By Luis Escobar
Time and lead right hands finally caught up with the greatest defensive fighter of the second half of the 20th Century. No one beats the clock. Not even former six-time world champions.
IBF welterweight king Felix "Tito" Trinidad retained his crown by scoring a commanding 12-round unanimous decision over future Hall of Famer Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker. The champion proved to be the younger, stronger, quicker fighter and repeatedly jolted the former mythical pound-for-pound king with repeated lead right hands.
Trinidad scored the only knockdown in the contest when he dropped Whitaker late in the second round with a whistling right hand that caught the challenger flush on the chin. The challenger was up quickly but the riveting right hand set the tone for the entire evening.
Judge Melvina Lathan and Beeba Exton scored the fight 118-109, while Samuel Conde Lopez had it, 117-111, all in favor of Trinidad. The BT scorecard also had Trinidad winning by an overwhelming margin, 118-109.
The convincing victory for Trinidad sets the stage for a possible showdown with WBC welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya, in what would be a mega-fight set for late September of this year.
Despite struggling to make the 147-pound weight limit the day before the fight, Trinidad is convinced he remains the premier welterweight in boxing.
"I came to do my fight and I knew I was going to win," Trinidad said after the lopsided victory. "I am the best welter in the world. I had no problems making this weight. I am the best there is in this division."
Coming into the bout, Whitaker has only lost twice in his long career, both on disputed decisions to Jose Luis Ramirez and Oscar De La Hoya. Following the loss he still wasn't convinced he had been defeated.
"He didn't do anything, we'll see what the people think," Whitaker said. "I had a good time. I thought I won."
Round One: The southpaw Whitaker (40-3-1, 17 KO's) scored in the opening seconds of the first round and Trinidad (147, 1999) stumbled backwards after tripping over the challenger's lead right foot. Within moments, the pro-Trinidad crowd began chanting, "Tito, Tito, Tito," as the champion continued to circle to his left and snap out jabs. Following his 16 month layoff because of various problems, Whitaker (147, 1999) stood more flat-footed than ever in the past and looked to trade with Trinidad (34-0, 29 KO's). At the 1:15 mark of the 1st, Trinidad, 26, caught Whitaker leaning on the inside and whacked the challenger with a stinging right hand to the forehead. Both men continued to try and muscle for position in close quarters and kept stepping on each other's feet. With 37-seconds to go in the round, Whitaker, 5'6", connected with several right jabs but as he got in close Trinidad, 5'11", locked up on the shorter man with wrestled him towards the ropes. It was a story that would play throughout the entire contest. Trinidad would outmuscle and maneuver the former defensive genius and rough him up on the inside. Whitaker found the range with his right jab and by the end of the 1st, Trinidad returned to his corner with blood trickling from his nostrils.
--On The Deck--
Round Two: It continued to be a battle of jabs early in the second round but everytime Whitaker got inside he was overpowered by Trinidad, who spun him about the ring and made the veteran boxer work. After one break, Trinidad clipped Whitaker with a jolting right uppercut and both athletes drew a caution from referee Benji Estevez. With 2:05 to go in the round, Trinidad, Cupey, Puerto Rico, nailed the challenger with a straight right hand down the middle. Whitaker responded by diving in and clipping the champion with a left hand to the belly. In a move that Trinidad would repeat throughout the night in the best tradition of Sandy Sadler, the champion used the heel of his glove to ward off the challenger. Whitaker, Norfolk, VA. got back inside with two solid shots but strayed south of the border and drew a warning from referee Estevez. Moments later, Whitaker hit the deck after complaining that he was pushed down by the champion. With under a minute to go in the 2nd, Whitaker landed with a straight left hand to the head that elicited cheers from the crowd. The punch momentarily jolted the champion and Trinidad retreated. With 28-seconds to go in the round, Trinidad caught the stationary challenger with a lead straight right hand to the jaw. The blow landed square on the chin and floored Whitaker. The challenger landed hard on the seat of his trunks and skidded along the canvas. Whitaker was up quickly at the count of two and gestured toward his long time trainer Lou Duva that he was all right. With the crowd screaming and Whitaker anxious to return to combat the fight resumed. The challenger tried to take it to Trinidad in the last few remaining seconds but he was tied up by the taller man.
Round Three: Whitaker attempted to pick up the pace and get even for the knockdown but in the process got clocked by another sharp right hand to open the third round. Whitaker attempted to cut the distance on the champion and Trinidad tied up the smaller man but not before roughing him up on the inside. At the 1:50 mark of the 3rd, Trinidad missed with three wide shots that Whitaker easily eluded. It would mark one of the few times during the contest that the challenger would display his defensive prowess. Trinidad wasn't discouraged and went back to tagging the challenger with range finder jabs. With 1:17 to go, the champion caught Whitaker with a brisk one-two to the face. The challenger answered with a left hand upstairs and then clocked Whitaker again with another sharp right hand to the jaw. The challenger tried to open up but Trinidad's superior power proved to be the difference as he continued to nail Whitaker with solid right hands. Trinidad returned to frustrating the challenger on the inside and like an NBA referee who lets the players bang under boards, Estevez let the champion maul Whitaker with heeling gloves. Both men flurried just before the bell. Trinidad connected with two chopping rights and Whitaker landed a sharp left that forced the champion to give ground.
Round Four: Whitaker came out banging to open the third but Trinidad still seemed to get extra leverage on his shots. At the 2:20 mark of the 3rd, Whitaker missed with a long left but the champion was able to retreat one step and than nail the challenger with a searing right hand to the head. Whitaker was left with no alternative but get Trinidad in a bear hug and wait for help from Estevez. Moments later with 1:55 to go in the round, Trinidad again stepped back and then clocked the rushing challenger with a stiff right. Whitaker attempted to turn the tables and use his elbows on the inside but drew a caution from the referee. With 1:25 to go in the 4th, Trinidad rocketed a digging right hand just under Whitaker's ribs. Trinidad went back to standing tall, keeping his distance, and drilling Whitaker at the end of his ramrod left jabs. Seconds later, the champ was on target with a solid left hook and another straight right cross down the middle. Whitaker's southpaw stance was making him an easy target for the champion's talented and accurate right hands. Before the bell to close the fourth, Trinidad connected with two crisp hooks to the head. As both fighters returned to their corners, Trinidad raised his right glove and calmly returned to his stool. He was greeted by a slap to the face from his father/trainer Felix Sr., and urged him to remain calm, maintain poise, and clarity.
Round Five: Trinidad opened the fifth by nailing the challenger with two hard right hands that ricocheted off the challenger's jawline. Whitaker complained that Trinidad was holding him around the back of his head but Estevez did nothing. With 1:58 to go in the 5th, Whitaker tagged Trinidad with a hard lead left hand to the chin. Whitaker attempted to back the champion up but was again forced to clinch when he couldn't move the stronger fighter. Trinidad returned fire and Whitaker was forced to retreat after the champ scored with a quick combination. At the 46-second mark, Whitaker dipped low to avoid a long right hand from the champion. The challenger went to one-knee and Trinidad clipped him with a left hook as he dropped to the canvas. It was ruled a slip and not a knockdown. Whitaker came back with a right-left combo but Trinidad connected with yet another right. Seconds later, Whitaker caught Trinidad advancing and nailed the confident champ with a sharp left hand to the chin.
Round Six: Trinidad started the sixth by snapping the challenger's head back with a laser-like lead right hand to the chin. A blow that the early version of Whitaker would easily block or duck underneath. However, on this night it was just part of the storyline. At the 2:41 mark of the 6th, Trinidad cuffed Whitaker with a clubbing overhead right to the face. The champion came back immediately and Whitaker displayed a tough set of whiskers by standing up to two more riveting right hands. With 2:26 remaining in the 6th, Trinidad clocked Whitaker with a perfectly timed left hook that caught the challenger square on the jaw. Whitaker's knees buckled and as he started almost to fall forward he grabbed hold of the champion and remained upright. After a great deal of wrestling on the inside, Whitaker drew a caution from Estevez. At the 1:40 mark, Trinidad remained on target and ripped the aging ex-champ with two more stiff rights. Whitaker was reduced to backing up and trying to solve the bigger, stronger, and quicker man. With 40-seconds left in the round, Whitaker changed gears and scored with several stiff jabs but got nailed with a Trinidad right hand below the belt. The challenger dropped to his knees and covered his groin. Trinidad maintained the shot was right on the belt line but Estevez called time and allowed Whitaker to recover. The blow drew a warning for the referee and the bad blood between the fighters escalated. Trinidad closed the round by rocketing two more punishing right hands off the challenger bruised face.
Round Seven: Between rounds, both Tommy Brooks and Duva tried to offer encouragement but the challenger seemed visibly frustrated. Whitaker tried to land a looping left hand over the top but before he connect with the punch, Trinidad slipped to the canvas and it was ruled "no-knockdown." Whitaker came back with a straight left hand on target and attempted again to put pressure on the champion. The challenger continued to rally by countering the champion's blows and in turn scoring with stiff rights and occasional crosses. At the 1:24 mark of the 7th, Whitaker rocked the champion with a clean left to the chin. Trinidad wobbled backwards a step and then regained his balance. The Whitaker fans largely silent since the first round suddenly came to life. Seconds later, Whitaker countered again and scored with a solid combination to the body. Trinidad's spindly legs looked a little rubbery as he tied up the challenger. At the 1:02 mark, Whitaker ripped the champion yet again with another hard body shot and Trinidad began slowing down. The challenger continued to find the range and clipped Trinidad with another sharp left to the mouth. Before Whitaker gained too much momentum, Trinidad traded power shots with the challenger and landed another hard right hand. The challenger hit reverse gear and started picking up real estate as Trinidad scored with two more left hooks. Both men continued firing shots and at the bell they slapped gloves before retiring to their respective corners.
Round Eight: Trinidad returned to snapping out a heavy left jab to open the eighth round. At the 2:36 mark, the champion nailed Whitaker with another solid right hand lead and the challenger backed away. With just under two-minutes remaining in the round, Trinidad cuffed Whitaker around the neck and spun the smaller man to the canvas. The referee cautioned the champion about the move and the bout continued after Estevez wiped off Whitaker's gloves. Quickly Trinidad regained his rhythm and continued to thump explosive rights off Whitaker's head. Three successive right hands thudded off the challenger followed by a whistling left uppercut to the chin that wobbled Whitaker. The challenger duck walked back several steps as the crowd came to life. With 1:16 remaining in the 8th, Trinidad nailed the retreating challenger with a clean three-shot combination. Trinidad unloaded another volley with under 30-seconds left in the round and Whitaker was forced to trade leather to survive. Just before the bell, Trinidad clocked Whitaker with a searing left hook to the jaw but the challenger remained upright. However, in the confusion after the round, Whitaker began walking back to the wrong corner until the referee interceded.
Round Nine: The champion opened the ninth by immediately clipping Whitaker with two more straight right hands down the middle. Throughout the entire fight Trinidad was able to deliver the right down the middle as the challenger could do next to nothing to block or slip the shot. The champion went back to walking his man down and grinding out the victory. Midway through the 9th, Whitaker scored with three stiff jabs but was unable to follow up with any heavy artillery. With under a minute left in the 9th, Whitaker scored with two sharp right hooks to the body but Trinidad answered with a laser-like right off the chin. The champion zeroed in with scorching left hand jabs and by the end of the round, Whitaker returned to his corner with noticeable swelling around his right eye and a small cut in his eyelid.
Round Ten: Trinidad continued to dominate the pace of the contest in the tenth round. The right hand assault continued at the 1:39 mark and again with 1:24 remaining in the round. The shots were delivered with precision and continued to crack with stunning regularity off Whitaker's face. Whitaker did land a solid right hook moments later, but almost lost his balance in the process. Still the challenger kept letting his hands go at the one-minute mark nailed Trinidad with a sharp left to the chin. Trinidad cut off the ring and sank several brutal body shots off the challenger's ribs. Trapped in the corner, Whitaker sank to his haunches and Estevez delayed the bout and ruled, ‘no-knockdown."
Round Eleven: The fighters got tied up in the center of the ring early in the eleventh and Trinidad responded by punishing the challenger with two brutal right hands to the ribs before Estevez could separate the boxers. The champion maintained his distance while rocking back off his right foot and drilling Whitaker time and again with telephone pole-like left jabs. A hard right hook to the ribs from Whitaker momentarily backed the champ off with 1:48 remaining in the round. Whitaker connected on a series of right-lefts but he lacked the steam in his shots to slow down the champion. Trinidad kept the pressure on to close out the 12th, with another hail of straight right hands.
Round Twelve: Twenty seconds into the final round, Trinidad scored with a hard left hook to the head. Whitaker grimaced under the assault and peered out with a right eye that was rapidly closing. Trinidad continued to apply the pressure and kept letting his hands go while Whitaker was forced to give ground. With 23-seconds remaining in the fight, Trinidad caught the retreating challenger in the corner with a sharp right hand to the head. Again Whitaker sank down in the corner to elude the barrage as Trinidad rained leather in on the challenger. Whitaker finally touched the deck with the seat of his trunks and then popped back up. Estevez ruled another "no-knockdown," but it was far from an artistic escape. Trinidad continued to fire shots at the fleeing challenger until the bell. The champion raised both his gloves in triumph while across the ring a winded Whitaker leaned against the top strand of ropes. The night for both warriors was finally over.
The unanimous decision giving the victory to Trinidad was greeted by loud cheers from the more than 13,221 Madison Square Garden boxing fans.
The biggest win in boxing may now belong to the individuals that can get promoters Bob Arum (De la Hoya) and Don King (Trinidad) to set down and do business together.
The end of the road for Pernell Whitaker seems to be looming on the horizon. A Hall of fame boxer who finally ran out of time.