Meldrick Taylor (right), 24-0-1, is hit with an uppercut from Julio Cesar Chavez, 68-0, during their 140-pound title unification fight at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 17, 1990. Chavez stopped Taylor in the final seconds of the 12th round, adding Taylor’s IBF belt to his WBC title.
The bottom five of Lee Groves’ top 10 list of the most notable showdowns between unbeaten fighters were Donald Curry-Milton McCrory (10), Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler (9), Joe Frazier-George Foreman I (8), Larry Holmes-Michael Spinks I (7) and Wilfredo Gomez-Carlos Zarate (6).
What fights make up the top five? Read on and find out.
5. April 23, 1977 – Carlos Zarate (45-0) KO 4 Alfonso Zamora (29-0), Forum, Inglewood, Calif.
If ever there was a dream match to be made during the late 1970s it was Zarate vs. Zamora. Each held a version of the world bantamweight title (Zarate owned the WBC strap while Zamora possessed the WBA’s), each hailed from Mexico City and both had wrecking balls for fists.
The numbers were almost beyond belief. The 25-year-old Zarate had notched 44 knockouts in 45 wins, including 21 straight. If one included his 30 knockouts in 33 amateur fights, Zarate’s overall boxing record would read 78-0 with 74 knockouts, which translated to an eye-popping .948. But for all of Zarate’s exploits, Zamora, the 1972 Olympic silver medalist, had an even greater KO percentage resume – 29 fights and 29 knockouts. Both men embodied the classic Mexican tradition of aggressive power punching highlighted by lights-out hooks to the chin and soul-sapping lefts to the liver. For more than a year fans salivated at the prospect of a title unification fight, for Zarate had recorded three defenses spanning 19 rounds while Zamora’s four defenses went a combined 11 rounds.
Roadblocks, of course, stood in the way. One of them was the two warring sanctioning bodies, each of which didn’t want to lose a lucrative source of title-fight fees to their mortal enemy. The second was the fighters themselves, for they were onetime stable mates and close friends who often visited the other’s house. The third was the most formidable of all – the management teams.
At one time both fighters were under the guidance of Arturo “Cuyo” Hernandez but after Zamora won the WBA title in four rounds from Soo Hwan Hong in March 1975, Hernandez and Zamora’s father, Alfonso Zamora Sr., experienced a severe falling out which forced Hernandez to sell the son’s contract to Zamora Sr. for $40,000. Zamora Sr. subsequently signed with veteran pilot Francisco “Pancho” Rosales.
“I liked the boy, I still do,” Hernandez told Boxing Illustrated‘s L.C. Stockwell. “But to get rid of the father I would have sold Zamora’s contract for a sack of pinto beans.”
Though the business end of their dispute was settled, at least legally, the feud remained intensely personal. Zamora saw Hernandez’s move as a sign of disrespect to his son and the two men vented by hurling insults through the Mexican newspapers.
For all the barriers that threatened to block the fight, the fighters’ explosive styles and enormous drawing power demanded positive action and thanks to Forum promoter Don Fraser the deal was done. To assuage the sanctioning bodies’ misgivings, Zarate-Zamora was to be a 10-round non-title fight in which both men were to be paid $125,000.
“We fight Zarate for the money and the other contenders for the championship,” Zamora Sr. said.
Zarate, however, would have preferred that his fight with Zamora be for all the marbles.
“This non-title bout wasn’t my idea,” Zarate said. “It doesn’t make any sense for two champions to fight and, when it is all over, both are still champions. One of us will lose, but what will he lose? Some pride, some respect, his undefeated record, but not his title. I think it’s time we stop this foolishness and settle this business of two champions.”
The lack of unification status did affect turnout and revenue as only 13,996 patrons showed up at the Forum and paid out $357,440. Zarate was installed as a slim 10-to-8 favorite and the pre-fight scuttlebutt indicated that the pair might hold something back in case a big-money rematch for both titles was made. But once the opening bell rang all those fears were buried in a torrent of punches.
There was an unwelcome interruption, however. Fifty-two seconds into the bout, a man wearing a white T-shirt and gray shorts jumped into the ring in an effort to keep the fight from resuming. Seconds later, the man was roughly removed by five policemen wearing riot gear. Though rattled slightly, the 119-pound Zarate and the 119¾-pound Zamora didn’t take long to kick up the action.
Zarate stunned Zamora with a lead right early in the second and a left hook later on, but Zamora reached his high-water mark moments later with a crackling overhand right and a flush left hook to Zarate’s chin. The two sluggers traded evenly through most of the third but in the round’s final minute Zarate began imposing his will by spearing Zamora with long-armed power shots. All of a sudden Zamora had a weary and disorganized look about him while Zarate oozed confidence and command.
With 30 seconds remaining Zarate floored Zamora with a short lead right to the chin, but the WBA champ, though shaky, popped to his feet immediately. Two more knockdowns in the fourth forced Zamora’s father to throw in the towel, which landed on his son’s battered and bloody face. Because such a move did not legally stop a fight in California referee Richard Steele continued his count until it reached 10.
As soon as the fight ended, an enraged Zamora Sr. climbed onto the ring apron and charged Hernandez because he believed an irritating substance was placed on Zarate’s gloves. “You’re a liar and a cheat,” Zamora Sr. said according to the September 1977 issue of World Boxing magazine. For the second time in 15 minutes the riot police was pressed into action and the two men were quickly separated.
“His punches in the first round put me in the mood to attack,” Zarate told World Boxing‘s Stephen Randel. “I was ready to go to work. I wanted him. But it was hard at the beginning because we were such good friends.”
“He’s a great competitor,” Zamora said later in the story. “I thought I was doing OK until the third. After that, I don’t remember too much.”
Rest assured, everyone who was lucky to see it live and those who have subsequently viewed it on video will remember what happened forever.
[Click on the NEXT button to read Nos. 4 through 1.]