top of page

RIP Sweet Pea Part Two

Pernell Whitaker

The new IBF lightweight champion made the first defence of his crown against undefeated Mexican Louis Lomelli at the end of April 1989. Whitaker staggered his opponent in the first round and went on to stop the Mexican in the third.

Four months later Whitaker would face arch nemesis Jose Louis Ramirez again in his home town of Norfolk, Virginia. The fight was also for the vacant WBC lightweight championship, as the holder, Julio Cesar Chavez, had moved up to the light-welterweight division.

During fight week it very much looked as if both governing bodies wouldn't be sanctioning Whitaker-Ramirez II. Both organisations were squabbling over who would name the officials, them or the Virginia Athletic Commission. They also had trivial debates, such as what logo would be on the referee's shirt. As it turned out, referee Chris Wollesen, wore neither.

On the Wednesday, which was four days before fight night, the IBF president, Bob Lee, was persuaded to sanction the contest. The World Boxing Council didn't announce their sanctioning until the Saturday, which was twenty-four hours before the bout.

The contest was settled by the judges, just as in their last fight. This time around Whitaker wasn't on the wrong end of a controversial decision, capping off another dominant performance with scores of 117-111, 120-109 and a 120-108 shutout.

Whitaker finished 1989 with a third round win over Martin Galvan in a non title fight and started 1990 defending his two belts against Freddie Pendleton. The champion breezed through the first three rounds but a right from the challenger had Whitaker in trouble. Pendleton, from the tough boxing city of Philadelphia, put 'Sweet Pea' under serious pressure, until a left left to the jaw in the fifth gave the ascendancy back to the defending champion. 

Whitaker's snappy boxing piled up the points but the challenger was looking dangerous and a rally in the eighth round had the champion backing off. Pendleton kept up the pressure and in round eleven landed a thudding punch. Whitaker had to call on all his skills and elusiveness to survive.

The champion dug deep in the final round, producing an impressive array of punches. With his speed and excellent defensive abilities being on display throughout the contest, the three judges sided with Whitaker to claim a unanimous decision victory over the crowd pleasing Pendleton.

On 19th May 1990 at Caesars Palace Sports Pavillion, Las Vegas, African great Azumah Nelson, was looking to make history when he stepped up a weight division to challenge Whitaker. If successful, the man from Ghana would have been the first African fighter to capture three weight divisional world titles.

Nelson won his first world title in December 1984, a month after Whitaker made his professional debut, when he stopped WBC featherweight champion Wilfredo Gomez in the eleventh round. He made six defences and in February 1988 he stepped up a weight class to win the vacant WBC super-featherweight crown with a split decision over Mario Martinez.

Nelson defended the belt four times, all by stoppage and the consensus was would 'Sweet Pea's' boxing skills be enough if the challenger landed one of his bombs, considering the tough time Pendleton gave him last time out.

The Ghanaian, although thirty-one-years-old and thought to be past his sell by date, hadn't lost since coming in as a late substitute to challenge the great WBC featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez in July 1982. Nelson was ahead on points going into the fifteenth and final round but the Mexican finally caught up with the tiring challenger and stopped him with a minute and 11 seconds of the round remaining. The victory turned out to be Sanchez' final performance as he was killed in a car accident at the age of twenty-three.

The challenger came out throwing punches in his usual fashion, pressing forward with wide hooks. Whitaker's smooth boxing was more than ready for the swarming African and the bombs were detonating on air. The champion used his southpaw jab to take the opening round.

The champion easily took the next four rounds and Nelson's response was to up the pace in the sixth. He ate the right jab but did land a solid body shot, taking the wind out of Whitaker's sails. The champion backed off, taking a deep breath and returned the compliment. His speed and reflexes made the African look mechanical at times.

Nelson had a good seventh round, landing two looping right hands and came on strongly in the eighth, throwing everything he had. Whitaker remained cool under the pressure, keeping his jab in the African's face, but it was Nelson's round, the first he won unanimously on the judges scorecards.

They traded jabs in the ninth and the challenger was beginning to show his frustration at no being able to pin the elusive champion down. Whitaker's movements were effortless as Nelson chased shadows.

With the older man looking to become a three-weight champion he came out strongly in the final round. He scored twice with heavy rights over Whitaker's lead, but the champion stood his ground and traded on even terms, taking the round all three judges cards.

All three judges voted for Whitaker, 116-114, 115-113 and 116-111, inflicting only the second defeat on Nelson's record. Both contestants praised the other. "I lost to a good fighter," reflected Nelson.

Whilst Whitaker scoffed at those who thought Nelson had seen better days. "He chased me for twelve rounds. This fight brought out the best in two of the greatest fighters in the world. It was a tough fight. I won it but there wasn't a loser. I can't say I'm keen on a rematch. I'd like to meet Juan Nazario who holds the WBA championship and in doing so, will unify all three titles."

On 11th August 1990 Whitaker got his chance to become the undisputed lightweight champion by facing WBA counterpart Juan Nazario. The Puerto Rican had been a professional since 1982 and lost his first world title shot to Edwin Rosario in August 1987.

In April 1990 he gained revenge and the WBA lightweight belt when Rosario retired after eight rounds due to a badly cut eye. Whitaker didn't have to wait long to add the WBA belt to his collection; a left to the jaw put Nazario down for the count, with a second remaining in the opening round. Whitaker became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Roberto Duran in 1978.

Whitaker defended his undisputed crown three times in 1991, outpointing the American Anthony Jones in the February, inflicting the first defeat of Poli Diaz' career in the July and in the October beat Mexican clown and IBF top contender Jorge Paez. It proved to be his final fight in the division and campaigned as alight-welterweight in 1992.

All the best fight fans


bottom of page