A Look Back At Whitaker v De La Hoya, And A Bitter End To "Sweet Pea's" Time At The Top

21.02.06 - By James Slater: Shortly after defeating Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya moved up in weight and challenged a boxer who many felt was number one "pound for pound" in the world. In an attempt to take the welterweight title, Oscar faced the supremely gifted Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker. Oscar was seemingly going out of his way to find the most difficult opponents to tackle. Whitaker was a boxer who could frustrate and out slick anyone. He was a southpaw too and almost any orthodox fighter will tell you that a lefthander can be the biggest headache to be up against. Although officially he had suffered one loss and fought a draw these two results were widely disputed. The "loss" was to then WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez, who Whitaker had been challenging for his first world title back in 1988. It was a horrible twelve round decision and "Sweet Pea" was clearly robbed. He subsequently gained revenge in a rematch the following year, when the judges had been awake. The "draw" was in a fight with Chavez and again practically everyone, except the three scoring officials, had Pernell winning. So, going into the fight with Oscar he was generally considered undefeated and he planned to stay that way in his fight with "The Golden Boy"..

The bout, which took place at The Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on the twelfth of April 1997, was for Whitaker's WBC title and it proved to be yet another controversial contest involving him.

Whitaker started by throwing lots of jabs and initiating clinches. Soon these jabs were landing flush and Oscar, like so many of Pernell's opponents, encountered the usual frustration. Although he continued to march forward he didn't really land anything big on his elusive rival until the sixth round, when he landed a counter left uppercut that staggered Whitaker. In the seventh though, Oscar's nose started to bleed as a result of all the jabs he'd taken, and in the ninth Whitaker was credited with a knockdown when De La Hoya lunged in with a missing shot and seemingly slipped, yet was clipped by a blow on the way down. The referee was entitled to count and did so.

This was only the third knockdown of Oscar's career; the other two coming in early fights when he had been somewhat skinny legged and his concentration hadn't been what it should. On both occasions he quickly regained his feet and despatched his opponents.

Oscar was angry now, he hadn't been hurt physically by the knockdown but he knew now that he would be on the scorecards. He came on in the last few rounds and appeared to win them, especially the last which Whitaker mostly gave away. Pernell had clowned quite a bit during this fight.

When the judge's cards were read out nearly everyone was surprised. The fight had appeared desperately close yet Oscar was awarded an amazingly wide unanimous decision. Two judges had him in front by 116-110 margins. There was no way Whitaker had lost this fight by six points! Once again it must have seemed to him that he just could not get a break. Afterwards, he said he could take solace from the fact that the fans knew who had really won. And many did side with "Sweet Pea". There were also more than a few experts who chose to do the same. Larry Merchant for example, had Pernell winning by "a close decision".

A rematch was proposed afterwards and De La Hoya said he was willing to accept one in the post fight interview. It never happened though and, sadly, Whitaker became involved in drugs, going in and out of rehabilitation centres. He never posted another official victory although he did continue to box, way past his best; the deterioration no doubt related to his drug abuse.

Indeed, it was a sad end to the career of a man who is without doubt one of the finest ever practitioners of the sweet science. With his private life in turmoil it's no wonder his last fights were losing efforts. What is actually surprising is the fact that he wasn't beaten in these bouts in a more degrading fashion. Thankfully Pernell, despite being a mere shadow of his former self, managed to last the distance in his last title fight, against the power punching Felix Trinidad. Whitaker did suffer a damaged jaw against "Tito" however and had to dig deep so as to hear the final bell. He was stopped in his final fight, against Carlos Bojorquez, when an injury to his clavicle (collarbone) suffered in round four prompted his surrender. But he was never to suffer the ignominy of being KO'd. Still, his fighting days did, unfortunately, end with a whimper and not a bang.

There is some good news though. It has been reported in the media recently how Pernell has put his personal life into order and cleaned up his act. Drugs are now a thing of the past, as are certain individuals who he now says he realises were never real friends in the first place. Pernell was yet another athlete who was surrounded by the freeloading types who often associate themselves with successful people. This is now all firmly behind him and Whitaker is happy to lead a quiet, simple life.

With his place amongst the all-time greats secure, he is entitled to feel content. Surely, whenever a poll of the finest lightweights ( his peak weight class) in history is put together, the name of Pernell Whitaker will reside near the top, regardless of who it is doing the compiling. "Sweet Pea" was truly one of the fight game's classiest acts.

His final record reads - 40 wins- 4 defeats-1 draw with 17 wins by KOHe won world titles at lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight and light middleweight.

Article posted on 21.02.2006

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