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Chavez-Randall upset remembered

After Canelo Alvarez”s loss to Dmitry Bivol at the weekend, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston recalls the night another Mexican megastar was surprisingly trumped on the cards.

Dmitry Bivol’s upset win over Canelo Alvarez on the weekend brought back memories of a fight that had some similarities, in Frankie Randall’s unexpected victory over Julio Cesar Chavez to win the WBC 140lbs title in Las Vegas on January 29, 1994.

The first and obvious similarity: Chavez was a Mexican superstar, just like Canelo.

Then we have the odds: Canelo was something like a 1/5 favourite, while Chavez was priced at a whopping 1/15.

We had the judging factor. Prior to Canelo vs Bivol, you saw doubts expressed all over social media about the underdog getting a fair shake on the scorecards. It was much of the same prior to Chavez vs Randall. There wasn’t social media back then but the widely held view was that Chavez, a long-reigning and much admired champion, promoted by the then-powerful Don King, wasn’t going to lose a fight on the scorecards in Las Vegas.

Still another similarity: The underdog pulled off the upset but needed a strong finish to do so. Bivol swept the last two rounds on the judges’ cards to seize victory against Canelo; Randall didn’t win the last two rounds on the scorecards but he did have a huge 11th round, when he knocked Chavez down. (And Chavez was also docked a point for a low blow in the 11th, which was his second low-blow deduction of the contest.)

Oh, yes, something else. There’s a feeling in the boxing community that Canelo got the benefit of generous scoring last Saturday even though he didn’t get the decision. The same applied in the Chavez vs Randall bout. It was only a split decision in favour of smart ring technician Randall, the 32-year-old “Surgeon” from Tennessee who wore operating-room garb into the ring, but most observers had him a bigger winner than the judges saw it.

In the general view, the judges were off in giving Canelo the first four rounds on the spin. And in the dramatic 11th round of Chavez vs Randall,  the scoring was certainly questionable.

You’d think Randall would have been awarded a 10-7 round across the board, with a knockdown and a point deduction to boot. But, no, only one judge had the three-point margin.

At least, as with Bivol vs Canelo, the right man won. Mexican judge Abraham Chavarria had Chavez winning 114-113 (a score that was roundly booed) but Angel Luis Guzman of Puerto Rico saw it 114-113 in Randall’s favour while Las Vegas judge Chuck Giampa had the widest score, 116-111 in favour of Randall.

In the interest of full disclosure, my own ringside scorecard had this a close fight although I made Randall the winner. Randall started well, scoring with jabs, putting punches together, moving beautifully. He was the faster, slicker boxer. But Chavez came on in the middle rounds, hurting Randall to the body — but Randall didn’t back down. 

Chavez had the first of two points deducted when he landed a low left hook in the seventh round. Randall was given a time out, and he rallied to land right hands in the eighth, a round that the challenger swept on the judges’ cards.

It seemed to me that Chavez was showing signs of fatigue in the eighth. Randall’s trainer, Aaron Snowell, thought so, too. “You’ve got him!” Snowell told Randall at the end of the eighth. “He’s getting tired, Frankie — he’s where we want him!”

But there were still twists in the plot. Chavez dug down and came on in the ninth and 10th rounds, although Randall was still boxing well. Then came the pivotal 11th round, with referee Richard Steele instructing the judges to take the second point of the fight from Chavez when a left hook landed well south of the border. 

Chavez, now cut on the bridge of the nose to add to his woes, gestured his annoyance with the referee and came forward again, only to be dropped onto his back as Randall drilled him with a perfectly timed 1-2 — left jab followed by a right hand. 

We had the rare sight of Chavez back-pedalling after the eight count had been completed. Randall raised his arms in the universal signal of triumph as he walked back to his corner. But the last round was closely contested. Chavez doggedly pursuing, Randall boxing nicely. 

Judge Chuck Giampa gave the last round to Randall but judges Chavarria and Guzman each made the 12th a 10-10 round, which is scoring you no longer see at big fights in the US. 

If judge Guzman had given the last round to Chavez, the fight would have ended on a split-decision draw.

Randall was as gracious as could be in the post-fight interviews. He said Chavez hurt him every time he hit him. And Randall wouldn’t be drawn on whether he thought the judges had scored it too close. “I’m not the judge, I’m the fighter,” Randall said. “I would have accepted whatever came out [in the scoring].”

Don King put on a star-studded undercard with, it has to be said, a number of mismatches. Undefeated Felix Trinidad defended his welterweight title with a lopsided decision win over Hector “Macho” Camacho in the chief supporting bout. Simon Brown defended his 154lbs title with a majority decision win over Australia’s Troy Waters. We saw Thomas Hearns in a cruiser bout against the hapless Dan Ward, of Arkansas. Hearns, who got a great reception, won in the first round. Razor Ruddock, Meldrick Taylor, Italy’s Olympic gold medallist Giovanni Parisi and future bantam champ Tim Austin (having his fifth pro bout) all won by KO. 

Christy Martin, appearing in a women’s lightweight “special attraction”, came storming out of her corner to win on a 40-second TKO. 

Unbeaten prospects Terron Millett (future 140lbs champion) and Puerto Rican Andy Agosto (who was to challenge Johnny Tapia for the bantam title) each won in down-the-bill six-rounders, each scoring his seventh consecutive pro win.

It was quite a night. But the big upset made it memorable. It was a feel-good evening. Randall had contemplated retirement after a second-round KO defeat against Mexico’s Primo Ramos in 1987. But Randall strung together 17 wins in a row. A seventh-round TKO victory over former lightweight champion Edwin Rosario, which avenged a previous loss, earned Randall the title bout with Chavez. There were chants of “USA!” as the crowd realised an upset was unfolding.  

“I always knew I had talent,” Randall said afterwards. “I just didn’t have the opportunities. 

After an 11-year career, with just two defeats in 51 fights, Randall finally got his opportunity, and he made the most of it.