Holligan, the 26-year-old British and Commonwealth champion, was pulled out by his cornerman after five rounds of a brutally one-sided contest. Holligan was suffering from a badly damaged nose, a cut left eye and a swollen cheekbone and, although he had shown bravery beyond the call of duty, he was in a hopeless position.
The referee, Arthur Mercente Snr, said: 'I went over at the end of the fifth and asked the corner if the kid could go on. His trainer told me he said he thought the kid's nose was broken. I said: 'You want me to stop it?' And he said: 'I think you better'.'
The crowd of more than 30,000 - less than the promoter, Don King, had hoped for - seemed disappointed that Chavez had not been allowed to go in for the kill. For those few unpartisan observers present, the end came as a relief as the match had ceased being a sporting spectacle. Later, in an echo of many other valiant but doomed British challengers, Holligan gamely said: 'I'm just so sorry I wasn't able to do a little better.'
In fact he did well to overcome a nightmare of a start and go as far as he did. The night had a biting chill, hardly ideal for lubricating frozen nerves, and indeed it was so cold that those aficionados perched in the upper tiers in the cavernous old football stadium here took practical action by lighting bonfires. Surrounded by these eerie beacons Holligan, garbed in a home-spun Union Jack robe, cut a lonely and almost quaint figure as Chavez and his 20-strong entourage, including his two infant sons, entered the ring swathed in Mexican tricolours to a soundtrack of drumbeats.
Almost as soon as the action started it was ominously apparent that Holligan, despite having bulldozed his way to 21 consecutive victories in British rings, was out of his class. A left hook to the body winded Holligan and then a follow- up hook to the head had him teetering back on to the ropes, momentarily unsteady.
But Chavez seemed in no hurry to finish it. In the interval between the first and second rounds a ghastly realisation must have dawned on the British challenger, but he came out manfully banging his gloves together. In the second Holligan's nose began to bleed heavily and it later emerged that he had been swallowing blood from this point. Chavez made Holligan's head bob with upper-cuts, turned him with deft graceful shoves and bent him over with lances to the ribs. It had only the contrived suspense of a matador playing a confused and purpose-bred bull. By the third Holligan's face was a mask of red, and so the beating continued.
In the fourth a rather bored expression had come across Chavez's face. He allowed himself to be pinned on the ropes and Holligan punched away at him desperately. The crowd derided the Briton's efforts with chants of 'Nada, Nada' as Chavez cruised back into the ring centre, casually firing off four- punch combinations.
Towards the end of the fifth Holligan landed his best punch of the fight, a right-hand to the chin, but it had an almost absurd lack of effect. Chavez's nonchalance would have suggested he was merely indulging in a sparring session, were it not for the evidence of the butchery that had by now stained his own white shorts pink.
Then suddenly the end was near. Chavez went on the attack, driving 11 consecutive angry punches home. Holligan tottered and staggered, all at sea, and in the corner his trainer from Liverpool, Carl Moorcroft, got to his feet with the towel in his hands. But Holligan, perhaps glimpsing it, railed against its sanctuary with an almost insane pride and improbably swung punches back until the bell.
They were to be the last he threw. 'I was going to throw the towel in in the fifth,' Moorcroft said. 'But he came back. I said to him in the corner, 'How's your nose?' He said: 'I can't breathe, but I can go on'. So I said: 'That's enough then. You can live to fight another day. You're still a beautiful boy'.'
Chavez, whose status as a boxing great is already assured, took his record to 89 victories from 90 bouts with one draw. By beating Holligan he notched up his 26th successful world championship defence, breaking the record set by the heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, nearly 50 years ago.
In a huge upset on the same bill on Saturday, one of Chavez's chief rivals for the title of the world's best pound-for-pound boxer, the WBC light-middleweight champion, 'Terrible' Terry Norris, was knocked out in four rounds by Simon Brown of Jamaica. Norris, who put Sugar Ray Leonard into retirement three years ago, was a prohibitive 15-1 on favourite against Brown, a former welterweight champion thought to be past his best.
Brown survived a shellacking from Norris in the first two minutes of the bout to deck the champion with a left hook. Norris was floored in each of the next two rounds before being poleaxed with a right hand. As Norris was carried from the ring Brown's trainer remarked: 'Well, he 'aint terrible no more.'
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