A Sour Script for Sweet Pea


They said he was too pretty. So, he won ugly.

They said he was too Hollywood. So, he won a dock fight.

They said his countrymen of Mexican ancestry rejected him. But they cheered him to the echo in his fight with Pernell Whitaker Saturday night.

They said he wouldn’t know which way Pernell Whitaker went. But three judges felt he had landed enough punches to give Oscar De La Hoya a unanimous decision and Whitaker’s WBC welterweight championship.

I’m not so sure. Let’s put it this way: The fight was a lot closer than the judges voted.

In a way, it was an agony fight, a night of near misses, semi-clinches, and dancing. Dempsey-Tunney, it wasn’t. Not even Robinson-Basilio.


So, Pernell Whitaker didn’t pick up his Oscar, as he had predicted. But he almost got it for best performance by an actor in a supporting role. The critics might have hailed it as “Epic!” “Radiant!” The Daily News would have given it four stars.

The trouble was, Pernell couldn’t make up his mind whether to play it for comedy or tragedy. He occasionally went for the laughs--cake-walking to his corner, turkey-trotting around the center of the ring. But he was in the wrong setting. No one laughed. It was Oscar’s audience.

It worked at times. Oscar kept aiming punches at places Pernell had left much earlier in the evening. There were times when you felt Oscar must have thought Pernell didn’t show up. He should have had a lantern.

Whitaker would pause in flight occasionally to muss up Oscar’s hair or pepper him about the ears. You’ve heard of fighters whose best punch was a left to the head? Well, Whitaker’s was a head to the left. In the third round, he landed a solid head to Oscar’s chin as they both fell through the ropes. It was probably the single most telling blow of the fight. The trouble was, the judges deducted the point, not rewarded it. It was not crucial to the scoring--two judges had Oscar winning by six points, the other judge by four.

It was closer than that. Actually, these guys should fight each other sometime. Much of the night, Whitaker seemed to think he had been brought on to give a performance of Swan Lake. Oscar stalked him like a wolf who keeps losing the scent and sniffing around in circles. At other times, he was like a cop on a stakeout.

One result was, the battle was fought at long range--like chess by telephone. The ringside statisticians had De la Hoya throwing 557 punches. And landing 191. They were very generous. They must have counted blows landed on a top rope.


There was never any real prospect of a knockout. Whitaker could hit Oscar but not hard. Oscar has knocked out more guys in 23 fights than Pernell has in 42. Pernell likes to land--and then leave the scene of the accident.

But, they said Oscar had made his reputation on over-the-hill, under-the-hill or never-on-the-hill fighters. But, he was tested Saturday night. Pernell Whitaker has never really lost a fight. Decisions against him were highly questionable.

Was Saturday’s? Well, the margins were controversial. And Oscar admitted after the fight to being frustrated. “I could have done much better,” he insisted.

The decision was no foregone conclusion, either way. It was suspenseful.

You had the feeling Whitaker had to take 10 of the 12 rounds to be named the winner. He clearly didn’t do that. He made the obligatory quotes after the fight as to how he had been short-changed. But that’s Pernell. He thinks he invented the electric light. And the fight was closer than Couple No. 1 at the Harvest Moon Ball.

There may be a rematch. The question is Why? De La Hoya and Whitaker could fight 40 more rounds and still be a controversy. Say good night, Pernell. Oscar is not a product of Hollywood and Vine. And he’s the champion now, not Pernell. He can do the cakewalk. He gets the last laugh.