5. Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor - March 17, 1990
The very best matches are able to tell a story. Few fights hit all the marks in terms of style, action, significance, and controversy, like the WBC and IBF super lightweight unification bout between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor.
Chavez was in the midst of his run as Mexico's most popular fighter, sporting an impressive undefeated record of 68 fights. He was a three-division champion, having won titles at super featherweight, lightweight, and super lightweight.
He made nine defenses of his WBC title at super featherweight, including wins over Juan Laporte, Roger Mayweather, and Rocky Lockridge. When Chavez moved up to lightweight in what for many still considered one his finest showings, he dissected Edwin Rosario, showcasing his ability to box while still applying a heavy amount of pressure.
At 27, with titles in three weight classes, Chavez was already worthy of the Hall-of-Fame.
Taylor was part of one of the best Olympic classes in 1984, where he would win a gold medal. He and Evander Holyfield were the first stars to materialize out of the group. Taylor's hand speed and ability to put together combinations made him must-see television. He was also never afraid to partake in toe-to-toe action. His Philadelphia roots gave him resolve and a toughness that never wavered.
Following Mike Tyson's shocking upset loss to Buster Douglas, Chavez-Taylor proved to be the perfect follow-up.
Taylor knew that Chavez was an elite body puncher and kept the fight in the center of the ring. At times, it was a virtuoso performance as Taylor astonished the crowd and Chavez with fast combinations, moving out of the way of returning fire.
With his hand speed advantage, he successfully fought Chavez on the inside and from mid-range. Chavez was ranked as the number one fighter pound-for-pound at the time, and Taylor was winning the majority of rounds, not allowing himself to be put on the ropes. He was landing four punches for every punch his opponent landed.
However, Chavez was never visibly hurt or stunned by any of Taylor's punches. After nine rounds, Taylor was clearly ahead, but he was the one who looked like he was losing. He was swollen and bleeding from his mouth and nose.
In the final 25 seconds of the 12th and final round, Chavez landed a right hand that hurt Taylor, pushing him back. Another right hand landed by Chavez as Taylor collapsed on the canvas. The Philadelphia fighter arose at the count of five. That's when the referee, Richard Steele, halted the bout with just two seconds left.
As miraculous as Chavez's comeback seemed, it was unbelievably shocking that Steele stopped the bout. It was the fight's first knockdown, and Taylor was well ahead on two of the three judges' scorecards. If the fight continued, Taylor would have won a split decision.
Steele's decision to stop the fight would be debated for years. Some view it as a referee just doing his job, and others see it as robbing someone's moment of glory.
The fight itself was beyond outstanding. The controversial ending adds to the legacy of the fight, but Taylor's performance and Chavez's determination are what make the fight exceptional.
Chavez-Taylor won Fight of the Year honors in the 1990s and was recognized as the best fight of the entire decade.