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Sunday Punch: Pernell Whitaker starches Diosbelys Hurtado, referee takes eternity to stop fight

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“Sweet Pea” rallied to preserve his superfight with Oscar De La Hoya, while Arthur Mercante Jr stood idly by.

Don’t let my own headline fool you, the late great Pernell Whitaker did not have it easy against Cuba’s Diosbelys Hurtado.

January 24th, 1997 was supposed to be a virtual tune-up title defense for Whitaker, who was the WBC and lineal welterweight champion at the time. All he had to do was beat Hurtado and that mega-fight with Oscar De La Hoya would come to fruition for the legendary Olympic gold medalist.

It proved to be a scary night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Hurtado dropped Whittaker twice in the first-half of the bout, and Whitaker later lost a point for hitting behind the head. Entering the 11th round, Whitaker was behind on all three scorecards and in serious danger of throwing a mega-fight away.

While not known as a fearsome puncher, Whitaker rocked Hurtado with a massive left hand that buckled his legs. Pernell walloped poor Diosbelys against the ropes while referee Arthur Mercante Jr just stood there and watched a man pretty much get folded in half and almost knocked completely out of the ring. In a week in which referee stoppages have dominated MMA conversation, Whitaker vs. Hurtado was complete incompetence and a serious danger to Hurtado’s health.

Watch the video of the final round at the top of the page. Believe it or not, this is arguably not Mercante’s worst late stoppage, but I’ll save Razor Ruddock vs. Michael Dokes for another time.

Hurtado retired with a record of 43-3-1 (26 KOs), eventually winning the WBA super lightweight title against Randall Bailey in 2002, only to lose by TKO to Vivian Harris in his first defense. Whitaker (40-4-1, 1 NC) did face De La Hoya in April and while he scored a knockdown, he lost a decision that was widely considered to be closer than the scorecards suggested. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006, five years after his final professional bout. Sadly, he died in 2019 at the age of 55 after he was hit by a car while crossing a Virginia Beach street.