Fame draws Whitaker back into ring
Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker is happiest when he is in the ring and on stage.
A six-time world champion who began his career in 1984, he has nothing left to prove. He’ll be in the Boxing Hall of Fame someday and is already considered one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time.
In his last bout in February 1999, he boxed like the champion he is, going the final six rounds against Felix Trinidad with a broken jaw. He was too proud to quit, too good to be stopped. He lost the IBF welterweight title fight by a decision.
Twenty-six months later, and at the age of 37, Sweet Pea is smiling again.
He’ll be on national television Friday when he takes on Carlos Bojorquez at Caesars Tahoe.
“I love the competition,” he said after a public sparring session Monday at the Circus Maximus showroom. “I love the crowd. Even when I get booed, I enjoy that because I can turn the boos to cheers.”
His game plan is simple and ambitious: avenge two loses he sustained and rejuvenate boxing.
“There are two fights out there,” he said. “Oscar De La Hoya, he’s on my list. It’s nothing personal, and I am not going to chase his (rear end). But he got a gift from the judges that night. And then Trinidad. I’ve not leaving until I’ve beaten both of them.”
And the bigger picture?
“Nobody stood up and took charge while I was out. Trinidad did pretty good, but he was the only one. Otherwise, there’s no excitement. No one dominated the sport. I knew I couldn’t come back halfway because I will have to revive the sport. I really need to shine. Pernell Whitaker steps up to save the sport again.”
But who will save Whitaker if Father Time rings the bell?
“It will be a question of age,” said Lou Duva, Whitaker’s manager. “It’s not an economic question. He’s financially set. It’s a Pernell question. He’s got to have something to do with his life. As soon as he shows any signs (of old age), we’ll sit down and talk.”
Whitaker said he didn’t train during his layoff, but he stayed close to his fighting weight. The former lightweight (135-pound) champ from 1987-1991 and welterweight (147) king from 1992-97 has moved to junior middleweight (154), which is necessary in order to fight De La Hoya and Trinidad, who also have moved up in weight class.
“The key for me is my legs and my eyes,” Whitaker said. “If you don’t have your legs, your hand speed doesn’t matter. And the eyes are for focus. I need to have eye contact with my opponent.”
Whitaker is a defensive specialist who uses a unique, very low crouch that leaves opponents swinging at air. He’s lost just three times in 44 fights and only 17 of his wins were by knockout.
His great defense allowed him to go the distance with Trinidad, who went on to defeat De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas.
“I was in excruciating pain (with the broken jaw),” Whitaker said. “I knew if I got hit on the chin I would have been knocked out. Either that or it would have fallen out.”
Moreover, “a healthy Sweet Pea would have beaten Trinidad.”
Back in the ring after his sparring session, Whitaker happily played music from a boom box and pontificated about his pugilism to an entertained crowd. He even drew a parallel to Muhammad Ali when he talked about the Trinidad fight.
“He spun me around and hit me with an elbow that broke my jaw,” he said. “Me and Ali, we’re the only ones to box with a broken jaw.”
A parallel with Whitaker and Ali that no one wants to see is a career that went on too long.
Whitaker said it won’t happen.
“I had 14 Hall-of-Fame years, but everything is brand new now,” he said. “My debut is Friday night. But it will be a short stay, not another 14 years.”
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