Wanting again it’s troublesome to not really feel some measure of remorse for Pernell Whitaker, and that is other than the very fact he was taken from us far too soon in a lethal automobile accident in 2019. And whereas it could appear absurd to want issues had been completely different for a boxer who received six world titles in 4 divisions and made a boatload of cash, the very fact is among the best boxers who ever lived by no means obtained the credit score and recognition he really deserved. It was uphill all the best way, and for one motive: his ring brilliance simply didn’t present the form of pleasure most struggle followers crave. It’s inconceivable to compete with a boxer you possibly can’t hit, thus so lots of Whitaker’s matches have been, when it comes to motion, one thing lower than scintillating. Continually shifting and sliding, bobbing and weaving, “Candy Pea” was as elusive as a wisp of smoke in his prime. As the good southpaw himself put it, “If I don’t need God to hit me, He’s not going to hit me.”
Too cute for some, too cocky for others, Whitaker’s identify hardly ever comes up when it should. One of the best boxer of the Nineties? Pose the query and also you’ll hear followers orate passionately about Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones Jr., and Evander Holyfield, ignoring the very fact Whitaker bested stiffer opposition than all three and didn’t undergo a authentic defeat till the last decade was virtually over. That was when Felix Trinidad outpointed him, however by then Whitaker was 35-years-old and his finest days and strikes have been lengthy behind him. His final nice efficiency was a extremely aggressive tilt in opposition to a youthful and far greater Oscar De La Hoya, however the judges took the win from Pernell, simply as that they had when he clearly out-boxed Mexican champions Julio César Chávez and Jose Luis Ramirez.
Whitaker’s first struggle with Ramirez stays some of the blatant robberies within the lengthy historical past of pugilism and the circumstances surrounding it ought to have merited a full-blown investigation. Extremely, regardless of the howls of shock from each quarter, Whitaker didn’t obtain an instantaneous rematch. As a substitute, a yr later he obtained a second likelihood at a world championship in opposition to Greg Haugen, for the IBF model of the light-weight title.
If one have been to make an inventory of essentially the most anti-climactic fights in boxing historical past, Whitaker vs Haugen must rank pretty excessive. Pernell had already established himself as the highest expertise within the division, if not the most effective in the complete sport, pound-for-pound. Haugen, whereas as robust and sport as they arrive, merely was not in the identical league as “Candy Pea” in phrases of talent, ability and flexibility.
However that’s to not say he didn’t belong within the ring that day. Haugen had earned his alternatives the exhausting manner, competing in over 300 newbie fights and successful a bunch of “Powerful Man” competitions in his native Alaska earlier than turning professional and pulling off a serious upset when he bested Jimmy Paul for a world title. His protection in opposition to Whitaker was his third after splitting two robust fifteen spherical battles with Vinny Pazienza. An efficient counterpuncher with a very good jab, Haugen had expertise and ability, however his energy was middling at finest and he was going up in opposition to a very gifted boxer, a pugilistic artist within the vein of Willie Pep, to not point out a person on a mission. Having been robbed in opposition to Ramirez, Whitaker was decided to depart little doubt in anybody’s thoughts as to who was the true champion of the lightweights.
Performing in entrance of his hometown followers in Hampton, Virginia, Whitaker began quick and as early because the second spherical he had taken full management of the motion. Backing Haugen up, scoring repeatedly with proper jabs and delightful combos to each head and physique, “Candy Pea” was already dominating the champion. Pernell’s superior velocity and timing have been manifestly obvious as Haugen was decreased to smiling and mugging after getting tagged with clear, jarring punches. On the finish of spherical three the group got here to its ft when Haugen was harm by two exhausting pictures to the physique adopted by a strong uppercut.
By the fifth, Haugen wasn’t simply being dominated; he was taking a beating. Having ready for a boxer who could be shifting and circling, the champion had no reply for an aggressive Whitaker who got here ahead behind a stinging jab and refused to offer floor on the within. Overwhelmed and out of choices, the champion recurrently backed to the ropes the place Whitaker took goal follow, snapping sharp pictures to Haugen’s face earlier than digging each fists to the physique.
Within the sixth, a exact counter left put Haugen down, the primary knockdown of his total profession, newbie or professional. Close to the tip of the seventh Whitaker compelled Haugen to the ropes with 4 exhausting proper jabs, feinted a fifth and instantly clobbered the champion with a vicious straight left and an uppercut. He then obtained residence seven thudding physique pictures, whereas mixing in some extra jabs and uppercuts. It was like watching Picasso or Pollack assault a clean canvas because the match turned a rout, in addition to a pugilistic masterpiece.
Whitaker slowed his assault considerably within the eighth and ninth, dancing and utilizing the ring extra, although he clearly received each rounds. A determined champion got here out exhausting in spherical ten and Whitaker, like a stern schoolmaster correcting an errant pupil, instantly put Haugen in his place, forcing him to the ropes and battering him with each arms. The ever sport champion by no means stopped making an attempt, however Whitaker was toying with him now, snapping his head again with virtually each jab and strafing him with prolonged flurries of sharp pictures to which Haugen had no reply.
The primary two minutes of the ultimate spherical noticed Whitaker content material to circle and showboat, however then he closed with a flourish, unleashing one vicious salvo after one other. After every lathering of leather-based, the tough-as-iron Haugen would smile, drop his arms and shake his head, as if to say, “That every one you bought?” and Whitaker would then mete out one other sustained volley, as if to say, “Okay, right here’s some extra,” bringing the group to its ft as he concluded his masterful efficiency with authority. After the ultimate bell Haugen, displaying class, applauded Whitaker earlier than the official scorecards have been even tabulated.
Later that very same yr Whitaker would avenge his “loss” to Ramirez with a shut-out factors win earlier than occurring to steam-roll the super-lightweight and welterweight divisions. Julio Cesar Chavez lastly agreed to satisfy Whitaker in 1993 and “Candy Pea” gave a virtuoso efficiency in opposition to a legend and a Corridor of Famer, solely to have the judges, as soon as once more, deny Whitaker his rightful glory after they absurdly deemed the bout a draw. It’s been stated many occasions earlier than, however let or not it’s stated once more: Whitaker vs Chavez is a straight-up theft. Pernell received no fewer than eight rounds.
Haugen fought for an additional decade, successful in opposition to Héctor Camacho and Ray Mancini, however shedding to Pazienza and Chavez. He willingly took on all comers, amassing a report of greater than fifty professional fights. And years later, when requested who was the most effective boxer he ever confronted, he didn’t hesitate for a second. “Palms down,” he stated, “Pernell Whitaker.” — Michael Carbert