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RIP Sweet Pea Part Three

Pernell Whitaker

Now campaigning as a light-welterweight, Pernell Whitaker easily outpointed Harold Brazier in January 1992 and knocked out Jerry Smith in a round four months later. On 18th July 1992 he stepped back into world class territory and challenged Rafael Pineda for his IBF light-welterweight title.

The defending champion had been a professional since April 1986 and the sole loss on his record came in a challenge to Mark Breland's WBA welterweight crown three-years later. The Colombian went on a winning run of six before facing Roger Mayweather for the vacant IBF light-welterweight championship in December 1991.

Pineda stopped Mayweather in the ninth round and successfully defended the title for the first time against Clarence Coleman, the same night as Whitaker's first round blowout of Jerry Smith. On 18th July 1992 at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, Pineda and Whitaker clashed for the championship. The champion was docked points in rounds six and eight for low blows.

A right hook to the body sent the champion to the canvas in the eighth and with the point deducted lost the round 10-7. It was the only knockdown of the contest and 'Sweet Pea' became a two-weight champion with scores of 117-108 (twice) and 116-110.

Whitaker never defended his newly acquired belt and by the end of the year made his debut at welterweight, knocking out Ben Baez in the first. In March 1993 he challenged WBC welterweight champion James 'Buddy' McGirt, who was making the third defence.

The defending champion defeated Simon Brown for the crown in November 1991, flooring the Jamaican in the tenth en-route to a unanimous decision. The victory made McGirt a two-weight champion, as he secured the vacant IBF light-welterweight title in February 1988, by stopping Frankie Warren in the twelfth round.

McGirt was stopped in his second defence against Meldrick Taylor, dropping to 38-2-1 (33 KO's) as a pro. At the start of 1989 he moved up to welterweight, winning sixteen bouts before facing Brown. The contest against Whitaker took place at Madison Square Garden. After a close twelve round contest, Whitaker became a three-weight champion by scores of 117-111, 115-113 and 115-114.

Whether 'Sweet Pea' won or lost to McGirt, he was guaranteed to face the undefeated Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez in the September. If Whitaker lost, then he would defend his IBF light-welterweight belt against his WBC counterpart, as he won, Chavez would step up to the welterweight division in an attempt to become a four-weight champion.

The Mexican had been undefeated since turning pro back February 1980, amassing a record of eighty-seven wins with seventy-two stoppages. He won world titles at super-featherweight, lightweight and light-welterweight.

Whitaker-Chavez took place the Aladome in San Antonio, Texas. The fight was one of the highly anticipated matchups of the nineties with both men being rated in the pound-for-pound ratings as the best for the past three-and-a-half-years.

The Mexican insisted on a catchweight of 145 pounds (65.77 KG) and came out strongly in the first two rounds. In round three the WBC welterweight champion worked behind a crisp right jab and his elusiveness was causing the Mexican some problems.

By the fourth, Whitaker had got into his rhythm, causing the Mexican to become frustrated by the champion's slipperiness. Team Chavez screamed at their man to press the attack between rounds four and five. The challenger scored the best round of the contest, with Whitaker responding by winning rounds six to eight.

Chavez did have a good ninth round and he started fast in the tenth, with Whitaker getting the better of him with the left hand. The champion stormed the eleventh and kept out of harm's way in the final round. Chavez looked perplexed at the bell and raised his arms in wishful thinking.

The Showtime commentary team unanimously agreed that Whitaker had done more than enough to inflict the first defeat of Chavez's career. The judges scored the contest 115-113 and two dead level cards of 115-115 meaning the bout finished as a majority draw.

The pro Mexican crowd of 65,000, who cheered everything their man landed and were silenced in the middle rounds by the skills of Whitaker, booed the decision. The media couldn't believe it either and questioned what the judges, Mickey Vann, Franz Marti and Jack Woodruff had watched. Sports Illustrated ran with the headline 'Robbed!', which Whitaker was most definitely cheated out of a deserved points victory.

In April 1994 Whitaker put the controversial draw behind him and outpointed Santos Cardona and six months later outscored James McGirt for a second time. In March 1995 he stepped up to the light-middleweight division and took on WBA champion Julio Cesar Vasquez.

The defending champion from Argentina had only lost one contest in fifty-four fights and that was by disqualification. Vasquez first won the vacant title by knocking out Hitoshi Kamiyama in the first round back in December 1992. Against Whitaker he was making his eleventh defence.

The challenger, who was showboating with his hands down, was caught and sent to the canvas in round four. The champion had points deducted in rounds nine and eleven for holding and hitting. The fourth round proved to be the only round he won as Whitaker ran out the unanimous winner with scores of 116-110, 118-110 and 118-107.

Whitaker became only the fourth man in boxing history to become a four-weight champion. However, he judged the light-middleweight division as too big for him and handed the WBA strap back straight away.

'Sweet Pea' returned to the ring in August 1995 and outpointed his number one contender Gary Jacobs. The challenger had been awarded a knockdown in the eleventh round, but TV replays showed the American had actually slipped. Whitaker had a massive final round, dropping the Scotsman twice, who also had a point deducted for excessive holding.

The WBC champion finished the year with a sixth round knockout over Jake 'The Snake' Rodriguez. His return to the ring was steeped in controversy when he won a disputed split decision over top contender Wilfredo Rivera in April 1996. The WBC mandated an immediate rematch as the contest ended in a disputed decision. Whitaker blamed his poor performance on the flu.

The rematch took place on 20th September and this time the champion, who was judged to be knocked down in the fifth, came back strongly in the next round, to floor Rivera. The contest went the full twelve again, with the champion retaining his belt with a unanimous decision.

The undefeated Cuban, Diosbelys Hurtado, was the next challenger for Whitaker at the start of 1997. The champion, at thirty-three-years-old was seven-years Hurtado's senior. It looked as if father time had caught up with 'Sweet Pea' who tasted the canvas in the opening seconds of the bout from a right hand.

He was dropped again in the sixth and going into the penultimate round was trailing on the scorecards, 93-92, 94-92 and 96-91 respectively. The champion connected with an overhand left, which hurt Hurtado. Whitaker landed a further nine lefts, which sent the challenger crashing through the second and third ropes as referee Arthur Mercante Junior, halted the contest with one-minute and 08 seconds of the eleventh remaining.

On 12th April that year, Whitaker made the ninth defence of his WBC belt against unbeaten Oscar De La Hoya. The challenger, who like Whitaker, won the Olympic Gold lightweight medal in the 1992 Olympics. 'The Golden Boy' turned pro in November 1992 and in March 1994 he beat Jimmi Bredhal to become the new WBO super-featherweight champion.

After a quick defence in the May, De La Hoya stepped up a division to knockout Jorge Paez for the vacant WBO lightweight title at the end of July '94. In May 1995 he added Rafael Ruelas' IBF lightweight crown to his WBO belt. He stopped Genaro Hernandez and Jesse James Leija to finish the year as 20-0 (18 KO's).

In June 1996 he cut defending WBC light-welterweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez to ribbons in the fourth round to become a three-weight champion. De La Hoya outscored the unbeaten Miguel Angel Gonzalez to start 1997, before meeting Whitaker for the WBC welterweight championship.

The two men had to go the full twelve rounds. De La Hoya was cut in the third round due to a clash of heads, which had a point deducted from Whitaker's score. The challenger also had to suffer a flash knockdown in the ninth as the champion connected with a left.

Many observers believed the champion had done enough to keep a hold of his belt, but the judges sided with the challenger with scores of 115-111 and two cards of 116-110, to make him a four-weight world champion.

Six months later, Whitaker was back in action against Andrey Pestryaev in an elimination match to face WBA welterweight champion Ike Quartey. 'Sweet Pea' won a close unanimous decision and was due to face Quartey in April 1998.

However, the win over Pestryaev was changed to a 'No Contest' when Whitaker tested positive for cocaine. The Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Commission, who sanctioned the Whitaker-Pestryaev bout, suspended Whitaker for six months.

The World Boxing Association didn't recognise the suspension, citing the positive test as invalid. Whitaker protested his innocence and submitted to random drug testing over a six-month period. Having heard this, the Commission lifted the suspension. Unfortunately for Whitaker he failed one of the random tests and entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, scuppering the April date with WBA champion Quartey.

Whitaker stayed out of the ring for sixteen-months and faced the unbeaten IBF welterweight champion Felix Trinidad on 20th February 1999. The defending champion turned pro in March 1990 and amassed a record of 33-0 (29 KO's). He won the IBF belt by knocking out Maurice Blocker in the second round in June 1993.

Against Whitaker he was making the thirteenth defence and the last time the twenty-six-year-old heard the final bell was when he outscored Hector Camacho in January 1994. It looked like another early night for the Puerto Rican as he dropped Whitaker in the second round. More misery was poured on 'Sweet Pea' as he suffered a fractured jaw in the sixth, but bravely lasted the whole course, dropping a unanimous decision 117-111 and 118-109 (twice).

Whitaker was out of action for a further twenty-six months and returned on 27th April 2001 against Mexico's Carlos Bojorquez. The four-weight champion, now thirty-seven-years-old, injured his left shoulder throwing a punch in round two.

The injury caused him to throw only three lefts in the third and by the fourth he was in so much pain, he turned away grabbing his damaged shoulder after he was pushed by his opponent. He then fell to the canvas as he ducked a left hook. He got up clutching his shoulder and referee, Joe Cortez, stopped the action after 27 seconds in the round for the ringside physician to check over the injury.

With Whitaker recoiling when the doctor squeezed the damaged area, the fight was halted. His trainer, Tommy Brooks, revealed his man's shoulder had troubled him during his fight preparations. Whitaker knew his time was up. "I am done. I can't keep suffering these injuries. I'm not even going to think about it," he said.

The ex-multiple world champion never boxed again and he bowed out of the sport as a fighter with a record of 40-4-1 (17 KO's). His personal demons returned two days after his final defeat after his girlfriend called 911 when Whitaker was having a seizure in the bathroom.

After further questioning from the emergency operative it was suggested the fit was caused from cocaine use. Whitaker was released from hospital the following day, claiming a mixture of pain medication and alcohol had attributed to his hospitalisation.

Whitaker was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007 and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008. He also trained ex-welterweight champion Zab Judah for his contests with Kaizer Mabuza and Amir Khan in 2011.

The boxing world mourns one of the best defensive fighters in history as many ex-world champions flooded social media outlets with their tributes and respects when news of his death filtered through on 14th July 2019.

Rest In Peace champ! Pernell 'Sweet Pea' Whitaker 02nd January 1964 to 19th July 2019.

All the best fight fans


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