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Want to See a Rematch? Just Check Out Replay

Bob Arum was right the first time. There shouldn’t be a rematch between Oscar De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker.

Not the Whitaker who lost a unanimous decision to De La Hoya last Saturday. Not the Whitaker who danced and strutted, walked and talked his way through 12 rounds at Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center.

In the first few days after the fight, Arum said nobody would want to see a rematch. He has since said he’ll reconsider in January. Of course, the fact that Dino Duva, Whitaker’s promoter, is willing to give Arum and De La Hoya as much as $16 million to agree to a second fight might have played a small role in Arum’s turnaround.

The problem is, for De La Hoya-Whitaker II to be a better fight than its predecessor, Whitaker would have to change his tactics to make it a fight instead of a ballet. But if he does that, he has no chance of winning.

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De La Hoya has a five-inch height advantage and a three-inch reach advantage over Whitaker. And De La Hoya has greater punching power.

Whitaker did a brilliant job of nullifying those factors by staying in a crouch, then moving inside and tying up De La Hoya. When De La Hoya was able to break the pattern, Whitaker went into his defensive mode, dancing away, turning his body sideways to offer De La Hoya only the slimmest of targets, and rotating his upper torso, leaving De La Hoya tilting at windmills.

Put Whitaker on skates and he’d probably get a 10 from the judges for his form.

But with boxing gloves on, he got thumbs down from the judges, two of whom had Whitaker losing by six points, the other by four.

It was closer to a two-point victory for De La Hoya, but there is no question that he won. Whitaker simply didn’t do enough. He showed little aggressiveness and went through several rounds barely throwing a punch.

Fortunately, boxing has given up the standard that the challenger must take the title from the champion, whatever that used to mean in the minds of judges. Whitaker, the World Boxing Council welterweight champion, and De La Hoya, the challenger, started even, judged on their merits in this fight, as should be the case.

If the Green Bay Packers were to make it back to the Super Bowl next January, would anybody give them a few extra points before the opening kickoff because they are defending champions? Hardly.

Regardless of who was keeping score, there can be no dispute that it was a close fight heading into the final round. Everybody in Thomas & Mack Center knew it. Certainly, Whitaker and those in his corner knew it.

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Yet he came out in the final round with his dancing shoes on, moving around the ring and avoiding contact as if his victory were assured.

Right then, Whitaker forfeited any right to claim victory.

De La Hoya and Whitaker could fight three more times and it probably wouldn’t be any different. Whitaker doesn’t have the power to knock out De La Hoya. And De La Hoya doesn’t have the ability to catch the swift, slippery Whitaker long enough to put him out. Whitaker must stay defensive to survive.

And an instinct for survival alone wouldn’t be enough to make De La Hoya-Whitaker II worthwhile.

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THE LAST WORD, PLEASE

Larry Merchant has been a television commentator for 20 years and was a longtime newspaperman before that. His integrity should be unquestioned.

When he was assigned to cover the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight in Zaire 23 years ago, Merchant was principled enough to point out that the fight was being financed at the expense of the people of that poverty-ridden country, comments that caused Merchant to be banned from Zaire.

Saturday night, Merchant, a commentator on the pay-per-view telecast of the De La Hoya-Whitaker fight, decried the use of a mariachi band in the ring before the match.

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“In my view, as wonderful as the music is, and it is,” Merchant said, “in this setting, it sucks. . . . This is a marketing ploy using music to get Mexican fans, not Mexican Americans, but Mexican fans to support De La Hoya.”

Merchant’s point, that an attempt was made to identify De La Hoya with his Mexican roots, was valid.

De La Hoya has been unpopular in the Mexican American community as he has made his way through a list of the best Mexican fighters, beating all of them. The anti-De La Hoya sentiment among Mexican Americans seemed to peak before his fight against Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez. On a nationwide tour by De La Hoya and Chavez to promote the fight, Arum arranged to have a mariachi band at every stop.

Where Merchant was wrong, he acknowledges, was in his choice of words and his phraseology, which caused viewers, who often watch fights in the midst of noisy crowds, to think he had attacked Mexicans and their music.

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“Could I have been a little less strident? Sure,” Merchant said.

When he taped a replay of the fight this week in New York, Merchant apologized to De La Hoya and also apologized on the air at the end of the broadcast to any he might have offended. That broadcast will be shown tonight on HBO.

In the immediate aftermath, the network received about 50 calls regarding Merchant’s remarks, but about half of those callers were trying to find out just what Merchant had said.

Seth Abraham, who heads HBO Sports, says Merchant’s job was never in danger.

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But even after the apology, Arum said of Merchant: “I don’t like the guy. He’s a wise guy. He may have apologized to Oscar, but not the people he offended.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Calendar

Monday--Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Agapito Sanchez, featherweights; Ed Mahone vs. Will Hinton, heavyweights; Victor Maciel vs. Keith Mullings, North American Boxing Organization junior-middleweight title, Forum, 7:15 p.m.

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Friday--Carlos Navarro vs. Juan Luis Torres, featherweights; Horatio Garcia vs. Jesus Gutierrez, welterweights, Irvine Marriott, 7:30 p.m.


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