LAS VEGAS — In the end, it took a meeting of minds to decide it.
Or rather, a meeting of skulls.
Julio Cesar Chavez and Jose Luis Ramirez, two of Mexico's greatest champions, engaged each other in an 11-round slugfest Saturday night at the Las Vegas Hilton.
And at the end, with both boxers clutching their heads in pain from an accidental butt, Ramirez's head probably hurt a little more, because he lost.
As the two lightweight champions traded close-quarter blows midway through the 11th, they cracked heads.
Blood began flowing immediately from a resulting cut, high on Ramirez's forehead. Meanwhile, Chavez had stepped back, and gripped his own head in pain.
End of fight, Chavez winning on a technical decision.
Referee Richard Steele escorted Ramirez to his corner, where Nevada Athletic Commission physician Flip Homansky looked at the cut. He looked at Steele, and shook his head, indicating the fight should be stopped.
It was, and the scorecards were totaled--with a Steele-ordered one-point deduction of Chavez for the accidental butt.
In what looked to nearly everyone at ringside as a contest rapidly approaching an easy victory, judge Lou Tabat of Las Vegas had it only 95-93 for Chavez, and Los Angeles judge Rudy Jordan had it 96-94, Chavez. Art Lurie of Las Vegas scored it 98-91, Chavez.
The Times card had Chavez ahead, 98-90.
In the companion main event, Raul Perez of Mexico upset Miguel Lora of Colombia on a unanimous decision and took away his World Boxing Council bantamweight championship.
Chavez, either 62-0, 60-0 or 62-1, depending on the record-keeper, owns both the WBC and World Boxing Assn. lightweight titles. Ramirez is 106-7.
After defeating perhaps his most difficult opponent, maybe Mexicans will give Chavez what he wants--recognition that he has reached a level of boxing previously attained by only one other Mexican champion, the legendary Ruben Olivares.
In the aftermath Saturday night, there was talk of a Chavez-Ramirez rematch, but promoter Don King said otherwise.
"Chavez had an agenda in mind if he won tonight, and he won," King said.
Translation: Ramirez isn't on the agenda.
But Meldrick Taylor might be, when Chavez steps up to the junior welterweight division. And down the road, perhaps a blockbuster against Sugar Ray Leonard.
Chavez needed all his guile, skills and power to turn this one around.
For 11 rounds, the boxers launched rockets at each other. And both faltered, but Ramirez far more frequently. The pivotal point of the fight occurred in the fourth round when Chavez backed Ramirez to the ropes and unloaded with a thumping right to the jaw.
Ramirez rocked back on his heels, his knees buckled . . . but he didn't go down. Chavez didn't finish him then, and he had blown his best opportunity to stop Ramirez, but he did turn the fight around with that punch.
After that, Chavez's brilliant counter-punching steadily wore down Ramirez, who as a boy learned to box with Chavez in the same Culiacan gym.
Both boxers desperately wanted to win, and either was prepared to be carried out rather than lose. Ramirez lost, but he did so with courage.
The memorable battle was seen by a sellout of about 9,000 in the Hilton Center, and it was an oddly quiet crowd. Attendance was about one-third Latino, but this was no Saturday night at the Olympic Auditorium.
With Mexico's two best battlers fighting, it seemed to be a case of not picking sides. At times, it was like being in an art gallery.
But this wasn't water colors. It was war. And there were times when it seemed Ramirez would surely be battered to the deck from Chavez's deadly accurate punches.
There were stretches in the fight when Chavez actually batted .1000. He went 18 for 18 to Ramirez' head to finish the sixth round.
Chavez fought effectively while backing up, something he has rarely been forced to do. And for the first 3 rounds, he was not in command. Ramirez wasn't either, but he was forcing the issue, steadly advancing upon his slightly shorter foe.
After the 4th round, Chavez settled into an effective pattern of counter-punching, virtually every time Ramirez extended a glove.
Both were paid equally, $350,000, according to contracts filed with the Nevada commission, but it was reported that both will make even more from Mexican television rights.
Afterward, Chavez said he entered the ring hurting.
"I injured a rib while training at Cleveland on Sept. 10," he said, through an interpreter. Chavez removed his jacket and pointed to a point low on the left side of his rib cage.
"I hurt a rib in training (at Don King's training camp, near Cleveland), and went to the doctor. For 10 days I did no training. I took pills and shots. When I resumed training, my sparring partners were told not to hit me to the body."
In victory and defeat, the old friends doled out praise sparingly.
Ramirez, for example, wouldn't say whether Chavez was better than two other champions he has faced, Edwin Rosario and Hector Camacho.
"All three are great champions," he said, and Chavez giggled.