March 12, 1988 served a classic matchup on a platter to boxing fans, as Pernell Whitaker and Jose Luis Ramirez battled for 12 rounds in front of a packed house in Levallois-Perret, France.
A beautiful fight from start to finish, both boxers displayed technical skills, and different styles that made the fight one to be remembered for generations.
Whitaker entered the fight at 15-0. His highest-profile victory up until that point had come against Roger Mayweather, a decision win for “Sweet Pea” in 1987. Meanwhile, the more experienced Ramirez had racked up 106 professional fights, winning 100 of them. 82 by way of knockout.
When discussing the most naturally-gifted fighters in the history of the sport, few names can stand next to Pernell Whitaker. His grace inside the ring was satisfying to watch. His ability to move, without dancing, and cover so much ground was remarkable. Even when on the outside, he dictated the pace of fights, and the same song was sung against Ramirez.
On the other hand, Ramirez was a brawler. A true hard-nosed boxer with unrelenting aggression, the two-time lightweight champion from Mexico showed great stamina, heart, and precision in the ring. He brought these same goods to a hungry Whitaker who was looking to take the throne at 135 lbs.
Whitaker dominated the first nine minutes. He played the outside and outboxed Ramirez by making him miss and tagging him with his jab. He also showed off bombastic footwork, waltzing away in style whenever a defensive accomplishment was achieved.
Ramirez played copycat for the next three rounds, dominating in his respective fashion. He didn’t allow Whitaker’s constant movement to frazzle him. Instead, he stalked the Virginia native with everything he had. Come round five, Ramirez landed a flush left hand as a result of Whitaker getting too comfortable, and followed it up with a gorgeous 1-2 combo.
When “Sweet Pea” stopped moving as much, he was able to get off punches that bothered Ramirez. He maintained a good jab, whereas Ramirez dished out uppercuts in close — the first of those we had seen from him all night, mainly due to proximity.
Whitaker’s corner could be heard saying, “Make him respect your jab.”. He did just that in the seventh, putting on the best sequence of the night, with three straight jabs that all landed, followed by a left hand that expressed how much it hated Ramirez’s jaw.
In the eighth round, Ramirez dominated from bell to bell. Aggressive as ever, he landed every punch in his playbook, and started to wear out Whitaker, who showed visible signs of fatigue showed, namely through his antics when trying to catch a breather once tangled up. This fatigue was short-lived.
In the championship rounds, Whitaker showed off tremendous hand speed. While Ramirez had a productive 10th that he barely managed to win, he looked like a father whiffing while trying to hit the piñata at his daughter’s birthday party. Up against the ropes in the 11th, “Sweet Pea” drilled the living daylights out of Ramirez with consecutive hooks. Both fighters ended the round with great combinations.
By the final three minutes, Whitaker had resorted to his tactics from the first three rounds of the bout, keeping a lightning-fast pace on the outside while scoring jabs, which kept the headhunting Ramirez at bay, to solidify what Whitaker, his corner, and many viewers chalked up as a victory.
From this side of the aisle, the scorecard was as follows:
Whitaker: 1, 2, 3, 7, 11, 12
Ramirez: 4, 5, 6, 8, 10
Too Close to Call: 9
Perhaps one cannot be mad at a split decision, but one can justifiably be enraged at a split decision victory going the way of the Mexican great. Let’s be real, for much of the fight, Whitaker outboxed Ramirez. The amount of missed punches the latter threw cannot be ignored. While he was the aggressor and won his share of rounds, the judges did not respect the pugilism of Whitaker, and went with who dished out more hands.
This prompted an exaggerated, yet warranted reaction from Whitaker, who, right after the bell, stood atop the ropes claiming victory, only to be brought to his knees with his face to the ground in utter disbelief.
One thing that may have been vexing to many fans who’d watched Pernell Whitaker fight was his nonchalance in spurts. “Sweet Pea” had a tendency to swivel his hips awkwardly, which would make him lose his balance, or revert to antics that were not seen as sportsmanlike.
Also, leading up to the championship rounds, Whitaker showed fatigue. Instead of clinching regularly, he grabbed onto Ramirez’s legs or went below the belt. The referee had to stop on a couple of occasions to let him know this was not okay.
Outside of this, the fight did fulfill an old trope in boxing, as previously noted. It was the classic finesse, defensive fighter vs the brawler. To Ramirez’s credit, unlike the first Mayweather vs Maidana bout, where the latter threw an incalculable amount of punches, Ramirez knew when to hold back.
Watch the fight to witness the greatness that was put on display. Both fighters put on a great show, and while the decision may have been slightly swayed in the wrong way — at least in my opinion — the fight lived up to the hype.
For Ramirez, he retained his belt, and improved to 101-6 at only 29 years of age, a mind-boggling record. He would go on to face Julio Cesar Chavez, losing his WBC lightweight title in a technical decision defeat. As for Whitaker, he would go on to win his next 17 fights, including a 1989 rematch against Ramirez where he avenged his loss by unanimous decision, on his way to a Hall of Fame career.