This article originally appeared in the August 3 Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which releases every Thursday Morning at 8 AM EST. You can see the full newsletter at this link.
Fightful Boxing Retrospective: Pernell Whitaker vs. Oscar De La Hoya (April 12, 1997)
Here is a brand new section to the newsletter, the boxing retrospective, where I would take one fight from the past, suggested by you, the readers, and I will analyze the fight, the fighters and the impact that fight left in the sport, if any. This week we're taking a look at the 1997 fight between Pernell Whitaker and Oscar De La Hoya.
The bout featured a matchup of two of the top ranked pound-for-pound fighters in boxing at the time. Whitaker had been the WBC welterweight champion for four years, capturing world titles in four different divisions throughout his career. Whitaker had been among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport since 1989, with The Ring magazine listing him number one in their annual pound-for-pound rankings for three consecutive years from 1993 to 1995. The 24-year-old Oscar De La Hoya was a perfect 23-0, had already become a three-division world champion and was the reigning WBC super lightweight champion, which he had won the previous year after defeating Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez.
Financially, the bout was a success for all sides. De La Hoya won $10 million in the fight while Whitaker took home $6 million. The pay-per-view generated 720,000 pay-per-view buys and $28.8 million in PPV revenue.
This fight is certainly timely for a couple of reasons. The first of which is the highly disputed scorecards in which boxing fans call a robbery against Whitaker. The second was the circumstances regarding both fighters. De La Hoya, a junior welterweight, is moving up in weight to fight Whitaker, the WBC welterweight champion at the time. To a much smaller degree, it's almost like what we saw in the Adrien Broner vs. Mikey Garcia in which Garcia is moving up in weight from lightweight to junior welterweight for the fight.
I watched the HBO broadcast of the fight, which can be seen below. The broadcast team at the time was the main trio of Jim Lampley on play-by-play duties and Roy Jones Jr. and Larry Merchant serving as color commentators. As is with almost every HBO boxing fight for the past couple of decades, Harold Letterman is the unofficial judge and fourth broadcaster for the fight.
This fight was suggested to me by @vgmightyp on Twitter. If you want to see a fight being featured on the Fightful Boxing Retrospective section, you can participate either in the comments section below, in the Fightful boxing forums, or Tweet me @CarlosToro360
Round 1: The fight begins with both men clinching numerous times within the first 30 seconds. The crowd is not happy with that. De La Hoya throws a quick jab. Whitaker throws a couple of jabs and the two of them clinch. De La Hoya throws a mean left uppercut which Whitaker partially blocks. De La Hoya is now throwing more left hooks now. Whitaker lands a nice three-jab combo. Both men clinch yet again with the two fighters throwing short, yet mostly ineffective uppercuts to the body. The crowd is definitely not pleased with this round so far. Whitaker throws a couple of jabs, but then De La Hoya answers back with a flurry of rights while the two of them get tangled up. Whitaker shot connects a good body shot using the left hand. Both men try to throw a few jabs to end the round.
Fightful scored round 1 for Whitaker 10-9
Round 2: Both men exchange jabs to start and De La Hoya goes for a 1-2 combo. Whitaker continues to use the right jab. De La Hoya hits Whitaker with a hard left body shot while Whitaker responds with a straight right. De La Hoya lands a good counter right and misses with the left. Whitaker taunts De La Hoya and the crowd is chanting “Oscar!” De La Hoya lands a right-hand body shot while Whitaker lands a counter left. Whitaker lands a left-hand body shot. De La Hoya lands a couple of very hard right body shots as the round comes to a close.
Fightful scored round 2 for De La Hoya 10-9
*Author’s note: By this point in the fight, punching stats are nearly identical. Whitaker landed 36 of 101 punches (36 percent) while De La Hoya landed 34 of 97 punches (35 percent).
Round 3: The round starts with a couple of jabs being thrown by both fighters Whitaker barely connects with the left jab. De La Hoya throws a three-punch combo at Whitaker. De La Hoya is now missing some of his punches now, but then connects a nice counter right jab to Whitaker’s face almost a minute into the round. Whitaker fires back by throwing a hard left hand to De La Hoya. Both men clinch and they throw a couple of hard body shots. Leaving the clinch, De La Hoya connects with a hard-sounding left body uppercut. Whitaker just uses the jab to get De La Hoya to back off of him. De La Hoya and Whitaker clinch again. Whitaker throws De La Hoya to the ground, but it’s not ruled a knockdown. What happens in that scuffle is that Whitaker headbutts De La Hoya and now is suffering from a cut under his right eye. Referee Mills Lane decides to take a point away from Whitaker as a result of the headbutt. The round ends with De La Hoya still throwing more punches. De La Hoya lands another hard uppercut and Whitaker manages to land a good jab.
Fightful scored round 3 for De La Hoya 10-8
Round 4: De La Hoya tries to stick a right hand, but he's short or just over the shoulder too often. There's one that lands, and now Whitaker leads with his head and starts doing some work inside during a clinch. Most of this round is Whitaker's defense just frustrating De La Hoya. De La Hoya is trying to land numerous jabs clean, but is unsuccessful in doing so. De La Hoya does starting swinging his hands all over the place at the end of the round, landing nothing but the crowd is still very excited. Whitaker did a masterful job of trying to outmaneuver De La Hoya and that final sequence won him the round in my book.
Fightful scored round 4 for Whitaker 10-9
Round 5: Whitaker opens the round with a 1-2 combo, both of them very hard shots. Whitaker is starting to really use the jab to control the fight while De La Hoya has been throwing nothing but power punches. De La Hoya lands a left hook to Whitaker, but misses the ensuing combo. A 1-2 from Whitaker lands as he completely controls the action with his jab and movement. Whitaker showboating now, trying to draw De La Hoya in. De La Hoya switches to the southpaw, as he did at the end of the fourth, and tries to jab back with his right.
Fightful scored round 5 for Whitaker 10-9
Round 6: De La Hoya starts off in the southpaw stance again. De La Hoya lands two straight left hands. De La Hoya misses with the left jab. Whitaker starts tagging De La Hoya with the left jab. Whitaker misses with a hard left hand. De La Hoya barely connects with a left body shot, but the commentators think it did a lot of damage when it clearly didn't. Whitaker starts throwing jabs again. De La Hoya spends the majority of the round switching stances. Both men finish the round aggressively. Really hard round to call.
Fightful scored 6 for Whitaker 10-9
Round 7: Whitaker eats a left body shot from De La Hoya. Whitaker throws a couple of right hands, but it doesn't land cleanly. De La Hoya throws a couple of left jabs and Whitaker tries to audition for the UFC and takes down De La Hoya. Whitaker with a nice body shot, and De La Hoya clips him with a right hand. De La Hoya now goes for a long right punch. De La Hoya keeps feigning, but not taking advantage of his much bigger frame. Then he showboats and pumps his fist after the bell sounds.
Fightful scored round 7 De La Hoya 10-9
Round 8: Whitaker lands with the left. Whitaker then tries to throw a left hook, but misses. De La Hoya answers back with a lead right jab. De La Hoya lands with a counter right jab. Both men clinch once more. De La Hoya tries to tag Whitaker with the jab once more. Whitaker misses with the left hook. De La Hoya then gets caught with a right hook. De La Hoya threw a nice left body hook. De La Hoya lands several good punches at the end of the round. Whitaker has the last punch of the round, a right jab to De La Hoya.
Fightful scored round 8 for De La Hoya 10-9
Round 9: Whitaker lands a short left body hook. Whitaker then goes to the jab once more. Whitaker lands another left body hook. Both men clinch once more. De La Hoya has been hopping around the ring all round long. De La Hoya then loses his balances from switching to southpaw and gets his feet tangled with Whitaker's. De La Hoya was about to fall, but then uses his right hand to touch the canvas and regain his balance. That's called a knockdown for Whitaker. Whitaker with a left to the body, and De La Hoya tries to flurry again in the closing seconds of the round. Whitaker lands a good counter hook at the end of the round as well.
Fightful scores round 9 Whitaker 10-8
Round 10: Both men are throwing sharp jabs, but neither man is landing their jabs. The first 90 seconds of the fight sees both men not doing much. Whitaker tags De La Hoya with the jab. De La Hoya lands a good right hand and then goes for a flurry of punches, but doesn't land much. Whitaker lands another body hook as the two of them are tangled up on the ropes.
Fightful scores round 10 for De La Hoya 10-9
Round 11: Whitaker is now trying to land numerous jabs and trying to outbox De La Hoya. De La Hoya lands a couple of hard body shots, but Whitaker clowns around to show that he is unaffected. De La Hoya, now in the southpaw stance, lands a couple of left jabs. Whitaker answers back with a right jab. Whitaker lands several hard shots to De La Hoya, his best round of the fight trying to land power punches in my book.
Fightful scores round 11 for Whitaker 10-9
Round 12: De La Hoya starts the round by throwing a jab. De La Hoya unleashes a flurry of punches to Whitaker's body. Whitaker has De La Hoya miss with the right jab. De La Hoya goes for another flurry of punches. Whitaker throws a couple of jabs. The two men exchange punches, but not much landed from either man. Both men clinch again. De La Hoya finishes the fight throwing another flurry, but Whitaker dodges it by moving back and not countering with anything.
Fightful scores round 12 for De La Hoya 10-9, making it a 113-113
This fight was an impactful one for several reasons. One, it further cemented De La Hoya's status as boxing's next biggest star. It also brought to light the ridiculous WBC ruling, even though it didn't matter in the final scorecards. Jones did not think De La Hoya was really affected from the headbutt and thought the governing body should amend the rule and only remove a point away from the uncut fighter if and only if the fighter who got cut is really affected. The fight itself was not decent, but not great, with neither man proving they are better than the other, as Merchant said late in the fight, "I don't know if any fighter deserves to win this fight if it ends this way."
It's hard to call this fight a robbery, but it exposed what the three judges in the fight value more: power punches. Each judge has a different criteria for what constitutes a round win. Like with different fighting styles, judging and scoring a bout is multi-layered with some people valuing certain aspects more than others. Had the three judges valued Whitaker's speed, defense and higher volume of punches, the scores would have been flipped. It's the clash of philosophies in the cards that has some people thinking that the sport is fixed, and while I'll be the first to admit that there is a problem with incompetent judging, I will also defend the way some of these judges score fights, much to the chagrin of the fans and boxing media.