On January 29, 1994, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas hosted a 140-pound Super Lightweight showdown between undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez (89-0-1, 77 KOs) and Frankie “The Surgeon” Randall (48-2-1, 39 KOs).
Unbeaten for 14 years, Chavez, 31, was a locomotive inside the ring. The train, however, had recently experienced a pair of hiccups. Chavez decked Meldrick Taylor with just seconds remaining in their 1990 bout to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Three years later, the champion earned a hotly disputed draw against Pernell Whitaker in a fight which most saw Whitaker as the clear winner.
Undaunted, Chavez remained one of the most active fighters in the history of the sport. Between the Taylor and Whitaker fights, Chavez had fought an incredible 18 times. After the draw with “Sweet Pea,” he added a pair of knockouts to close out 1993.
His opponent on this night was no slouch. Randall, 32, was ranked No. 1 by the WBC and was on a 17-fight win streak. A solid boxer with good punching power, he had faced largely unknown competition.
Despite Randall’s experience and sturdy pedigree, he was installed as a 15-1 underdog. He would, however, own a slight height and reach advantage over the champion. The question was, did it matter?
The bout was broadcast live on Showtime Event Television with Steve Albert, Bobby Czyz and “The Fight Doctor” Ferdie Pacheco ringside to call the action.
Ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. introduced referee Richard Steele and then the fighters.
The early action saw Randall, wearing teal trunks with white trim, circling Chavez and popping his left jab. Chavez received an early warning for low blows as he moved forward and stalked Randall.
Wearing blue trunks with white trim, Chavez steamrolled ahead in Round 2 and repeatedly drove Randall into the ropes. The challenger, undeterred, fired combinations and battled back at every turn. The action quickly moved to the center of the ring with Albert trying to keep up with the furious pace. “And another barrage to the head by Frankie Randall!”
The ebb and flow continued into Round 3. The action moved back and forth from the ropes to the center of the ring and then back to the ropes.
Randall continued to switch tactics, sometimes moving and boxing, then occasionally standing at mid ring and trading at close quarters. The champion received another warning from Steele for low blows before the third round ended.
Chavez was relentless, bombing to the head and to the body with his trademark left hook. He continued to turn up the heat with every passing moment. The pressure he applied was intense as he tried to break Randall down.
Randall’s determination and guts were now on full display. He continued move side to side and began firing more and more to the Chavez body. Although the champion was still applying all of the pressure, Randall continued firing back.
As Round 6 came down the stretch, both men stood face to face and traded bombs until the bell. The crowd rose to its feet, the wall of sound deafening as Albert screamed, “Look at this toe-to-toe action! Furious exchange! It is not letting up! What a finish!”
The scale looked as if it was now tipping towards Chavez early in Round 7. The champion continued to pour it on while the challenger battled back time-and-time again. The crowd, on its feet, chanted, “Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!”
The action momentarily slowed after Chavez again belted Randall below the belt. Steele called time and deducted a point from the champion. In the final 15 seconds of the round, the two again stood toe to toe.
Now in Round 10, the crowd traded chants of “USA! USA!” and “Mexico! Mexico!” The pace remained furious. Unofficial scoring at ringside had it close with Randall slightly ahead. Chavez continued to roll forward as Randall was now firing more right hand leads.
The turning point and critical moments were now upon us in Round 11. As the two again traded at close quarters, Steele called for time as Randall again doubled over from a Chavez low blow causing a second point deduction. Chavez was furious.
While Czyz and Pacheco discussed the low blows and point deductions, Chavez attacked with reckless abandon, perhaps sensing his title and undefeated record was slipping away. With 30 seconds remaining in the round, lightning struck.
Randall fired another right hand lead that blasted home cleanly on the champions jaw. For the first time in his career, Chavez crashed to the canvas. Albert went berserk, “Oh! Down goes Chavez for the first time in his career! Flush on the face!”
Czyz was stunned, “Unbelievable!”
Pacheco added, “And now it’s goodbye title!”
Clearly hurt, Chavez held on for dear life as Randall swarmed in the final seconds. Everyone in the MGM Grand was their feet. Not a soul dared to sit.
The final round climaxed with Randall coming forward and pressuring Chavez. The champion showed his will by trying to muster as final assault. Randall’s legs were fresh as he picked his spots while moving side to side.
The final bell sounded with another roar from the crowd as they remained standing and in a frenzy.
The final scorecards were tallied as Lennon read them 116-111, 113-114, and 114-113. Frankie Randall had pulled the upset and defeated a ring legend and icon in Chavez via a split decision. The crowd again erupted realizing that they had witnessed history.
Steele, no stranger to controversy, was criticized in some circles for his twice deducting a point for the low blows by Chavez. In the post-fight interview with Pacheco, an angry Chavez chided Steele. In fairness to Steele, replays did show that the blows were low.
Despite the tremendous performance by Randall, controversy now filled the air.
In an immediate rematch just four months later, Chavez tasted revenge by earning a technical decision after the two accidentally clashed heads in the seventh round. The butt opened a nasty gash over Chavez’s eye, ending the heated back-and-forth action and sending it to the scorecards.
Despite the intense action and the unconventional ending in their second bout, also controversial, in which Randall lost the title he had just won, the two wouldn’t complete their trilogy for another 10 years. On that night, both fighters well past their better days, Chavez won a 10-round unanimous decision.
Their names will forever be synonymous with their first bout. It was a dandy. That recipe included a 15-1 underdog handing Chavez his first loss, in the most dramatic of fashion, and Chavez having visited the canvas for the first time in his storied career.
It was memorable and dramatic stuff.