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Fear the reaper: Soul-taking in MMA and combat sports

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There's a lot of talk about a fighter "taking someone's soul" after defeating his opponent, often with recent reference to Fedor Emelianenko.

 

Before his back-to-back defeats, a loss to the "Last Emperor" sent fighters careers careening out of control. After their dates with the former Pride FC heavyweight champion, for example, Tim Sylvia, Brett Rogers and Andrei Arlovski have never been the same.

 

Sylvia was knocked flat in eight seconds by an old, overweight boxer Ray Mercer. Rogers was manhandled by Alistair Overeem, which is forgivable, and then barely squeaked by Reuben "Warpath" Villareal, which is unforgivable.

 

And Arlovski lost three straight after being put on Queer Street by the wily Russian. Poor, poor "Pitbull."

 

Other examples are plentiful such as Sergei Kharitonov beating Murilo "Ninja" Rua's brain to a pulp at "Total Elimination," basically ending the promising Brazilian's hopes to be a contender ... forever. Gabriel Gonzaga teaching Mirko Cro Cop the definition of irony back at UFC 70 in 2007 is also proof positive that the Grim MMA Career Reaper does indeed exist.

 

There are numerous cases both physical (chin failure) and mental (hesitancy, psychological crumbling, etc.) that I could point to throughout this column.

 

But I want to tell you about the ultimate case of soul-taking in combat sports. So follow me after the jump ... if you dare:

 

It is 1990. Nobody has heard the names Royce Gracie, Dan Severn or Ken Shamrock. When it comes to true combat (not Jean Claude Van Damme), the only name on everyone's tongue is Mike Tyson.

That same Mike Tyson has just lost in one of the greatest upsets in history, a technical knockout from the fists of Buster Douglas.

With Tyson's invincible aura left melting on the mat in Tokyo, and his life about to spiral out of control like his irretrievable mouthpiece, the question rises as to who can claim the public's interest.

Two junior welterweights step up to the challenge. In what is dubbed "Thunder Meets Lightning," two undefeated "little men" decide to find out who is the best.

On March 17, 1990, just one month removed from Douglas's improbable victory, the populace turns its attention to Las Vegas, Nevada, for what is set to be a fantastic fight.

Nobody could have dreamed of what a nightmare it turned out to be.

In one corner stands Julio César Chávez, the greatest Mexican fighter to ever live. He has entered the ring 68 times and left with his hand raised every time.

Fifty-six times, he didn't even see the final round.

A relentless attacker, fighting Chávez is akin to fighting a slow-moving freight train. Sure, you can hit it. Sure, you can out move it for a while. But eventually, you're gonna get tired and realize you haven't slowed this thing down. It sure as hell slowed you down, though.

Your body aches, you can't breathe, and the last thing you see is this great force running you down.

In the other corner is Meldrick Taylor, touted as the next Sugar Ray Leonard. At age 17, he won an Olympic gold medal and has not slowed down since, going undefeated in his pro career. Possessing dizzying hand speed and the never-say-die attitude so endemic to Philadelphia fighters, Taylor is the future.

But is he the best?

Before the fight can even begin, there is controversy: Richard Steele has been selected to referee the contest despite alleged ties with Chávez's promoter, Don King. Taylor cornerman Lou Duva is furious, but relents. The fight will go on.

Everything suddenly stops making sense.

The bell rings on March 17, 1990, and it's not even close. Taylor is literally running circles around Chávez, outlanding him five to one. One of the best fighters to ever live is being made to look like an amateur. This continues, over and over, round after round.

The future is here!

Come the late rounds, though, something startling becomes apparent: Taylor may be hitting Chávez five times as much as Chávez is hitting him, but Chávez's blows are each worth 20 of Taylor's.

The young superstar is swelling up something fierce, his face broken in several places. Fatigue, compounded with the Mexican great's relentless body attack, are taking their toll.

They aren't taking their toll fast enough, however.

Round 11 (of a scheduled 12) ends with Taylor up by a huge margin on two of the scorecards. Chávez's corner demands that he finish this fight, begging him to "do it for his family."

Oddly, Taylor's corner tells him that he needs the final round when nothing could be further from the truth.

Final round. Just three minutes left.

The two walk out and meet in center ring, the Mexican's momentum as great as ever, while Taylor is crumbling as he moves. His own punch yanks him off his feet. Thirty seconds left and he's still going, but barely.

Everything goes terribly wrong.

Taylor backs into the corner and directly into a crushing hook courtesy of the Mexican wrecking ball. Chávez walks to the neutral corner, then begins inching toward Taylor out of sight of Steele.

Less than ten seconds left and Taylor beats the count. Steele asks "Are you okay?"

Taylor says nothing. Same question, nothing. Steele calls the fight, granting Julio César Chávez the technical knockout victory.

The official time is 35:58.

The boxing world is split: On one side are those who praise Steele's decision, pointing out that Taylor had been beaten so badly he was urinating blood.

On the other, are those who claim that there wasn't enough time for Chávez to land another punch. More controversies bloom as time goes by, ranging from Chávez exiting the neutral corner to Steele somehow not noticing the red light that indicates that there are less than 10 seconds left in the round.

Duva's dangerous advice to Taylor is also, naturally, called into question.

But here are the facts: Chávez remains officially undefeated for three years, although a controversial draw against Pernell Whitaker mars that achievement.

Taylor, meanwhile, cannot put five straight wins together for the rest of his career. Chávez knocks him out in the eighth in their rematch. Today, his speech is slurred as to be indecipherable.

In MMA, I've seen "the fire" beaten out of people. I've seen chins beaten out of people.

But I've never seen someone's career beaten out of them in a single night.

Have you?

Check out the awesome documentary that HBO put together, which details Taylor's rise to fame and his sudden fall from grace after the Chavez loss.

Chavez vs. Taylor HBO Legendary Nights Pt. 1:

Chavez vs. Taylor HBO Legendary Nights Pt. 2:

Chavez vs. Taylor HBO Legendary Nights Pt. 3:

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