PERNELL “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s welterweight world title bout with the legendary Mexican, Julio Cesar Chavez, was controversially declared a draw in front of a pro-Chavez crowd at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The eagerly anticipated clash between the division’s brightest lights left a bitter taste in the mouth of Whitaker, who nullified Chavez’s relentless aggression with a perplexing style for much of the contest.
Whitaker, a former Olympic gold medallist, had fallen victim to arguable scorecards once before. On March 12, 1988, he challenged Jose Luis Ramirez for the WBC lightweight title in Levallois, France. Most in attendance had the American winning comfortably; the judging, however, did not reflect the action with Whitaker down on two of three cards.
Chavez triggered a riotous atmosphere as he entered the arena. A traditional Mariachi band tried in vain to compete with the thunderous noise generated by a sea of green, white and red, as the partisan crowd welcomed their unbeaten idol into the ring.
The American’s unorthodox movement frustrated the pressure fighter throughout the fight. While Chavez had his successes, the Virginia man controlled the contest, reflected outside the ropes by the muted crowd. The great Mexican became more ragged as the fight passed the half way point, eating a perfectly executed uppercut which shook him to his boots.
In the final round with Whitaker seemingly ahead on the cards, “Sweet Pea” went on the back foot having taken an inadvertent thumb to the eye. As the final bell rang, Chavez, with blood seeping from his nose, looked a beaten man.
When the majority draw was announced, boos from pockets of the audience rang around the stadium. Showtime, whose presenters unanimously agreed Whitaker had decisively beaten the Mexican, questioned the judges’ competence as Chavez held precariously on to a 88-fight unbeaten record.
Chavez’s reaction to the draw was unsavoury. The cursory embrace of respect following 12 hard fought rounds was non-existent. The Mexican did little to cover in himself in glory by declaring he had no respect for the former Olympian. He also complained fervently about Whitaker’s tactics, which admittedly erred on the side of illegal at times.
Chavez later threw down the ubiquitous challenge of a fighter with something to prove, announcing he’d fight Whitaker again “anytime, anywhere”. The rematch, however, did not materialise.
During round six, Whitaker caught Chavez with a shot below the belt. Respected referee, Joe Cortez, allowed the champion to recover, but didn’t penalise Whitaker for the illegal blow. British judge, Mickey Vann, later confessed he took it upon himself to dock Whittaker a point. Dan Duva, the American’s promoter, rightly lodged a protest with the Texas department of licensing and authorities, condemning Vann’s actions.
Whitaker, who conducted himself in admirable fashion given the injustice, would pick up the WBA light-middleweight crown the following year. But again suffered a disputed decision when he lost to Oscar De La Hoya in 1997.