The last time Pernell Whitaker fought Jose Luis Ram�rez, in Paris 17 months ago, he broke his left hand early and was robbed late: Two of the three judges gave the fight to Ram�rez, allowing him to hang on to his WBC lightweight championship. The two fighters met again on Sunday in Whitaker's hometown of Norfolk, Va.—Paris is the Mexican-born Ram�rez's adopted home—this time for Whitaker's IBF championship and the by-then-vacated WBC title. "How do you feel?" Lou Duva, Whitaker's cotrainer, asked his fighter when he returned to the corner after the eighth round. "How are the hands?"
Whitaker shook his head. "I don't know, Lou. I think I need something."
"What?" asked Duva, his voice rising.
"I could use a beer."
The fight was going that smoothly for the 1984 Olympic 132-pound gold medalist. As Ram�rez said afterward, "I knew I was in for a long night in the first round. He was so much stronger, so much faster."
In Paris, with his power hand suddenly useless, the southpaw Whitaker had had to resort to fighting on the run. On Sunday at Norfolk Scope arena, he gave the veteran from Culiac�n, Mexico, a whole new look. "He paint-brushed him," says Georgie Benton, Whitaker's creative trainer.
The 30-year-old Ram�rez is a veteran of 109 professional fights. He had lost seven times, most recently to countryman Julio C�sar Ch�vez, who relieved Ram�rez of his WBC lightweight crown last October before moving on and up to the junior welterweight division. But no one, not even Ch�vez, who is regarded by many as pound for pound the best fighter in the world, handled Ram�rez quite as easily as Whitaker did.
"I don't want you running all over the ring from this guy," Benton had ordered his 25-year-old prodigy during prefight strategy meetings. "Just walk and slip. Be a ring general. Don't get cute and try and knock him out. Don't load up. Stick and slide, use the jab and when you see a chance for a big shot, throw it. If you see something you don't like, walk away."
Call it painting by numbers: Benton outlined the picture, and Whitaker flawlessly put the colors in their proper places. Everything began with his right jab, which is a rocket, delivered hard and accurately. "I could have tied my left hand behind my back," says Whitaker. "The jab did everything."
Off the jab came an endlessly varied series of sharp combinations: a double hook; two left hands and a hook; a blurring burst of five machine-gun punches. Midway through the eighth round, Whitaker hit Ram�rez on the chin with a hook-straight left combination that was almost too fast for the eye to follow. "Good lord," said his teacher, Benton, watching in awe at ringside. Yet, seemingly unfazed, Ram�rez shook his head and shuffled forward, slowly.