What if these great welterweights from the mid 1990s met in their primes?
Boxing pundits and fans refer to the modern welterweight division as “talent-deep,” but back in the mid-to-late 1990s it was stuffed with Hall of Fame-quality fighters. This was the era where Oscar de la Hoya made his reputation, but he made that reputation at 147 lbs, because the division already had three well-defined champions at the time: Felix Trinidad, Ike Quartey and Pernell Whitaker.
Whitaker won WBC green at 147 lbs. in March 1993; Felix Trinidad captured IBF red in June 1993; and Ike Quartey seized WBA black in June 1994. The Golden Boy did not enter the picture until 1997, so by then these were all well-established welterweight champions with multiple title defenses against good opposition under their belts.
Of the three, only Whitaker and Trinidad fought, and that was only after “Sweet Pea” had gone way over the hill. No one thinks Trinidad beat the same Whitaker de la Hoya did. Fights between these titans drew a great deal of speculation back in the day, but as it stands only de la Hoya fought all three. The next best runner-up is Oba Carr, who fought and lost to Quartey, Trinidad and de la Hoya, but never met Whitaker in the ring. What would have happened if these welterweight greats had met, say in a Super Six-style tournament?
Felix Trinidad vs. Ike Quartey
This match-up would have put the division’s most explosive puncher into conflict with it’s physically strongest, toughest gladiator. Quartey would do well in the opening rounds, as his telephone-pole like jab would have put Trinidad in the unusual position of backpedaling. Trinidad would go down in Round 1 and again in Round 3. However, “Tito” was often knocked down due to bad balance, and while Trinidad’s nose was broken his bell remained unrung. As the faster and more fluid fighter, once “Tito” started finding his range he also started taking the fight back.
He couldn’t match Quartey jab-for-jab, but his straight right had enough zing on it to drive Quartey’s peek-a-boo guard apart, so the 1-2 took the place of the double jab. Then Tito got close enough to tack a fast hook around Quartey’s peek-a-boo guard onto the equation. Quartey’s chin was dented hard by both de la Hoya and Jose Luis Lopez.
A blistering exchange in Round 7 led to Trinidad landing a monster left hook that put Quartey right on his back. Quartey got up, survived the round by hanging on for dear life, and got his legs back under him while hiding behind his “bazooka” jab. Then “Tito” caught him again early in Round 10, and this time Trinidad was able to finish Quartey off on the ropes.
Result: Trinidad TKO10
Felix Trinidad vs. Pernell Whitaker
As Oscar de la Hoya showed, movers present Trinidad with an insoluble problem. Trinidad needs to set his feet down to punch, and he can’t do that if his opponent uses good, side-to-side movement. The mid-1990s version of Pernell Whitaker was the greatest defensive wizard of the latter half of the 20th century, a guy with superlative foot movement, head movement, blocking and parrying. Whitaker could do things Floyd Mayweather can only dream about.
“Sweet Pea” would make “Tito” look foolish, using fleet feet, the southpaw stance and elusive head movement to make Trinidad swing and miss all night and score with counter after counter. Even when Trinidad did manage to back Whitaker into a corner or onto the ropes, Whitaker stood right in front of Trinidad and made him miss some more.
Still, Whitaker had a habit of getting screwed by the judges, and de la Hoya won the fight and lost on the cards while scoring harder punches than Whitaker could ever muster. After the defining display of Whitaker’s career, “Sweet Pea” had clearly out-boxed Trinidad. Yet the world was shocked when the scorecards again read out “Draw.” The cover of Sports Illustrated for the next week featured a picture of Whitaker during the fight with the headline “Robbed Again!”, following up on their declaration at the farcical outcome of Whitaker vs. Chavez.
Result: Stinky Draw, Whitaker Robbed
Pernell Whitaker vs. Ike Quartey
From the early rounds it was clear that both fighters would have a hard time scoring if they stuck to their standing game plans. Quartey found Whitaker as elusive as everyone did. While the “bazooka” jab was hard, it was too clumsy to catch Whitaker. On the other hand, “Sweet Pea” soon found he could only crack Quartey’s tight, peek-a-boo guard if he stood in a place where he was at high risk for being tagged by that ramrod of a jab. Quartey was much too strong to block or parry, and Whitaker couldn’t pitch the right hook over Quartey’s jab if he was avoiding it by slipping. Whitaker tried countering with a right hook to the body instead, but the result was eating a thudding Quartey uppercut.
The result was one of the ugliest, hardest-to-score fight of the decade. Whitaker could not open up Quartey without taking more risks, something he refused to do. Quartey did not have a viable Plan B, because he was too slow to use his awesome straight right as a viable weapon against the elusive Whitaker. The boos rang out loud as the result was read: two cards were a Draw and one card had Quartey winning by 116-112.
Result: Majority Draw