by Fox Doucette
We’ve got a beauty of a main event tonight. The only man ever to beat Roberto Duran at lightweight, Esteban De Jesus, up against the slickest defensive fighter, certainly of his era, and possibly of all time, Pernell Whitaker, and it’s a 135-pound contest, when Sweet Pea was at the height of his powers defensively and had much quicker hand speed than he carried with him up to welterweight later in his career.
Your co-feature? Well, let’s just dispense with the pleasantries and reduce things to two guys trying to murder each other in cold blood in the middle of a boxing ring, as Barry McGuigan takes on Jeff Fenech; McGuigan goes into the time machine off of his fight with Bernard Taylor, while the Marrickville Mauler gets his temporal journey from his fight with Samart Payakaroon, and before you start complaining that was a junior featherweight fight, Fenech would within the year move up to feather, and putting three pounds of muscle on a guy (Fenech weighs in for tonight’s main event at 125) is hardly challenging plausibility.
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So we’ve got one fight where an aggressive puncher with a tendency to chuck wide shots is taking on a defensive wizard, and another fight where both of the combatants weren’t known for their subtlety, at least not in the fights from which they enter the time machine. Place your bets, folks.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
Jeff Fenech (5/8/1987, 16-0, 13 KOs) vs. Barry McGuigan (9/28/1985, 28-1, 24 KOs)
Let’s not pretend there’s going to be a moment’s subtlety here. Fenech was the kind of guy who, if you tried to box with him, would bait you into a brawl with his aggression. McGuigan was the kind of guy who’d eat 50 counter shots before he pounded you like cheap steak; indeed, he was getting his ass kicked for the first three or four rounds of that Taylor fight before he turned the tide and laid enough lumber to make the American quit on his stool.
Yet for all that, neither guy was necessarily the most devastating one-punch knockout artist. Which means we’re in for a war.
And a war we got, right from the opening bell. Fenech didn’t have to bait McGuigan into anything. The pugnacious Irishman came right in without the courtesy of saying hello and started working the body of the taller Aussie, working with hook and cross, all in the service of one of the oldest truisms in the Sweet Science:
“Take out the body and the head’s gonna fall.”
Fenech, meanwhile, took advantage of his opponent’s head-down approach by bringing the uppercut, but he never quite landed it on target in a way that would put an immediate end to the fight. Glancing blows coupled with his own need to have his stomach not be turned into Salisbury steak had him clearly the loser of the opening frame.
Fenech fared better in the second stanza, when a quick left hook over the top of one of McGuigan’s punches got the attention of a guy who, fortunately for him, had a pretty strong chin right up until he suffered the only knockout of his career in his final professional fight.
McGuigan didn’t go down, but he did stagger back, granting reprieve to the Aussie to mount an offensive of his own. And since it was never particularly difficult to find a place to put a punch that would strike home, Fenech took full advantage. He rang the bell of his foe with relish; referee Steve Smoger never had to break the men, however, as McGuigan’s punches always came back rather than, say, the adoption of a grab-and-clutch strategy.
When Fenech came in looking for more, he walked face first into a big right hand, but Fenech was another guy for whom durability was as much a part of his makeup as was his offense. It took a legend like Azumah Nelson, four pounds up the scale from Fenech’s featherweight glory days, to earn a stoppage (what would be the first of three in the Aussie’s career.)
All the same, the momentum had once again shifted, and this time, McGuigan began to find a home for his shots with a bit more regularity. He continued to work down low as his primary means of attack, but a right hand upstairs was enough to keep Fenech’s guard up and his body more exposed for the punishment dished out to it.
Back and forth the fighters went, McGuigan landing body shots almost at will, Fenech tagging the head of the Irishman with hook and uppercut, the fans roused to bloodlust, but the effects began to show as the fight neared its midpoint, even as Fenech was, by consensus, up 3-2 in rounds on the cards.
McGuigan’s left hook seemed to sap more and more of Fenech’s strength with each successive blow to the skull and to the ribs. Fenech’s breathing had become significantly labored, his stamina all but gone, and as McGuigan continued to lay on the punishment, some in attendance wondered if perhaps all those body shots had not perhaps cracked one of Fenech’s ribs.
Whatever the reason, Fenech simply couldn’t find his wind after the sixth round. The ringside doctor examined him, the referee examined him, and the seventh round was deemed not to be necessary.
With Double S having ruled Fenech unable to continue on the advice of the physician, this one was over. Body punching had beaten head shots, and the relentless, cumulative power for which McGuigan was so justifiably known had proven decisive on this day.
RESULT: MCGUIGAN TKO6 FENECH.
Esteban De Jesus (11/17/1972, 31-1, 20 KOs) vs. Pernell Whitaker (2/3/1990, 21-1, 12 KOs)
By all rights, Sweet Pea should have come into this fight undefeated; his only pro loss at this point in his career was remarked upon in the March 1990 issue of Ring Magazine as the worst decision of the 1980s, the utter fraud and screwjob foisted upon Whitaker and his people in the Jose Luis Ramirez fight, a clear fix on the part of Don King and Jose Sulaiman to set up a Chavez-Ramirez fight for the WBC title.
There are no such shenanigans on this show. There are no house fighters (with the possible exceptions of Bob Foster and John Mugabi, but that’s more a case of fan favorites.) If this one went the distance, as seemed likely, the decision would be controversial only insofar as people on the internet like to argue about things.
Would the hard-hitting De Jesus be able to crack the defense of Whitaker? Only the events of the actual fight would tell.
Ray Mancini, calling Whitaker’s fight with Freddie Pendleton, posed the idea that perhaps the vaunted right hand, the “southpaw killer”, is not in fact the best way to handle a left-handed fighter. It may be better for an orthodox fighter to put the left hook over the jab of a southpaw in order to catch him moving forward and apply maximum impact to the punch rather than punch through the southpaw’s natural position and try to get a right all the way to the target. If it connects, it does so at full extension, but you can just as easily be caught out of position and countered from an angle you’re not used to.
De Jesus took this advice to heart, using the left as his primary avenue of attack the way he had against Duran in his triumph.
Trouble was, Whitaker was too fast and too elusive, and he was able to pick off the left and beat De Jesus to the punch, sometimes bringing a left hand of his own over the top to catch the Puerto Rican pulling back.
Indeed, Whitaker was able to consistently knock De Jesus around for three rounds doing this; he was just too fast for the guy coming at him to be able to make adjustments.
Finally, the Puerto Rican crashed home an actual left hook with some impact, staggering Whitaker back, and he’d mixed in a few right hands that, while they didn’t land cleanly the bulk of the time, they were successful in changing the pace of the fight. Whitaker may not have been damaged too badly, but it was the best round of the fight for De Jesus, who took a step toward narrowing the gap on the scorecards.
It didn’t hold. Whitaker continued to control range, and his use of the southpaw stance utterly baffled the man in front of him once again. Whitaker applied a little more pressure, opening up and using his two-inch height and reach advantages like the master he was. Control had shifted once again; over the next two rounds, Whitaker was at a point where he’d cinched the deal on no worse than a draw unless he got knocked down or out.
With Whitaker up 6-1 on the cards of not only everyone watching, but of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles as well, De Jesus started gambling, coming forward, throwing punches in volume…or he would, but for the fact that Whitaker’s head movement and footwork were bolstered by the confidence-building he’d experienced as part and parcel of simply owning his opponent throughout this fight.
Every time Esteban came forward, Pernell was ready to duck, dodge, slip, counter, and just generally make his prey look the fool with the ineffectiveness of the aggression. This was looking less like the first fight between De Jesus and Duran and more like the latter two, where the great fighter was better able to take the fight to the enemy.
Indeed, if Whitaker had more power in his retorts to the punches coming at him, he may well have put De Jesus on the floor. Three more rounds went by, the show turning more one-sided with each passing round.
De Jesus went for broke. He threw everything he had, but the same refrain kept showing that the man was fighting not with a plan but out of a combination of frustration and desperation. The punches were ragged; the hooks too wide, the crosses thrown with no apparent ill intention and more with a mind toward not getting countered.
Sometimes a fight ends in a spectacular knockout, a complete physical demolition of a man’s capacity to remain in the fight. Other times, a fight ends purely because a timekeeper and a prescribed length of combat grants a merciful end to a one-sided contest, and Esteban De Jesus’s utter failure to muster an attack capable of penetrating the defense of a man who, in historical perspective, was here to bring his very best?
To say that all three judges saw the bout 119-109 is only to restate the obvious for the record. Your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: WHITAKER W-UD12 DE JESUS.
Your main event’s a doozy. Gennady Golovkin, last seen getting his ass kicked by John “The Beast” Mugabi on this show, is in another old-vs-new, and after what happened with the Beast, let’s try something a little less threatening. GGG takes on Mustafa Hamsho in the main event. Will this be a case of a historical tomato can considering what Marvin Hagler did to Hamsho? Or will the old dog be able to smack the Kazakh around?
Let’s keep the featherweight train rolling in our next co-feature, shall we? Prince Naseem Hamed makes his return to the program after having been knocked senseless by Danny Lopez last July. Next week, he gets an old-vs-new fight with Javier Fortuna at a 128-pound catchweight.
That’s next Saturday, sometime in the evening, right here on Historical Fight Night!