LAS VEGAS -- Pound-for-pound. Libra-por-libra.
Bilingual Oscar De La Hoya claimed that honor last night, winning a unanimous decision to dethrone World Boxing Council welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker before a crowd of 12,200 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
But the three judges seemed unusually charitable in his behalf in a very competitive fight.
Judges Jerry Roth and Dalby Shirley both voted 116-110 for De La Hoya, and Chuck Giampa scored it 115-111.
It was a bitter defeat for Whitaker, who dictated the tempo most of the 12 rounds and scored the only knockdown in the ninth round.
While De La Hoya boosted his unbeaten record to 24-0, Whitaker was losing for only the second time in his 43-bout professional career after winning a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.
The Norfolk, Va., native lost a disputed decision to Jose Ramirez in Paris nine years ago and had to settle for a controversial draw against Julio Cesar Chavez in 1993.
Whitaker hotly disputed last night's decision as well.
"I couldn't have performed any better," he said. "I threw a shutout. I saw it. The world saw it. I want a rematch."
But promoter Bob Arum, who anticipated 1 million homes watching the fight on pay-per-view, did not seem eager to stage a rematch.
"Who wants to see that again?" Arum said. "Whitaker made it a stinking fight."
De La Hoya was guaranteed $10 million, to $4 million for Whitaker, who was expected to add another $2 million from the TV receipts.
But getting the short end of the purse was not Whitaker's chief concern.
"If Oscar had beat me, I'd say he's the best in the world." said Whitaker, his right eye completely closed. "But right now I have a sour feeling. We're going to have to let the fans judge the fights. I was more surprised by this decision than that draw with Chavez in San Antonio."
De La Hoya admitted that he had learned quite a bit fighting a master ring technician like Whitaker.
"I was frustrated during the fight, but never hurt," he said. "Whitaker's style confused me. He showed that he had a great jab."
The punch stats showed that Whitaker out-jabbed De La Hoya, 160-45, and also won the total punch count, 582-557. But the three officials obviously believed that De La Hoya's punches carried more authority.
It was clear from the ring introductions that De La Hoya was the clear favorite with the fans as well as the Las Vegas oddsmakers who made the challenger a 3 1/2 -to-1 choice.
Both fighters weighed 146 1/2 , but De La Hoya seemed to tower over the diminutive Whitaker. The two former Olympic champions exchanged bows before the opening bell.
Whitaker came out in a low crouch and clinched quickly after landing several light jabs. De La Hoya landed two short uppercuts and a hard combination in the final minute of the round. Whitaker then went into a defensive stance, walking sideways trying to set a trap.
De La Hoya quickened the tempo to start the second round, scoring with a three-punch combination that forced the champion to retreat.
Whitaker was giving De La Hoya a lot of movement, but failing to score any effective punches.
The fight turned ugly in the third round. After De La Hoya landed a lead left hand that caught his rival off-balance, Whitaker turned more aggressive. He charged De La Hoya and half pushed him to the canvas. Referee Mills Lane ruled it a slip and warned Whitaker for leading with his head.
Whitaker controlled the action for most of the fourth round, but in the closing 10 seconds De La Hoya caught him on the ropes with six straight punches. When the bell sounded, Whitaker feigned a drunken walk back to his corner.
He proved he had all his faculties in the fifth round, catching De La Hoya with two hard rights. But there was puffiness beginning to show around Whitaker's right eye.
Whitaker continued his showmanship, ducking and feinting, drawing derisive cries from the pro-De La Hoya crowd. But De La Hoya managed to catch his elusive foe with several telling punches.
Whitaker tried standing toe-to-toe with De La Hoya in the sixth round but got nailed with a ripping left hook -- the hardest punch of the fight.
The champion's legs turned rubbery for just an instant. In the closing seconds, De La Hoya caught Whitaker in his corner with two more solid blows.
But the left-handed Whitaker was back on the attack in the seventh round, taking the fight to the counter-punching De La Hoya. A clinch led to the two fighters spilling to the canvas, but no damage was done. Whitaker landed a hard hook to the body, but could not follow his advantage.
The pace slowed in Round 8. Whitaker resumed clowning and even laughed after catching a thumping hook on the chin. De La Hoya did just enough to steal the round.
It continued to be a scientific fight between two master boxers.
Whitaker was stalking his man with De La Hoya content to counter-punch. Suddenly, a short right uppercut by Whitaker shook De La Hoya, who dropped to one knee He bounced up quickly, but Lane ruled it a knockdown and gave him a standing eight count.
There was little action in the first two minutes of Round 9. De La Hoya finally landed a hard combination, but had trouble timing his punches while Whitaker bobbed and weaved.
The crowd roared when the two fighters went toe-to-toe in the last 10 seconds, but Whitaker's ring skills prevailed.
Pub Date: 4/13/97