez caught Taylor with yet another right hand, shaking him up and visibly turning the dial. He would then land a hook and a grazing right hand that was countered by a weak, pawing jab from Taylor. It was only a matter of time before Chavez delivered the final crushing blow that would send Taylor crashing to the canvas. Reaching out to grab at the ropes, Taylor slowly and groggily found a way to get to his feet as referee Richard Steele, who was standing squarely in front of him, picked up the count from the timekeeper at five. At the exact same time the red light began to flash on the top of the ring post, indicating that fewer than 10 seconds were left in the bout.

Meanwhile, Taylor’s manager/cornerman began climbing the ring steps screaming at Steele that the time had already expired in the round.  As Steele finished his standing eight-count, the only two things that mattered to him at that point were the left and right eye of Meldrick Taylor.  

"Are you O.K.?" Steele asked him. Taylor, who later said that he could not hear the question above the noise, did not answer. "I saw a great fighter who was beaten," said Steele. "His eyes, his condition, told me that he'd had enough. Meldrick Taylor got up, but I was not going to let him take another punch." 

Only two seconds were left in the fight when Steele raised his arms in the air and waved the bout to an end. Duva went berserk. Figuring that his boxer was probably winning on points, he jumped through the ropes and went racing over to confront Steele. "Unbelievable! Unbelievable! What the hell are you doing?" he yelled. "What did you stop it for? He was on his feet at five!"

Steele did not respond. He simply turned and walked away. As security guards climbed into the ring to protect the fighters, the spectators stood by their seats and applauded for several minutes in a tribute to Chavez and Taylor. In the weeks leading up to the bout, many boxing experts believed it might rank among the best fights of the past 10 years, and it more than fulfilled those expectations. However there are still many that believe Richard Steele made a huge error in judgement and robbed a young fighter of his his glorious day in the ring. There is no wonder as to why the autobiography of Meldrick Taylor’s book is entitled “2 Seconds From Glory.”   

Without swaying to one side or the other, you be the judge. But we feel the video speaks for itself.


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