Interview with Meldrick Taylor - Gold medalist and World Champion By Ken Hissner (Nov 18, 2009) DoghouseBoxing
Philly’s Meldrick Taylor was only 17 and a National amateur champion who won a Gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics to finish he career at 99-4. He defeated boxers from Romania, Mexico, Kenya, Venezuela and Nigeria at the Olympics.
Taylor seemed destined for greatness. I received a call from Lou Duva asking if I had anyone who could contact Taylor after the Olympics. I got a hold of his cousin Troy Smith, an amateur boxer. Almost 25 years later I was asked to track Taylor down to be inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame in 2008. That would be a little more difficult. In the Kensington section of the city I went to a religious center where I understood Taylor belonged. Through them I got a hold of his agent Gumersindo Vidot in Philadelphia to make the connection. I had a brief conversation with Taylor at the induction with the promise from Vidot of a meeting for an interview. That was 18 months ago and one cancelled meeting. Through Frank Kubak who runs the Front Street Gym in North Philly I was informed Taylor trains several young boxers there once a week. That’s where I tracked him down for the interview.
Taylor is the tenth member of the 1984 team I have interviewed. His reputation as a boxer in Philly is of the highest caliber. “He was the epitemy of an amateur boxer,” said Tyrell Biggs. Every gym I have been in had something good to say about Taylor. “He beat me in 1982 in the amateurs,” said Robert Shannon. “A Philly fighter who came at you, relentless,” said Mark Breland. “Taylor had great hand speed,” said Jerry Page. “He was exceptional and only 17,” said Paul Gonzales. Those were from five of his former 1984 teammates. It wasn’t easy making the team since Taylor lost to Andy Minsker in an opening bout and had to reverse that in two following bouts. His teammate Pernell Whitaker had to qualify the same way.
Main Events would be Taylor’s management and promotional team consisting of Duva and Shelly Finkel. George Benton would be his new trainer replacing Willie Rush. He made his professional debut in November of 1984 stopping Luke Lecce, 4-2-1, in the 1st round scoring three knockdowns at MSG. In his seventh fight he defeated Roberto Medina, 13-1-1, over 6 rounds which included a standing 8 count in the 5th round. A half hour after the bout Medina, whose real name was John E. Garcia, was arrested by Norfolk police on charges that he had escaped from a Colorado State Penetentiary on June 25, 1982.
In his tenth fight he defeated “Rockin” Robin Blake, 27-3, at the Civic Center, in Lake Charles, LA., in his first main event. “He was tough and slick,” said Taylor. That was Taylor’s first 10 rounder. This fight put Taylor into the ratings. Two fights later he defeated another contender in Harold Brazier, 35-6. “He was a survivor in that fight,” said Taylor.
In August of 1986 Taylor would meet another Olympic Gold medalist, Howard Davis, 28-3, of the 1976 team, and Val Barker winner, in Atlantic City. “I thought I won. He boxed, moved and jabbed,” said Taylor. The fight ended in a draw with each boxer receiving a vote and the third judge calling it a draw. “I broke several ribs in sparring prior to that fight and still managed a draw,” said Davis.
On his way to a title bout he would defeat Primo Ramos, 30-4, Irleis Perez, 35-2 and Ivan Gonzalez 14-1, for a shot at Buddy McGirt’s IBF light welterweight title. Taylor was ahead on all cards when he stopped McGirt, 38-1-1, in the 12th and final round for his first world title. That was September of 1988. McGirt had won ten in a row including stopping Davis in his previous fight. Taylor was 21 years old and on top of the world.
Four months later Taylor made his first title defense stopping, John “Machine Gun” Meekins, 20-1-2, in the 7th round. He also stopped his seven fight win streak. It would be eight months before he fought again winning a decision over Courtney Hooper, 24-1, over 12 rounds. It stopped a 15 fight win streak. At year’s end he would have his first fight in his hometown of Philly in a non-title bout stopping Mexican Jaime “Rocky” Balboa, 42-9, at the Civic Center, in the 5th round. I guess if he beat “Rocky” Balboa in Philly that makes him the Philly champ!
Taylor followed this up with another non-title knockout preparing him for the “showdown” with the WBC champion, Julio Cesar Chavez, 68-0, on St. Patrick’s Day, in 1990, at Las Vegas. This was considered by many as the Fight of the Year (Ring Side Magazine). The fight was a war. Duva, who shared the corner with Benton, requested another referee besides Richard Steele. He felt his ties to Chavez’s promoter Don King were too close. His request was denied.
In the opening round Taylor’s hand speed gave him the edge, but Chavez would have Taylor’s mouth bleeding in the 2nd round, while starting to land with the right hand. Like the 1st round, Taylor used his foot and hand speed while landing body blows to Chavez in the 3rd and 4th rounds. In the 5th Taylor continued working on the body of Chavez but did take some heavy punches to the head. In the 6th round the first sign of swelling under the left eye of Taylor was very noticeable. He was still is out landing Chavez 3-1, but staying in front of him instead of using his footwork to go side to side.
In the 7th round Taylor still well ahead but looked the worse for wear with swelling around both eyes. In the 8th Taylor continued to outscore Chavez, but the left eye was closing while blood was coming out of his mouth and nose. In the 9th round the pace was still fast and furious with both fighters exchanging at the bell. Chavez had caused quite a bit of damage in concentrating on the head of Taylor who looks more like the loser though well ahead. The 10th was more of the same and the tide may have been turning late in the round due to the damage Taylor has suffered to the head. The 11th was more of the same though Taylor seemed to stumble a bit back after starting to go to the neutral corner. His vision was impaired. Taylor’s blood was all over Chavez.
Going into the 12th and final round Duva said “the fight is hanging on this round Mel. Do you want to be champ of the world?” Benton said “we need this round”. He was ahead on two scorecards 107-102 and 108-101 while some how behind on one 105-104. He could only lose by a knockout.
The pace continued with both fighters slugging it out until about a minute to go when Taylor did a little showing off with a wiggle. Chavez knew he needed a knockout to win and with 24 seconds to go he landed his best punch of the fight up until then rocking Taylor. He followed with left hooks to the head and ribcage causing Taylor to stumble forward into Chavez who backed up toward the neutral corner and stepping aside as Taylor went by him into the corner. Chavez landed a left hook to the head then missed another left but a follow up thunderous right dropped Taylor with 16 seconds to go.
Chavez went to a neutral corner but slowly walked along the ropes to the corner closer to Taylor. As Steele was counting he turned back on several occasions to see where Chavez was though never waving him back to the neutral corner. Taylor was up at 5. As Steele got to 9 Taylor whose head was down lifted it up and nodded “yes, he was okay”. Steele then asked him “are you okay” twice. Taylor was holding the top ropes with his hands instead of putting his hands up signaling he was ready to continue in the referee’s defense. One might question why didn’t Steele ask Taylor to take a step forward?
At the same time Duva was coming up the steps instead of waiting until the bell rang possibly causing Taylor to look over at him and away from Steele thinking Duva was going to stop the fight. A red light on top of the corner post had gone off behind Taylor’s head with 10 seconds to go so Steele should have been aware of the time left in the round. He seemed to panic and waved the fight off with 2 seconds to go. Taylor shook his head in disbelief. Duva was on top of them by then complaining about the stoppage.
After the fight Chavez was asked about the stoppage. “I felt very tired. Meldrick is a great fighter. He’s a very intelligent fighter and a very quick fighter. He deserves another shot. I think the fight was very close. He would throw 3 punches before I could throw 1 back. He was the toughest fight I have had,” said Chavez. Taylor answering during his interview said “he hit me with a good punch, but I got right up. I knew I was ahead. I nodded I was okay but he waved it off.”
Two of the judges Dave Moretti at 107-102 and Jerry Roth at 108-101 favored Taylor. The third judge Chuck Giampa had it 105-104 for Chavez which seemed way out of line. Chavez improved his record to 69-0 while Taylor dropped to 24-1-1. Taylor would move up to the welterweight division some 5 months later while Chavez had three non-title bouts starting 4 months later. At the end of the year Chavez made another defense while Taylor opened up 1991 challenging Aaron Davis, 32-0, for his WBA welterweight title. The two would meet 4 ½ years later with Chavez’s title on the line again after Taylor would win and lose the 147 title while losing in between attempting to add the 154 title.
Leading up to the fight with Taylor, Davis called Taylor a sissy and would pay the price. “He has a big mouth and called me names. He’s mad because he’s the champ and I’m getting all the attention. No one takes him seriously. When we get back into the ring I will show him I am still a great fighter and then we will see how big his mouth is,” said Taylor.
Taylor started off fast winning the first 4 rounds before Davis mounted an offense in the middle rounds only to fade down the stretch. There was no question about the decision.
“My speed was too much for Davis. I had problems making the weight for Chavez and am strong at 147,” said Taylor. He won by scores of 115-112 and 116-111 (twice) to win his second title in another division.
In June in his first defense against Venezuela’s Luis Gabriel Garcia, 22-0, ended in a split decision win for Taylor. Garcia earned the shot by defeating Nino LaRocca, then 75-5. The fight was held in Palm Springs, CA. There would be no rematch. In August of 1992 Garcia would lose in a title shots with IBF champion Maurice Blocker by split decision and in August of 1993 being stopped in the 1st round by Felix Trinidad.
Next Taylor won a non-title bout in September of 1991 and defended his title in Philly for the only time at the Civic Center in January of 1992 defeating Glenwood Brown, 34-2, by scores of 114-113 and 116-113 twice. His management team made a severe mistake moving him up taking on WBC light middleweight champion Terry Norris, 31-3, in May of 1992. It was the 7th defense for Norris who won the title from John Mugabi and had defenses over “Sugar Ray” Leonard and Donald Curry. Taylor would be stopped in the 4th round after losing 2 of the first 3 rounds. Norris was too strong for him. Many feel that in the first Chavez fight and this fight Taylor took a lot of punishment.
He dropped back down to welterweight and lost his title to Crisanto Espana, 27-0, in October of 1992. Espana, a Venzuelan, had moved to Ireland in 1988 so he felt at home since the fight was held in London. It was evident that Taylor losing his title in the 8th round was not the same fighter. “He was tall and rangy,” said Taylor.
There would be one more title fight in his future two years later after winning three bouts by knockout weighing as high as 150 in defeating a former amateur champion in Henry Hughes, 14-8-1, along with Craig Houk, 45-16, and Chad Broussard, 36-1.
Taylor would drop down to 140 for the first time in 4 ½ years to challenge Chavez again. It had to weaken him. Chavez was now 90-1-1. The bout was held in Las Vegas, in September of 1994. At the end of 7 rounds two judges had Chavez ahead and one had it even. The fight was stopped in the next round in favor of Chavez.
Taylor would be off for 23 months before deciding to return to the ring winning fights in Altoona, PA, where he stopped Kenneth Kidd, 25-33, in the 1st round and Tommy Small, 34-13, by decision in D.C. The following month Taylor would have his first and only fight at the legendary Blue Horizon in Philly losing to Darren Maciunski, 13-3, by split decision. Taylor was a shell of his former self just going through the motions.
In 1998 and 1999 Taylor would go 3-2, losing in Denmark and Mexico. In 2002 he won an 8 round split decision over Dillion Carew, 12-8-1, in Birmingham, Alabama. He then ended his career losing in July of that year to Wayne Martell, 21-1, in Mahnomen, MN, by decision in 10 rounds. His final career ending record was 38-8-1 (20).
“Meldrick was one of the best. He could have been one of the best ever to come out of Philly and be another (Ray) Leonard,” said Vinnie Burgese. The two of them came up together in the amateurs being the same age. In 1982 Taylor won the National Golden Glove title. In 1985 Burgese was the PA state Golden Glove champion. As a professional Burgese was 22-5-1 (12) from 1986 to 1992. I witnessed an exhibition at Champs Camp in Northeast Philly between the two put on by Burgese’s father.
Through Bigg’s brother Xavier, who lives in Atlanta, some of the members have met on several occasions this year. He also helped me contact some of the members. His brother Tyrell still lives in Philly. Taylor talked about some of his former 1984 Olympic teammates. Biggs: Smart and a crafty fighter. Henry Tillman: Very strong. Evander Holyfield: A war horse. Virgil Hill: Strong boxer and a good runner. “Holyfield, Hill and I would run together,” said Taylor. Mark Breland: Good range on his punches and could knock you out. Jerry Page: Good combination boxer. Pernell Whitaker: Real smart, intelligent boxer. Paul Gonzales: Good technician with that Willie Pep style. “Virgil and Paul were my roommates,” said Taylor.
Last year Taylor came out with a book called “Two Seconds to Glory”. His agent told me it was about his first fight with Chavez and his problems with Don King. After reading it I gave my copy to Lou Duva several months ago in the Pennsylvania Pocono’s when he had the Olympic super heavyweight Silver medalist from China up there and told him to take a blood pressure pill before reading it. I’ll leave it at that.
On November 21st the Front Street Gym has their Thanksgiving Turkey Brawl which will have former boxers in exhibitions. Special guests not boxing will be two former world champions in light middleweight Buster Drayton and light heavyweight Matthew Saad Muhammad. Joining them will be former boxers Richie Kates, Anthony Boyle, Brian McGinley and of course the former two time world champion Meldrick Taylor. I have a feeling Taylor may get the biggest ovation upon being introduced. This former champion who had fallen on hard times seems to have bounced back and will always be a champion in the eyes of his many fans in Philly!