Chavez beats doubts and Taylor

September 19, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- The record-setting, six-championship fight card Don King promoted at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night was billed as "Unfinished Business." But for King and star attraction Julio Cesar Chavez, a more appropriate title would have been "Vindication!"

"People said trying to sell a pay-per-view show in the States with eight Latin fighters who don't speak English was crazy. No one else wanted it," said King. "I had to reduce my promoter's fee. But I put my money where my mouth is."

Indeed. King's timing was exquisite. More than 200,000 Mexicans poured into Las Vegas to celebrate their Independence Day. Chavez, who is as popular below the border as Michael Jordan on the other side, was the principal lure, attracting a capacity crowd of 15,222 for the long-anticipated super-lightweight rematch with Meldrick Taylor.

Once rated the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world, Chavez had benefited the past two years from several questionable decisions while personally turning from winner to whiner. Critics even dared to suggest that he retire.

But Chavez had his own agenda. Supported by a mariachi band, native singers and a screaming chorus of fans chanting his name, the champion ended a spectacular night of title fights with an exclamation point, stopping Taylor at 41 seconds of the eighth round.

"To everyone who said I was too old and finished, I say old men are strong and keep going," said Chavez, who turned 32 in July.

His first encounter with Taylor four years ago ended in a bitter dispute, referee Richard Steele stopping the fight with two seconds left after Chavez knocked down Taylor, who was leading on the judges' cards.

Then Chavez, who had reeled off a record 89 straight wins, fought a controversial draw with Pernell Whitaker. After losing his title to Frankie Randall last January, he regained it four months later.

A World Boxing Council rule allowed the judges to deduct a point from Randall for an accidental clash of heads in the eighth round, That was enough to give Chavez a narrow victory, creating more controversy.

But Saturday night, it was vintage Chavez. He took the best a finely tuned Taylor had to offer in the early rounds, then methodically wore down the Philadelphian.

By the seventh round, Taylor's mouth was open and his legs began to betray him. This time, when he regained his feet after crashing to the canvas early in the eighth round, he seemed to welcome referee Mills Lane coming to his rescue.

In the post-fight interview, Chavez again attacked his critics.

"I have received all this criticism because I am a Latin American," he said. "Americans did not want to see a Mexican become more popular in boxing than Muhammad Ali.

"I have set crowd records fighting indoors and outdoors. But I am not to blame. It is the Mexican people who are present here and everywhere."

Despite last year drawing 136,274 fans at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City and 63,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Chavez still needed some clever manipulating by King to restore his image. Rather than risk engaging Chavez in a rubber match with Randall, he pitted him against Taylor, whose best fighting days are clearly behind him.

Meanwhile, Randall was matched Saturday night against World Boxing Association champion Jyan Coggi of Argentina. Randall floored the game Coggi three times on the way to a lopsided 12-round decision.

But King is still not in a hurry to pair Chavez and Randall. He proposed a Randall-Whitaker fight with the winner then meeting Chavez.

King's rival Dan Duva, who promotes Whitaker, gave only a derisive laugh in reply. But King can rest on his laurels. His combined Showtime cable and pay-per-view extravaganza provided almost seven hours of sustained action.

It began in midafternoon, with only several hundred watching Baltimore's Vincent Pettway wrest the International Boxing Federation junior-middleweight crown from Gianfranco Rosi with a fourth-round KO.

WBC strawweight champion Ricardo Lopez of Mexico was even more devastating, disposing of Yodsing Au Saengmorokot in less than two minutes.

In a scorching 12-round super-featherweight fight with three knockdowns, Gabriel Ruelas upset WBC champion Jesse James Leija.

The fireworks continued with rangy IBF welterweight champion Felix Trinidad getting off the floor to stop Luis "Yori Boy" Campas in the second round.

After all this sound and fury, the bombastic King, facing a federal trial for insurance fraud, suggested he might retire from boxing.

Said Chavez: "If King retires, I go with him."

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