23 years ago yesterday, Oscar De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker met with Whitaker’s WBC welterweight title at stake at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“The Golden Boy” was 24 years old, came in with a record of 23-0 (20 KO), and was five years removed from his emotional gold medal win at Barcelona 1992. He’d already won world titles at 130 and 135 when he moved up to 140 in 1996, and that year he trounced an aged Julio Cesar Chavez to take the WBC belt via fourth round TKO. After a strong win over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Oscar was set up to face Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker for another title.
Whitaker, who also won Olympic gold in 1984, was 33 when he fought Oscar, but his 40-1-1 (17 KO) record was no joke, no mirage. He was a brilliant defensive fighter who had been robbed of a win over the aforementioned Chavez in 1993, which should have been the first loss of the Mexican legend’s career. Whitaker had already held titles at 135 (where he was undisputed champion), 140, and 147. His 1993 win over James “Buddy” McGirt gave him the WBC belt as well as LINEAL!!!!!!! champ status at welterweight. Whitaker had even bounced up to 154 for one fight, taking the WBA title from Julio Cesar Vazquez in 1995 before popping back down.
The fight has been debated plenty over the years. It’s one of the most controversial outcomes of the 1990s, and Whitaker fans to this day will tell you that Pernell was robbed again, just as he had been against Chavez in ‘93, in the service of protecting a star attraction — the first one an established draw, this time the guy who was meant to (and did) take over as a top draw.
I’m not going to go into it in full, but I’ll say this: I scored the fight 114-112 for Whitaker (seven rounds to five). I think he won the fight. I think his hand should have been raised. You can watch it up top thanks to DAZN and score for yourself.
In my view, the judges scored too much for ineffective aggression. De La Hoya went through absolute hell trying to hit Whitaker clean, and more often than not, Pernell was giving the younger, bigger, stronger guy some boxing lessons. De La Hoya has said that in terms of defensive ability and ring generalship, he never fought anyone better than Whitaker. Maybe part of that is a sly dig at Floyd Mayweather, but I don’t doubt he truly believes it. He arguably had more success against Mayweather, and that’s when Oscar was much older.
I might even could have seen it even at 113-113 (both fighters had lost points, De La Hoya on a flash knockdown, and Whitaker on an absurd WBC rule that penalized uncut fighters for head clashes resulting in the other guy being cut). But the margins De La Hoya won by — 115-111, 116-110, and 116-110 — were absurd to me. We’re talking 8-4 and 9-3 for Oscar on those cards.
Back then, The Ring ran an issue demanding Oscar give Whitaker a rematch on the cover. One never happened for various reasons, including Whitaker failing a drug test for cocaine after his next bout, and then losing legitimately to Felix Trinidad in 1999. Whitaker last fought in 2001, having his clavicle broken and the fight stopped. He died tragically last year at the age of 55 after being hit by a car, and the respect shown for “Sweet Pea” across the boxing world was enormous.