Dan Rafael: Pernell Whitaker
June, 4, 2014
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com
Oscar De La Hoya, who won 10 world titles in a then-record six weight classes, was one of the best fighters of his time and the most popular fighter of his day. On Sunday, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, along with two other first-ballot inductees, Felix Trinidad and Joe Calzaghe.
De La Hoya touched on a variety of topics during our interview earlier this week. Here’s what he had to say on some subjects:
Going in with Trinidad, who outpointed him by majority decision in a very controversial 1999 welterweight unification fight
“We have a great relationship. Every time we see each other we can hug each other and laugh. We don’t even talk boxing, that’s how good of relationship we have. He’s a great guy. He was such a people’s champion. Along with Calzaghe, this class is three guys who are fighters inside the ring but are good people outside the ring.
“It makes it more memorable to be going in with Trinidad. But I know I absolutely won the fight (laughing).”
The best performance of his career
“It has to be the first Julio Cesar Chavez fight [to win the junior welterweight title by fourth-round knockout in 1996]. I could have faced the heavyweight champion at the time and I was very confident I would beat him. I felt unstoppable. I felt like the stars were aligned. Everything was perfect. I felt like I was floating in the ring. I felt powerful, compact, every punch was perfect. My movements side to side, even when I was in the ropes, the defense, everything was working. I was so focused. I was in the zone. It is an amazing, amazing feeling, that rush of knowing that victory is in your hands.”
The worst performance of his career
“I would have to say the Felix Sturm fight [to claim a middleweight belt by controversial decision in 2004]. I was facing a 160-pounder no one knew of but he was tough as nails, a good boxer, and I took the challenge because I wanted to be the best at 160. I was very ambitious. Truthfully, and I’m not one to make excuses, but I took the guy lightly. I was like, ‘Who is he?’ I trained in Vegas for a month. I remember gambling, staying up to 3, 4 in the morning. I made it difficult for myself. Truthfully, you feel you’re the winner when you win and the referee is holding your hand in the air. But I didn’t feel like I was the winner that night. I just didn’t feel victorious that night. I didn’t feel like the champion. There were times I did feel like the champion when I didn’t get the victory.”
On other close fights he had
“I did feel like the victor, like the champion, when I fought [Pernell] Whitaker and [Ike] Quartey [and got close decisions]. One fight I felt like the winner was when I fought Shane Mosley the second time and they gave it to him. You can make an argument I beat Floyd Mayweather. I felt as the champion that I did enough to win. That’s the beauty of the sport. When you have these close fights it can go either way. Whether I lost or won I’m OK with it.”
Most important win
“I would have to say Fernando Vargas [by 11th-round knockout to unify junior middleweight titles in 2002], because it not only showed me, but a lot of people, that I have that eye of the tiger, that I can dig deep down and win fights and that I’m not afraid to stand toe-to-toe, not afraid to bleed. He didn’t knock me down but that night I could have gotten knocked down five times and still gotten back up. It was personal, which made it that much more intense.”
Most satisfying win
“The second Chavez fight [to retain the welterweight title by eighth-round knockout by making Chavez quit]. The first time I fought him all the Mexican nationals and all Chavez fans were all against me. You have this kid born in the USA, but he’s not Mexican enough. They were like, ‘He doesn’t fight like a Mexican,' and they were questioning my manhood. So when I stopped him no one gave me credit for it because Chavez was cut.
“In the rematch I beat him at his own game. I stayed flat-footed and fought him toe-to-toe. He hit me with a right hand in the first round, if he would have continued the attack he would have knocked me out. He didn’t know I was hurt. I played it off perfectly. That I could take his punches and that I stopped him, made him quit, it was so satisfying. It showed the nonbelievers that I have what it takes, that I wasn’t just a pretty face and a gold medal. It’s blood and guts. I never expected him to quit. It was satisfying. But it was a double-edged sword because I just stopped my hero.”
What fight didn’t De La Hoya get that he wanted most?
“I would have loved to fight [Hall of Fame junior welterweight champion] Kostya Tszyu. We talked about it a lot but I never understood why I didn’t fight him. It would have been at 140 pounds. That was one of my best weight classes. It would have been a great fight. He had a lot of toughness. He was a great fighter.
“And a rematch with Trinidad. That would have been satisfying. I never understood why I didn’t have a rematch. I would have loved a rematch.”
The Ring Magazine/Getty ImagesPernell Whitaker fought to a draw with Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. in 1993 at the Alamodome.
Pernell Whitaker versus Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
Canelo Alvarez versus Austin Trout.
The comparisons are so obvious between the two fights that are separated by nearly 20 years. What was once old is new again.
Both fights pitted champion against champion. Both were among the biggest that could be made in boxing at the time. Both were held in the same stadium. Both featured a popular, brawling Mexican hero against a more refined African-American southpaw.
Let’s just hope the one thing they ultimately won’t share is an extraordinarily controversial outcome.
On Sept. 10, 1993, welterweight champion Whitaker -- the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world at the time -- defended his title against junior welterweight champion Chavez, who many had No. 2 on the P4P list, in front of a crowd of nearly 60,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
In the end, the fight was ruled a draw, one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history. To most, Whitaker schooled Chavez and was simply robbed of the decision deep in the heart of Texas, where Chavez was the massive crowd favorite and the guy who generated big money.
Now here we are again getting ready for Alvarez-Trout. They will meet to unify their junior middleweight world titles Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET/7 PT) in front of a what is expected to be a crowd of about 38,000 at the Alamodome in a fight so hotly anticipated that promoter Golden Boy, which had set the arena up for 35,000, added an extra 3,000 seats last week.
Alvarez and Trout know all about the comparisons being made between the fights and have embraced it. And why not? Being compared to those great fighters has to be nice.
“It is a very similar fight,” the 22-year-old Alvarez said through a translator. “I watched it on video several times, and Austin Trout, like Pernell Whitaker, is a southpaw, slick, difficult fighter. He's very difficult, but that's what we're training hard for. We're training hard for that and come [Saturday], the night of the fight, we're going to make it where it's not so difficult for us.”
Trout is coming off his huge win against Miguel Cotto in December and is aiming for another big-time win against Alvarez in a bout he also believes has a lot of similarities to Whitaker-Chavez.
“First of all, let's just say ‘Sweet Pea’ is one of my favorite fighters,” Trout said. “But the thing of it between me and ‘Sweet Pea’ is that I could punch a bit. There are things I saw that he did in the fight that he could've done to make it a lot less close that he could've done to pull away from Chavez.
“The best way to not let history repeat itself is knowing your history. So yes, I've definitely watched the fight. We'll make our adjustments because Chavez Sr. is not Canelo and I'm not Sweet Pea. But there are very similar comparisons.”
Trout (26-0, 14 KOs), 27, of Las Cruces, N.M., is, of course, referring to the decision. He hopes his fight with Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 KOs) goes the same way as Whitaker-Chavez, minus the horrible scorecards. Trout knows nobody is going to do him any favors in Canelo country, and he admitted that he is a little concerned about getting a fair shake -- but at ease.
“We know Texas is WBC country,” Trout said, referring to the Mexico-based alphabet organization that has Alvarez as its titleholder. “But I can't focus, I can't use any energy to dwell on things I can't control. All I can do is just focus on what I can control, and that's what I have to do in the ring.
“We don't want to go out of the game plan. We don't want to break character to force something that's not there. So we're going to just stick to our guns and make sure that we do our absolute best, and if it goes to the judges, then it's really in God's hands. If the judges want to jerk me, that's between them and God.”