By Cliff Rold
In this series, designed to culminate the week of the May 2nd showdown between Manny Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KO) and World Junior Welterweight champion Ricky Hatton (45-1, 32 KO), Pacquiao’s previous title claims in five weight divisions were examined. Identified were three lineal titles at Flyweight, Featherweight, and Jr. Lightweight. Against Hatton, Pacquiao goes for overall title for lineal title number four. How historically significant would it be?
In order to answer that question, the page now turns to the other men who have made claims to titles in four, five and six weight divisions, closing looking at how their championship accolades weather the weight of history. Those men are:
Four Division Claimants
1. Roberto Duran - http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19025
2. Pernell Whitaker
3. Leo Gamez
4. Roy Jones Jr.
Five Division Claimants
1. Sugar Ray Leonard
2. Thomas Hearns
3. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
And the lone Six Division Claimant
5. Oscar De La Hoya
If the answer isn’t Willie Pep, there will be many a fan who cite the next man examined as the finest defensive boxer ever seen. For years, he hardly lost a round and went fifteen years into his career before a loss could be universally seen as posted to his ledger. A 1984 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist, Pernell Whitaker (40-4-1, 17 KO) was a Hall of Famer, the best fighter of the 1990s and a selection on many an educated top twenty list all time.
But how does he rate when comparing titles and championships?
The Title Reigns of Sweet Pea
World Lightweight – KO1 Juan Nazario: Like his Los Angeles teammate, Whitaker didn’t waste much time in developmental fights, defeating former World Jr. Lightweight champions Alfredo Layne and Roger Mayweather in his 10th and 11th pro bouts. By his 15th bout he was challenging WBC Lightweight titlist Jose Luis Ramirez…and getting robbed blind for his first loss on March 12, 1988. He wouldn’t go without belts for much longer. Two fights later he’d wrest the IBF honors from Greg Haugen on February 18, 1989. Two more fights later, Whitaker snagged the vacant WBC belt and revenge over a Ramirez (Ramirez had just lost the crown to a subsequently vacating Julio Cesar Chavez). Against Haugen and Ramirez, Whitaker would win every round on four of six judge’s cards. With only one belt between himself and universal supremacy, Whitaker added a closer win over the great Featherweight and Junior Lightweight stalwart Azumah Nelson before standing across from then-WBA titlist Nazario on August 11, 1990. Nazario fell to a perfect shot and Whitaker would continue to dominate through three undisputed title defenses. By the time he was ready to head up the scales, Whitaker was already being whispered about as maybe the best at 135 lbs. since Duran. Almost twenty years later, Boxing awaits someone who truly stands out as the best since either. Forecast: Clear, Lineal Claim to the World Title
IBF Light Welterweight – UD12 Rafael Pineda: With the dollars and acclaim a bout with Chavez could bring him waiting above the Lightweight limit, Whitaker made a brief stop in Chavez’s domain at 140. A quick win over perennial presence Harold Brazier set up a shot at Pineda on July 18, 1992. It was another easy win and a hard night for Pineda who took such a fierce beating to the body he was spitting up blood after the fight. It was a good win…but not much of a title claim. Chavez, while only holding the WBC belt, was the king at 140 in almost everyone’s eyes in 1992 and the IBF belt Whitaker won was a cast off from Chavez’s waist, vacated during a Don King-IBF early 90s spat. History tells us that in 1993, Whitaker would dog Chavez, robbed of victory with a political draw. That fight was at Welterweight and can have no bearing seven pounds below. It gives an interesting insight though to title comparisons. Had Whitaker secured the Chavez bout at 140, in front of competent judges, he might well have become the outright champion at this weight. Timing can be everything. Forecast: Hazy, but always nice to win a belt
World Welterweight – UD12 Buddy McGirt: Before he could get to Chavez, Whitaker traveled to the turf of WBC Welterweight king Buddy McGirt in New York on March 6, 1993. In front of an enthralled Madison Square Garden crowd, Whitaker found himself in the toughest fight of his career to then, a technical drama which remained in the air until a late surge from Whitaker. While again only a single belt was on the line, it happened to be the belt which felt directly into the line of history. McGirt was the man who beat the man going back to December 5, 1985 a.k.a Donald Curry KO2 Milton McCrory for the undisputed Welterweight crown. In terms of all-time title reigns at 147, Whitaker was hit and miss. He started strong with the Chavez ‘draw’ and a rematch win over McGirt where he came off the floor to dominate the bout. As it wore on, the lack of showdowns with young lions Felix Trinidad and Ike Quartey were unfortunate and not offset by quality bouts with Wilfredo Rivera and an epic come-from behind knockout of Diobelys Hurtado. Even though he may have deserved to keep the crown he ultimately lost to Oscar de La Hoya in April 1997, it was hardly a memorable fight. How it ended versus where it started provides general perspective; it does not erase the accomplishment. Forecast: Clear, lineal claim to the World Title
WBA Jr. Middleweight – UD12 Julio Cesar Vasquez: Of all Pea’s wins, this is the one which has probably aged the best. A one-night trip up the scale which further strengthened his claim as pound-for-pound king, Whitaker gave up height and weight for the challenge on March 4, 1995. Vasquez was attempting the eleventh defense of his title. Whitaker stalled the attempt, coming off the floor to befuddle Vasquez in ten of twelve rounds on two judge’s scorecards. Vasquez was seen as a solid guy coming in but time has shown us just a little more. The reason this win has aged so well is because of what Vasquez’s record reveals in retrospect. In defense prior to Whitaker, Vasquez was the first man to defeat future undisputed champion Winky Wright, dropping him five times to do so. Wins over a one-loss Aaron Davis, one-loss future lineal champ Javier Castillejo are notable as well. Some of those names didn’t mean much pre-Whitaker but have gained meaning since. There was reason at the time, and now, to wonder if Whitaker did not actually knock off the best in the division best that night. While it’s easy to point at the bulks of the 1990’s at 154 lbs. and the rule of Terry Norris, the night Whitaker beat Vasquez, Norris was not a champion. He was in fact little more than a month away from what would become a second consecutive disqualification loss to Luis Santana before finally knocking out Santana cleanly in the summer of ’95. It’s also notable Vasquez was among the very few top men at Jr. Middleweight Norris was never matched with. Still, one fight in class and no fight with Norris (who most still regarded as best in class even with the Santana losses) make it impossible to call this a lineal crown. It wasn’t and there was no clear king at 154. It’s at least a stronger claim than recalled. Forecast: Hazy, but a nice resume buffer
So, as was the case in looking at Duran in Part II, Whitaker grabbed titles in four weight classes but only two truly merited strong historical standing. Had things broken just a hair different, with a Chavez fight at 140 and maybe a Vasquez upset over Norris before Whitaker’s challenge, Pea might well have had a chance at the history Pacquiao will attempt against Hatton. That he did not get the opportunity to do so takes nothing away from Whitaker but should continue to add to the picture of complexity beneath the road to four possible lineal World titles Pacquiao currently travels.
In Part IV, we’ll look at two men, Roy Jones and Leo Gamez, who both managed to win titles in four weight divisions with a peculiar and matching caveat to their feat.
To be continued…
For Part I of this “Real History” Series and a look at Pacquiao’s previous title claims, log on to http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18886
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org