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Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

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Old 04-30-2006, 07:35 PM   #1
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Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

http://www.hbo.com/boxing/features/w.../whitaker.html

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Old grudges die hard. And the years have not mellowed Pernell Whitaker.

We're used to fighters softening a bit once they're away from the drama and desperation of the prize ring. Hated rivals become blood brothers, linked by their shared trips to hell and back. Champions break bread with their challengers, share war stories, and lament the softness of the generations that follow.

Retirement changes fighters, generally. Some of them go crazy from it and can't stay out of trouble. But many more are civilized by it over time, provided they fought long and well and had little left at the end. They mellow. They're still fighters, they still have it in them to want to fight, and that eats away at them. But eventually advancing age brings a kind of resigned stillness that would have seemed impossible during their fighting days.

Whitaker, who retired with a record of 40-4-1 (17), one no-contest, after losing by TKO to journeyman Carlos Bojourquez in April 2001, still carries a chip on his shoulder the size of all Virginia. He had it when he was one of the two or three best fighters in the world, a period which lasted for roughly a decade. He had it when, inevitably, he started to decline. He has it now.

Ask him about Oscar De La Hoya, who fights May 6 on HBO PPV against Ricardo Mayorga and you get an answer that seems unlikely. "I haven't followed his career," Whitaker said recently. "I know he's a promoter now, or whatever. But other than that I have no knowledge of him. I haven't seen him fight in a long time."

This from a guy who knows enough about today's game to say about Floyd Mayweather, "He's good. He's got good skills, good mechanics. I respect him and I don't take anything away from him. But he ain't no Pernell Whitaker."

De La Hoya is the most popular fighter of his generation. His fights have earned him and his associates untold millions in revenue. More than any non-heavyweight since Ray Leonard, he transcended the fairly narrow confines of the fight game and broke into the mainstream. And Whitaker disavows knowing any recent detail about his career.

You wonder how that could be. Then you remember that the decision De La Hoya won over him in Las Vegas in April 1997 was fairly unpopular, insulting even to Whitaker and his camp, and the process of selective memory makes sense. Whitaker confesses no particular enmity toward De La Hoya, but often the best way to insult a man is to deny knowledge of his existence. Or at least of his success.

He gives just slightly more credit to Felix Trinidad, who decisioned him soundly in February 1999 in Madison Square Garden. At least he acknowledges him. "I fought six rounds with a broken jaw and if not for that he wouldn't have gotten out of there (on his feet)," Whitaker said. "He did it with an elbow. I see that as a victory for me because I went six rounds with a broken jaw."

A good way to describe Whitaker, then and now, is "surly." But no one said prizefighters had to be charming. You don't get extra points in the ring for congeniality. One's got nothing to do with the other. Besides that, geniuses more than anybody are under no obligation to make nice. And clearly Whitaker qualifies as a genius of the ring.

You can start with the gold medal he won in the 1984 Olympics, which Whitaker recalls as the proudest moment of his career. Even with his long reign as the lightweight champion and the alphabet titles he subsequently won at junior welterweight, welter and junior middle, it is his Olympic accomplishment that stands out.

"Anybody can win a world title," he says, and you realize more clearly than ever how easy it was for him in the ring. "But not everyone can win a gold medal. That (opportunity) only comes around once every four years. And as a fighter you only get one shot. That was the best."

What followed was the building of a certain hall-of-fame career that included victories over the best lightweights in the world: Greg Haugen, the great Azumah Nelson moving up, Freddie Pendleton, Anthony Jones, Harold Brazier, Jorge Paez. Soon after, Whitaker jumped to 140 and after taking a belt from Rafael Pineda, jumped up again and took Buddy McGirt's welterweight crown. That set up a superfight between he and the 88-0 Julio Cesar Chavez.

It was, for anyone who saw it, a complete victory for Whitaker against the man regarded generally as the best fighter on the planet. That the judges scored it a draw was an abomination but it wasn't the first time it had happened to Whitaker. His March 1988 decision loss to Jose Luis Ramirez in France in his first title fight was at least as bad.

Some fighters go a whole career without getting robbed at a high level the way Whitaker was twice - three times if you count the De La Hoya fight, which Whitaker does. Why did it happen to him?

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe I was just too good. I don't think I ever walked into a ring where I was favored to win. The odds were always against me. I always made it look easy and they couldn't take it. The fans know. They understand. You could always hear them grumbling and booing in the crowd."

To Whitaker the fans were the ultimate arbiters. "Controversy sells," he said. "I always let the fans make the decision. If the fans felt I won, they voiced their opinion. If I didn't get the decision but the fans thought I won, I was content with it."

Today he's content enough training fighters. He's working with pro junior welterweight Dorin Spivey, who, like Whitaker, lives in Virginia. "He just came up to me one day and asked if I would help him out. We started talking. I knew he'd been around for a while. He asked for help. I knew he was a pretty good kid, so I agreed. I'm just getting my foot in the door."

Athletes of Whitaker's caliber rarely make great trainers. Ted Williams was a terrible batting coach. The great featherweight Willie Pep, to whom Whitaker was often compared, wasn't a great corner guy. Geniuses are never able to suffer gladly the lesser talents of the mediocre. They don't understand how it doesn't come as naturally to everyone as it did to them. Whitaker doesn't anticipate any great challenges, however.

"It's weird to be on the other side looking in," he said. "But I had good trainers. I called Ronnie Shields. He said I just have to be patient. No one's going to be Pernell Whitaker. They all want to be but they can't be. Everyone's got their own natural abilities. I don't want to teach anyone the sport. I just want to refine and improve guys.

"All I can do is tell a guy what it takes for him to win and be successful. I like teaching the science of the sport. Give him the way to win and give him a champion's mentality and teach him to pay attention to his corner. Let the trainer watch the tapes, give you the game plan and if it doesn't work out then the trainer takes full responsibility."

Whitaker says he doesn't miss being in the ring but that the fans miss seeing him in there. "I've done it all. There's nothing else to do. I'm content. But there are no eye-opening fighters out there anymore. There are no Pernell Whitakers out there today."

There have been problems in retirement. Whitaker has been jailed several times for charges relating to drug possession and driving offenses. (Many will recall his October 1997 decision win over Andrei Pestriaev in Connecticut that was changed to a no-contest when postfight tests revealed the presence of cocaine in Whitaker's bloodstream.). In 2003 he received a 27-month prison sentence for violating probation on a prior cocaine conviction. About these events and others he says only, "The judge did what he felt like he had to do and I did my time and just dealt with it. I'm out now and life is good."

Whitaker makes it clear that he is not the stereotypical penniless former fighter. Despite rumors that he has gone blown through the millions he earned as perhaps his era's best fighter (and clearly an all-time great), he says: "I'm doing excellent financially. I've got more than most. I'm stable. I don't need for anything. Anything I want I can buy. I don't want for anything. Make sure you write that." It was not a request.

Whitaker said he doesn't regret anything in his career. No bad choices, no mistakes. "I regret nothing whatsoever. My career was one to remember. I wouldn't change a thing. Nothing." We should hope the same for the rest of his retirement.

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Old 04-30-2006, 09:23 PM   #2
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

man pernell was my boy. boxing was actually halfway interesting during his time. i still say he was screwed vs. De La Hoya.

but boxing is dead now...long live MMA.
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Old 05-03-2006, 08:53 AM   #3
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

My boy who is Ecuadorean, swears TO THIS DAY that Sweet Pea didn't get jobbed in his fight with Chavez.... He was like the only one in the room who saw it that way.... Idiot.
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Old 05-03-2006, 09:59 AM   #4
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

The best fighter I ever saw on tape. You can't beat someone that you can't hit.
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Old 05-03-2006, 06:42 PM   #5
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

Never liked this guy. His personality was abrasive and still is-got his punch in a marshmallow factory.
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Old 05-03-2006, 06:44 PM   #6
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

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Originally Posted by Buddy Knox
man pernell was my boy. boxing was actually halfway interesting during his time. i still say he was screwed vs. De La Hoya.

but boxing is dead now...long live MMA.
The fight could have gone either way. Sweetpea and his fans got screwed because it didn't go their way.
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Old 05-03-2006, 06:47 PM   #7
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

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Originally Posted by grunt
The best fighter I ever saw on tape. You can't beat someone that you can't hit.
The guy didn't have an ounce of punching power. I am no Delohoya fan, but Pernell should kiss this guy's feet for giving him the start of a few good paydays-what he did with his money and career is his own fault. "Best Fighters In The World" should be able to punch their way out of a paper bag.
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Old 05-03-2006, 06:50 PM   #8
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

Quote:
Originally Posted by Buddy Knox
man pernell was my boy. boxing was actually halfway interesting during his time. i still say he was screwed vs. De La Hoya.

but boxing is dead now...long live MMA.
Oh yeah, I remember how I couldn't sleep 2 or 3 days before a Whitaker fight.
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Old 05-05-2006, 04:56 AM   #9
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

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Originally Posted by JayBee74
The guy didn't have an ounce of punching power. I am no Delohoya fan, but Pernell should kiss this guy's feet for giving him the start of a few good paydays-what he did with his money and career is his own fault. "Best Fighters In The World" should be able to punch their way out of a paper bag.
I seen fights where PW punish fighters to the body and clearly he had enough punching power to make all-time greats such as Chavez respect him. He was a defensive fighter and why would PW have to kiss anyone feet. You dont have to like his personality but as a fighter he was as good as it gets.

PW "paydays" started before Golden boy. Name a fighter now that could beat PW. I never seen a fighter that could do what PW could do in the ring. He was able to stand in front a fighter and make them miss by turning his shoulders and upper body movement. Greatest fighter I seen on tape because you can't beat someone if you can't hit him.

Peace
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Old 05-05-2006, 04:58 AM   #10
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Re: Where Are They Now: Pernell Whitaker

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Originally Posted by JayBee74
The guy didn't have an ounce of punching power. I am no Delohoya fan, but Pernell should kiss this guy's feet for giving him the start of a few good paydays-what he did with his money and career is his own fault. "Best Fighters In The World" should be able to punch their way out of a paper bag.
Boxing isn't a tough man competition. It is called the Sweet Science and PW was the sweetest scientist.

Peace
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