A Boxing Memory: Meldrick Taylor

A Boxing Memory: Meldrick Taylor

Once the final bell has rung, the ring walks are no more and any lingering hopes of redemption and resurrection are assigned to history, a retired fighter often faces an uncertain future.

Some are lucky, many are not. Life after boxing is hard, without it, something goes that can’t be put back. If the money is gone and the punches absorbed leave permanent physical scars, and more, an uncertain future is a road to no future at all.

The obligatory mug shots often appear in Google searches. Any thoughts of an interview with a fighter from a long-gone golden era soon give way to a realisation that said fighter died many years ago in relative anonymity. If they are still alive, an interview would likely be too painful in many ways. Is any sport so brutal in casting its stars to life’s scrapheap one akin to the elephant’s graveyard?

Meldrick Taylor, once the heir apparent to Sugar Ray Leonard, is alive, if that truly is a word for his plight, certainly in comparison to what his life once was. Or could have been.

Make no mistake, in his prime, Taylor was some fighter. A formidable one with lightning-fast hands that could produce blistering spellbinding combinations.

An Olympic Champion in 1984 when he was only 17, only the Communist boycott threatened to dim the achievement or the great potential that Taylor had. A career of multiple world titles looked assured. That great American Olympic team was full of stars, but Taylor probably shone the brightest.

The story is one of legend, in March 1990 Taylor was so close to legendary status himself. A super-lightweight unification showdown for the ages. Two seconds from glory, a controversial call from Richard Steele to wave the fight off. Julio Cesar Chavez, a Mexican superstar unbeaten in 68 fights, saved from certain defeat against a fighter who for the vast majority of a brutal unrelenting 36 minutes had proved his master. The Philadelphia wizard was ahead, he only had to finish the final three minutes to win. One judge had Chavez ahead. A forgotten crime in a sport of many.

Told by his corner he needed to win the last round, Taylor didn’t dance. The Philadelphia way never left him, and Chavez seized his moment. Inside the final twenty seconds, Taylor was dropped, with two seconds left, Steele was in no mood for compromise.

Win or lose, Taylor was effectively already on that irreversible slide to boxing oblivion. One fight had taken his prime. Taylor didn’t know it, and even though his career still had more moments and another world title. He was never ever the same again. Even when he was blasting Chavez with his trademark combinations, the success was coming at a price that was too heavy for a body that was breaking beyond repair.

All the protests in the immediate aftermath and beyond about the stoppage and the timing of it meant nothing and changed nothing. All the cries of robbery and skullduggery did little for Taylor. The medical reports were not for the faint-hearted, but food for those that say boxing is nothing but a blood sport. If it’s a sport at all.

Dr Flip Homansky the official ringside physician for the Nevada boxing commission said of Taylor:

“He had a facial fracture, he was urinating pure blood. His face was grotesquely swollen. This was a kid who was truly beaten up to the face, the body and the brain.”

Taylor was only 23, but already boxing had taken his peak. And his soul. He lost practically everything that night in Las Vegas.

Taylor fought on, he had his pride. Even that would eventually leave. Terry Norris, the ‘legend’ killer of his day, stopped him in 1992 when Taylor tried to win a title at a third weight. It took the WBC light-middleweight champion only four rounds. Later the same year Crisanto España took away the WBA welterweight title that Taylor had won from Aaron Davis in 1991. And when the decline went deeper, Chavez finally gave him the rematch. The Mexican had his own diminishing reputation to salvage. Another story for another day.

In 1994, the rematch was nothing but a pale shadow of their classic first meeting and it was predictable and avoidable. Time wasn’t Taylor’s only enemy that night. Chavez was 32, Taylor was five years younger at 27. Proof that numbers do indeed lie. In comparison to the first fight, it looked as though it was fought in slow motion. Only in round 6 did it resemble what we were served up previously. Another tough round, another round Taylor didn’t need. A round he aged just a little bit more. Taylor started the better, but by round 4, he was starting to break. By round 8, it was over. It ended with Don King shouting in Taylor’s ear about not retiring and bringing him back for more. He’d long since had more than enough.

An appearance on HBO’s Legendary Nights in 2003 looking back at the first fight with Chavez was more than worrying. The slurred speech an obvious tell of too many times in the sun. Taylor was only 36. He had only stopped boxing a year earlier. In 1999 he lost to the Mexican Jose Quirino Garcia who had lost his first eighteen fights as a professional, but somehow by the time he fought Taylor he had a winning record. A fight of reverse fortunes if ever there was one.

News of Taylor has been rare in recent years. Reports of Taylor living and working as a Minister in Philadelphia offered hope. But an arrest in 2019, by no means his first brush with the law, this time for aggravated assault and other related charges, got Taylor in the headlines again. For the wrong reasons. And we have had virtual radio silence since then. The hope is life isn’t as dark as we imagine. That he has light and he has found peace. It might be all we can reasonably expect.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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