This article originally ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 27, 1995.
Luther Scott of Hopewell writes that he's "disappointed in boxing."
Scott probably speaks for much of the country after last week's Mike Tyson-Peter McNeeley fiasco. It was enough to sour the most diehard fan and more than enough to give another point to those who believe boxing is a farce.
"People are upset and they have a right to be,'' said Lou Duva, a longtime manager of boxers. "That fight set boxing back, did nothing for the betterment of boxing.''
As much as they have a right to be boiling mad, fans such as Scott shouldn't take out their anger on the entire sport. Even with the likes of Don King running around promoting a Tyson-McNeeley, there's still plenty to like about boxing.
One of boxing's highlights lives in Virginia Beach, Va. Pernell "Sweet Pea'' Whitaker, the World Boxing Council's welterweight champion, is lemonade in a sport that's currently coming off like a lemon.
What's not to like about Whitaker?
* He's as good as it gets, now and maybe ever.
"It is time he starts being mentioned as one of the greatest fighters of all time,'' said Dino Duva, Lou's son and one of Whitaker's promoters.
Whitaker won an Olympic gold medal as an amateur and has won six different championships in four professional weight classes.
Going into last night's match with Gary Jacobs, he had a 35-1-1 record. He avenged the controversial loss to Jose Luis Ramirez. His "draw'' against Julio Cesar Chavez two years ago is widely regarded as one of boxing's biggest ripoffs.
His style draws some criticism. Whitaker doesn't put people down. He has 15 career knockouts and most of them came early. He has only three KO's in the 1990s.
If you love boxing because of its violence and blood, Whitaker probably is not your man. If you look at boxing as an art, it is difficult to name many -- if any -- who are better. Whitaker is in impeccable shape. He doesn't get hit much. He's as strong in the 12th round as he is in the first.
"The whole idea is to hit and not get hit,'' Jacobs said. "That's what he does so well. That's why he's so good.''
Said Jacobs' manager, Mickey Duff, "Pernell Whitaker probably doesn't have a bigger fan than me. I think he's one of the greatest fighters I've seen in my life and he certainly rates as the best boxer I've ever seen.''
* Whitaker is, by all accounts, a good person and a good citizen.
"We can't murder a character that is basically bulletproof,'' the New York Post wrote this week. "Whitaker is such a good fighter and stable personality that he would be welcome at a beauty contest in Indianapolis anytime.''
Whitaker and his wife, Von, have three sons, with a fourth due in November. He's building his family a new house in Virginia Beach. He often says his family is his proudest accomplishment. Whenever they're present after a fight, he begins his remarks by thanking them for their support.
Perhaps it is just a good act when the public has him in focus, but it doesn't seem that way.
Whitaker is also involved in charitable activities. He and Roy Jones Jr., his friend and the one boxer who draws support away from Whitaker as the sport's best, are too far apart in weight (20 pounds) to meet in the ring. So they're going to play one-on-one basketball in December in a charity benefit.
"I'm going to score 50 on him,'' Whitaker said.
* Whitaker doesn't try to gouge his fans. He enjoys fighting in Norfolk, where fans on his home turf can see him.
Most important, he's available cheap no matter where he's fighting. He eschews the pay-per-view route, which cost Luther Scott $48.25 to see Tyson-McNeeley. He has a contract with Home Box Office, which can be had for about 10 bucks on top of your cable bill. That's per month, not per fight. And there's plenty of movies to watch between fights.
Whitaker doesn't believe Tyson-McNeeley will have a long-term negative effect on boxing. He also doesn't have much sympathy for those who splurged on the fight.
"You can't fault Mike Tyson for doing his job,'' Whitaker said. "We all knew it was going to happen, that he was going to go out and destroy the guy. Anybody who put out $1,500 for one of those expensive seats and felt he got cheated should have known better.''
Something like that wouldn't happen if Whitaker were involved. Fans who pay to see him get to see boxing as it should be, performed by a master.