Exclusive Interview: HoF Referee Richard Steele

By Jeff Zimmerman

Fightnews.com® caught up with the legendary, Hall of Fame referee Richard Steele to share his thoughts on the 34-year anniversary of Meldrick Taylor vs. Julio Cesar Chavez. Steele breaks it down and his decision to stop it with 2 seconds left in what is considered one of the most controversial stoppages of all time.

Steele also talks about Paul-Tyson, plus his work with kids through his Richard Steele Foundation & Boxing Club and his undefeated super middleweight Lester Martinez training with Bomac and Team Crawford and much more in this exclusive interview.

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  • Hands down the best referee of the 1980s. And yes, his call to stop Taylor-Chavez was correct.

    • Agreed. A referee’s primary job is to protect the fighter and NOT make a call on whether the fighter can survive to the bell.

      • I call b.s. Spoken like a mark. Boxing is politics/ money first. Chavez was a cash cow who had to be protected. Steele was willing to play politics. I could understand if it was 2 rounds left to rob a guy who clearly had the fight won with 2 second left. What was 2 seconds going to “protect” him from? Make that make sense.

        • Chavez was a cash cow win or lose the incredible first fight with Taylor. It was the kind of fight where both fighters came out with enhanced reputations. Steele is there to protect the fighter IRRESPECTIVE OF HOW MUCH TIME IS LEFT in the round. As much as I wanted Taylor to win with 2 seconds to go he was beaten. Finally, there is absolutely no evidence of Steele being ‘crook’. After a magnificent fight – one of the 10 best I have seen – boxing was also a winner. Chavez retained all his earnings power and then some.

          • WRONG, once again make that make sense. What is 2 seconds going to protect him from? Time matters given Taylor had the win and it was taken from to save Chavez and keep the gravy train going. Are you new to boxing? You asked for “evidence” of foul play. Dude, its common knowledge boxing is crooked but do you think boxing is anxious to provide “evidence?” Why is Rolly currently the champ? Is boxing anxious to understand why Tony Weeks robbed Barroso. We can play stupid or call it like we see it.

        • Wrong. If Richard Steele had allowed Taylor to continue, no way in this world Don King could have missed to stage the rematch, which could have been a massive event with good money for both fighters and a big success. Steele decision took away that opportunity.

    • Thats B.S. He was there to protect Chavez (a cash machine in boxing) who was clearly on his way to a loss. Taylor fought his soul out and got rob by a ref who was willing to play politics. I could see if it was 2 rounds left but 2 second. That’s an inside job.

  • I know it’s always been a hotly debated subject, but my view has always been that was a shocking decision. To rob a guy like that with 2 seconds to go, especially one who had fought his heart out, was clearly winning until that last 10 seconds and should have deservedly handed Chavez his first loss. I always suspected Steele was on the take from Don King.

    • Your suspicions are correct. He was on the take as were plenty of carefully selected judges. Not much has changed today except the names. They don’t care about the fighters. They never have.

      • ‘He was on the take’. This comment is a shameful lie about a man who dedicated his life to boxing. Go to hell.

        • No thanks, I’m going home once this is over. If you think for one second that Stelle wasn’t a Sulaiman and King crony as were plenty of judges back then, you need your head checked.

        • “Go to hell” lol how do you really feel. Actually it might not be a bad place to. Hell, Michigan has a population maybe less than 100. Might be a peaceful place.

  • There’s not much to talk about here Richard. You stopped the fight to protect the cash cow of the era, Chavez. That decision took everything Taylor had coming into the fight. Yes, he would have never been the same after the shots Chavez landed, but the robbery and the refusal to give an immediate rematch killed all motivation he had for the sport. The stories about protecting fighters regardless of time left on the clock is just a deflection. You did the job you were paid to do as the last line of defense. Does it define your entire legacy? No. You were a great ref, but the truth is the truth. Going to dinner with promoters and judges before major fights speaks volumes.

    • Chavez was already a cash cow and was going to be more of a cash cow due to his participation in the brilliant first fight versus Taylor. Your logic is warped.

  • They could have done a rematch in September 1991 instead of September 1994.
    Duva screwed up the end too by jumping up on the ring ropes.
    Chavez fought Lonnie Smith in September 1991, and total crap fight. He could have moved up and challenged Meldrick Taylor for the WBA 147lbs belt instead.
    Taylor got more damage from that 1990 fight than Chavez did.
    But he deserved to get a unanimous or split decision, even losing the 12th 10-8
    Chavez couldn’t have landed anymore punches after that knockdown.

  • Horrible call. Taylor was up at ‘5’. He nodded his head when Steele first moved in to ask him if he was ok, which Steele ignored. Steele never reached to wipe his gloves. The 10 second flasher was going off right behind Taylor’s shoulder. Chavez walked out of the neutral corner. Any one or all of these aspects would have caused the time in the 12th round to run out, giving Taylor his rightful win by split decision. I saw Steele a few weeks after the fight on an ESPN telecast. A fighter got knocked down and got up wobbly. Steele not only asked him if he was ok, he also asked him to take a few steps forward which the fighter did and Steele let the fight continue. Contrast that to the urgency with which he stopped the Chavez fight. Is there anymore to be said? Chavez truly lost his first fight on March 17, 1990 just like Floyd Mayweather lost his first fight on April 20, 2002 vs Jose Luis Castillo. In boxing, there is how the officials rule and then there is the reality of what actually happened.

    • Your comment requires a response. Taylor was wilting and in severe trouble. The knockdown showed his face to be a horrible mess and he was not responding to commands. It was reasonable to think he was finished as one more punch – who knows if Chavez would have had time but this is not the point – and his career could have been over. You may like the conspiracy (of Steele being biased) but it is unfair to a man dedicated to serving boxing and facing the incredibly difficult decision in round 12 of a magnificent fight. If I judge you as you judge Steele you are almost certainly a failure.

  • Richard Steele was playing politics and he’s still gaslighting. Chavez was the star of boxing and generated a ton of cash so that had to be protected. Steel is gaslighting behind the concept of “damaged” protect. What exactly was Steel going to protect Taylor from with 2 SECONDS left!! If it was 2 rounds, fine but 2 SECONDS left. Make that make sense.

    • Two seconds in boxing can be the difference between life and death. Steele’s job was to protect the fighters and not watch the clock and change that mandate should the round be close to ending. Probably the most difficult decision for a ref in 45 years of watching boxing.

      • One doesn’t need to “watch the clock” you can hear the 10-second warning. It was a brutal fight but its not like it was a Emile Griffith-level beating being dished out. It should have been left alone and allowed to go to the cards. Lets not pretend corruption doesn’t happen in boxing. Steele was corrupt on that night.

  • Taylor took some punishment, but should have won that fight. Steele knew how much time was left. The psychological wounds lasted longer than the physical for Taylor after that loss. The stakes were too high for an ending like that; its a world championship fight of the highest order. I’ve seen plenty of fights where guys are wobbled more than Taylor was, and there’s more than two seconds left and the opponent walks over and one punch cold clocks the guy; that wouldn’t have happened in this fight, not enough time (two seconds). Chavez also got gifted a draw against Sweet Pea, he was the cash cow for King at that time..

    • But he was not responding to the referee’s commands. That should guide a ref’s decision (not the time left on the clock). You can see his stumble forward i.e. he had no legs. With 2 seconds to go, he was a beaten fighter in my view. What is sad is this discussion takes away from one of the best fights in boxing history.

  • What a shame! Steele worked a lot of great fights, but all people keep crying about is Chavez-Taylor. Dry your eyes and move on people! Enjoy your retirement Richard and enjoy all the great memories sir

    • So, you enjoy playing stupid. We have eyes so we’re going to question things. Perhaps he if conducted himself like he did in the other fights and stayed out of the way there would be no issues. He knew the round was almost over and should have let it go to the cards. What is he going to protect him from with 2 seconds left?

      • So according to you, Steele engineered the entire incident. He caused Chavez to come on strong in the last round and for Taylor to wilt. He waited until the last 30 seconds to impose himself on the fight. He then caused Chavez to throw the right hand knocking Taylor down. He then, made Taylor get up on wobbly feet and THEN stop the fight with 2 seconds to go. In your conspiracy planning, you give Steele way too much credit. Steele was never found guilty of anything other than having to make an incredibly difficult decision. Please get over it. You are entitled to your opinion but it is not fact and make an effort to understand the difference.

  • Colson, I hear your points; my point is that there have been plenty of fighters that looked like they were done, and somehow they were able to conjure up something within to finish strong. That’s what being a warrior is about. That man did not get that chance.

    • Also the ten second warning should have told him there wasn’t enough time to do more damage.

  • If a lot of other referees are saying it was the right call, then it was. A man’s health and potentially life are in the balance. I doubt that Steele knew there were just 2 seconds left and not 7 or 8.

    • Dude you can literally here that sounds that goes off when there are 10 seconds left. There is a clock that refs glance at. He knew there was time. What else are the refs going to say? If they speak out against a veteran they’re deadmeat.

  • Did anyone catch that piece during the interview when Steele said he worked for King? It’s at the 10:41 mark when he states “in all the years I worked for him.” It was subtle enough but I’m thinking it was an inadvertent slip on his part. Richard Steele was an exceptional ref who made some fabulous calls in stopping fights like Hagler-Hearns and Chavez-Rosario but I’m not sure if he’s being completely transparent here. His claim of having few if any words with Don King, as prominent a figure as King was in Las Vegas throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, isn’t very likely or believable from where I sit. Steele’s call in Chavez-Taylor I was followed by an even more incredible call the following year in stopping Tyson-Ruddock I, followed by a peculiar overcorrection in docking Chavez points for low blows during the late rounds of that see-saw affair in the first Frankie Randall fight in January 1994. There was just a lot of weirdness there that didn’t add up. Chavez-Taylor I was a helluva fight and Taylor was definitely hurt and in rough shape. But Steele seemed all too quick to stop that fight, as if he already had his mind made up when the opportunity presented itself, which it did when Taylor was floored.

  • The Tyson-Ruddock 1 fight certainly didnt help Steele’s reputation after the Chavez-Taylor fight.

    • Steele refereed 172 title fights. Just like fighters, I believe refs have off days, exhibit occasional poor judgement, etc. That is a reasonable stance to take. Put any ref in Steele’s position in this fight and damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The Chavez camp would have been claiming whatever if the fight continued and these people would be commening, not you. Overall, Steele was one of the best refs in boxing history. If you judge someone based on the exception and not the rule, you are going to make a poor decision.

  • He is the creator of the great mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez…. Imagine if that kind of fight would of happened today. Looking at it from an objective point of view it is the biggest all time robbery. They robbed someone’s dream and career. Taylor was not the same after that fight.

    • What rubbish. Chavez was already boxing royalty by the time of the first Taylor fight. He was 68-0! For 11 and a half rounds Taylor was the best fighter in boxing but…he needed another half a round and he didn’t get it. What you call a robbery, I call the brutal nature of boxing.

    • One very important thing people forget is that Steele asked Taylor if he was okay to continue and did not get a response. It is not as though Taylor was emphatically stating he wanted to fight. No, he looked away and very disinterested. THAT right there was a huge factor in Steele stopping the fight.

  • Main Events rushed Taylor to Chavez and afterwards continued their ineptitude to properly guide and preserve Meldrick’s healthfulness.
    He came to them as 17-year-old Olympic Gold medalist. Main Events also rushed Breland to Starling. Later Vargas to Trinidad. People hardly comprehend that matchmaking is a skill to match experience proximity, while evolving the Pugilist. Another miss is, is the Pugilist learning and being cultivated during training camps. It was very clear going in that Taylor’s arm punching was not ready for Chavez’ relentless pressure and infighting calmness and accuracy. People should learn from this gross negligence on all parties thereof.

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