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Beaten to the Draw
William Nack
September 20, 1993
Pernell Whitaker outboxed Julio César Chávez, but two judges denied him the win
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September 20, 1993

Beaten To The Draw

Pernell Whitaker outboxed Julio César Chávez, but two judges denied him the win

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Whitaker felt a surge of confidence. He came out for the third with a crisper, sharper jab, nailing a pursuing Chávez with three stingers in a row. At once he settled into what he called his "sleeping style," a kind of slippery, loosey-goosey way of carrying himself that made it harder for Chávez to get to him. By the fourth round Whitaker was in control of the fight as Chávez grew increasingly frustrated with his opponent's style.

In the fifth Chávez's corner began yelling at him to renew the attack, and he charged back to score one of his best rounds of the bout. In one flurry he landed two sharp right-hand leads, another left to the body and a third right that had Whitaker, for the only time in the fight, looking chastened and doubtful in the middle of the ring.

Yet Whitaker clearly won the sixth through the eighth, as the crowd fell ominously silent and the flags stopped fluttering. Whitaker had done what he had promised to do: "I like to go on the road and take the hometown fans out of it," he had said earlier in the week.

In the sixth Whitaker accidentally caught Chávez with a low left to the groin. Referee Joe Cortez stopped the fight to give Chávez a minute to kick away the pain, but Chávez needed more than that to shake off the larger effect Whitaker was having on him. Whitaker had taken away most of Chávez's arsenal of punches, save for the occasional right-hand lead, and Chávez had nothing close to Whitaker's jab. Chávez never mounted a sustained attack to the body, and he began to appear not only feckless and confused but also desperate and despondent as the rounds rolled by. He was losing the fight, and he couldn't come up with anything to turn it around. Chávez did win the ninth, scoring several times with left hooks and right hands.

After that round a frantic Duva exhorted Whitaker to make adjustments. "Pete, where's that jab?" Duva cried. "Where's that left hook? And get that uppercut going as soon as you see him get set."

Still, by the late rounds Whitaker appeared to be on his way to a win, but his strength trainer, Bob Wareing, knew better. Standing at ringside, he watched as José Sulaimán, the president of the WBC, collected the judges' scorecards at the end of each round. Wareing was astonished. "I'm watching one fight and seeing something else on the scorecards," he said later. Incredibly, at the start of the 10th Whitaker was behind 86-85 on the card of judge Jack Woodruff of Dallas, and even with Chávez, at 86-86, on the cards of Franz Marti of Switzerland and Mickey Vann of England. Wareing yelled at Duva, "Lou, we got to win two of the last three rounds to win the fight."

Duva barked the message in Whitaker's ear. Chávez came out fast, but Whitaker blunted his attack with sharp lefts, and by the round's closing moments Chávez seemed to be underwater. Whitaker won it. He took the 11th even more easily, and for most of the final round he moved and backpedaled out of harm's way while a tired Chávez chased after him. At the bell, looking perplexed, Chávez raised his arms in a wishful gesture.

A check of veteran fight observers revealed that most of them had it eight rounds to four for Whitaker—SI had Whitaker nine rounds to three. Yet Chávez nearly got his wish. Everyone knew, going in, that Whitaker was in hostile territory, and all that remained to speculate about was how bald-faced the larceny would be if Chávez were to take a licking. It went as far as it could go without someone actually calling the police. Marti and Vann arc fixtures at fights sanctioned by the WBC, an organization synonymous with Don King, Chávez's promoter and the man who put on the San Antonio show. Woodruff was assigned to the fight by Texas officials. None of the judges covered himself with glory in this affair, though Woodruff gave Whitaker the last three rounds, awarding him the light 115-113. But how he had Whitaker losing by a point after nine rounds is a mystery.

Marti and Vann disagreed about what they were watching—they scored six of the 12 rounds differently—but they both came out with even scores, 115-115, and so carried the day for the WBC with the majority-draw decision. "I don't think there was an outcry," said Vann the morning after the outcry. "Some people thought one guy won; some people thought the other did. Who's right? We're right. I got it right, and that's it." Asked what he saw that others might not have seen, Vann said, "Attack. That's what Chávez did: Attack!" So much for the boxer's art. According to Marti, who said he saw Chávez dominating the fight, the criticism nettled him not. "Not everybody knows how to score a professional fight," he said. Marti provides the proof of that.

It was also left to the impartial observers at ringside to ponder how Dan Duva, Whitaker's promoter, could have yielded so thoroughly to King and the WBC in the selection of the judges, especially knowing, as he must have, that his man was not likely to win by a knockout. In fact, says Duva, after much heated negotiation Texas officials assembled a pool of five judges who had worked fights for the WBC, and he and King were allowed to strike one each. A reasonable compromise? Hardly, says Duva. "It was clear to me that the five were not among the best in the world," he says. "Early on I had suggested getting Jerry Roth of Nevada, the guy who is recognized as the best." But, says Duva, the Chávez camp did not want Roth. "My opinion," says Duva, "is that he was turned down because he had Meldrick Taylor ahead when Taylor fought Chávez." In that 1990 fight Chávez KO'd Taylor when referee Richard Steele stopped the fight with two seconds remaining in the final round.

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