Peak Roberto Duran Vs. Peak Pernell Whitaker - At 135, Who Would Have Won?
29.08.07 - by James Slater: Yes, I know, many readers are tired of "Dream Fight" articles. On this very site there have been well written pieces of work devoted to the subject of who would have won in fights between all-time greats like Tyson and Foreman, Ali and Marciano, Dempsey and Tyson and Mayweather and Trinidad. But in this article I give what I feel is a realistic assumption of what would have happened if two of the lightweight division's most well known and, to a degree, most controversial figures, had met when each man was at his absolute peak.
Article posted on 29.08.2007
What would have happened had the man known as "Hands Of Stone" clashed with the sublimely skilled boxer known as "Sweet Pea"? In This feature, I use my powers of suspension of disbelief and work out what would have happened had a bout between Roberto Duran and Pernell Whitaker occurred..
The time machine makes a stop in 1990 to pick up Whitaker - let's say the Pernell of the Azuma Nelson fight - and then goes back to the time of Roberto's absolute lightweight peak, 1975, and his brutal stoppage of Ray Lampkin. Then the two enter the ring at The Nassau Coliseum in New York for their super-fight.
Referee Arthur Mercante gives the two men their final instructions, and the sell-out crowd -most of which is pro-Duran - awaits the action. Duran weighed-in at 134 pounds, while Whitaker tipped-in at the lightweight limit of 135. Duran's fine record reads forty-eight wins with one solitary loss, while Whitaker's stats read twenty-one wins with one loss also. Both men are in superb condition, as are they both absolutely desperate to win. In Duran's corner stands the great Ray Arcel, while in Whitaker's corner the quite brilliant George Benton will be doing his stuff. The bell rings, and round one is underway.
It can be argued that Duran has never faced any fighter quite like Whitaker, what with "Sweet Pea's" unconventional, yet impregnable defensive moves. It can also be said, however, that the less experienced southpaw from the U.S has never met a fighter as rough and as tough and as naturally adept at fighting as the legend from Panama. Will the two men's styles serve to
produce an aesthetically pleasing fight?
Whitaker immediately goes on the back-foot, flicking out his right jab as he does so. Duran goes out looking for his rival's body, immediately looking to slow down his fleet-footed and elusive opponent. Whitaker is looking extremely slippery already and it is apparent that Duran will have to work very to hard to nail him cleanly on the chin in the manner in which he took care of Lampkin last time out. For the moment, "Hands Of Stone" wisely concentrates on Pernell's midsection. Duran's aggression, though it isn't altogether successful, is enough to win him the opening round. Even at this early stage, the three judges are not finding Whitaker's unorthodox moves too appealing. Still, "Sweet Pea" ends the round with a smile on his face - as apposed to the snarl Roberto's features show.
Round two now, and Roberto goes right back on the attack. Whitaker begins to initiate clinches now, much to the Panamanian's anger. Referee Mercante has to work quite hard in breaking the two men apart. Pernell's fast hands and slippery moves start to frustrate Duran a little, who really would love nothing more than for his slickster of an opponent to stand and fight. This is not in "Sweet Pea's" bag, obviously, though, and he continues his frustration tactics. Don Dunphy, doing commentary doesn't like Whitaker's showboating, which the unbeaten American star initiates near the round's end. "I don't know what Whitaker's up to with his playing around," says the old-school Dunphy, "he'd be a lot better off showing Roberto more respect. Duran's all business in there for his part." The judges agree with Don and put another round in Roberto's column.
Whitaker continues to perplex the majority of viewers, the commentator and, to a degree, Duran himself in round number three. With his southpaw stance, strange body contortions, his bending at the waist and his flicking blows, combined with his ever elusive chin, Pernell is certainly making things difficult for Duran. He's not endearing himself to the scoring officials, though. Duran, his blood really beginning to boil, finally gets a chance to go to work on a semi-stationary Whitaker near the end of the round. He catches his man with a good shot to the ribs and follows it up with a hard low blow. Whitaker complains and the crowd boos. It's not clear who they are venting their anger towards. Mercante warns Duran at the bell and Whitaker saunters back to his corner. Duran's round once again, despite the infringement.
By the fourth it is abundantly clear to Roberto that Whitaker's punches cannot hurt him. The problem is, Duran can't inflict anywhere near as much damage on "Sweet Pea" as he'd like. Duran bulls his man into the ropes but when he attempts to work Whitaker over he is made to miss alarmingly. Already, this is shaping up as one of Roberto's most awkward night's work. A jarring left to the side of Pernell's head does get through, as Whitaker plays around too much. The shot serves to bring back his focus, and he lands a fast, accurate flurry of his own. Duran merely snarls and shakes his head. It's Whitaker's best round yet, however.
Throughout rounds five to eight, the pattern stays pretty much the same. Duran is trying to make the fight, taking next to nothing back as he does so, yet is getting somewhat tired due to all his chasing. Whitaker's approach to the noble art is not pleasing many observers. Arcel, in Duran's corner, has been telling his fighter not to lose his head - giving Roberto instructions to keep up the work-rate while also fighting patiently. Benton, in Whitaker's corner, tells Whitaker to stop enjoying himself so much and to get down to business. The crowd has grown restless and the boos have become more pronounced. Duran is winning the fight, to their approval, but they want him to KO the defensive-minded Whitaker now.
By the ninth, this looks doubtful. As Whitaker continues slipping nearly every punch Duran is throwing. The clinches are still plentiful from Pernell, and his own punches are not nearly frequent enough. Then Roberto lands another blatant low blow. Whitaker goes down in agony. There is a huge commotion as Mercante deducts a point from Duran. Roberto throws both hands in the air and curses the fallen fighter in sheer anger. As soon as the action resumes Duran throws himself at Whitaker like a wild man. Pernell desperately back-pedals and survives the round. Walking back to his corner, Roberto motions to his loyal fans that his opponent won't fight, and is cheered on as he does so.
Whitaker boxes the remainder of the bout just as cautiously though. He darts in with good, crisp shots at times, but not nearly enough punches land from him. Duran keeps his composure as Whitaker tries all the tricks in his book, and seems resigned to win the fight on the scorecards. There is some brief drama in the twelfth, as Whitaker goes down from a grazing right hand to the top of his head. Screaming that he slipped, Pernell is nonetheless given a count. "That makes this fight a definite Duran victory now, surely," says Dunphy. It does indeed.
Roberto gives it one more go at roughing Whitaker up in the fifteenth and final round, but though he's tired Whitaker remains as elusive as ever. The aggression Roberto has shown all night, combined with the flash knockdown and the few clean punches he has managed to land, serve to get him the points win. The decision is announced and it is unanimous for Duran. Roberto is far from happy, though, and needless to say, the two fighters do not embrace. Instead, a still seething Duran insults Whitaker in his native tongue and has to be restrained from initiating a sixteenth round. Whitaker simply smiles. "I 'm not sure what he's so happy about," chimes Dunphy, "he won himself no new fans with his performance tonight."
The winner and still the world's premiere lightweight, Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran. When asked if he'd like a rematch, Duran is incensed and Ray Arcel hastily ushers his fighter from the ring. "We won't fight that guy again, no way," Arcel promises, "he didn't want to fight!" Whitaker did want to fight, but only in his own preferred style. A style a 1970's
pro-Roberto Duran crowd simply wasn't interested in.
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