On this day 19 May 1990 (exactly 30 years ago today) Ghana’s Azumah Nelson tried to join the exclusive group of three-division world champion boxers by challenging world lightweight champion Pernell Whitaker, but he was handed his second career loss when Whitaker won a 12-round unanimous decision to retain the title.
Pernell Whitaker showed his quickness and ring cunning. Azumah Nelson showed his age.
In the final round, Whitaker lifted Nelson’s leg with his right and tapped him on the head with his left. Referee Mills Lane was not amused and deducted a point from Whitaker.
Whitaker landed 464 of 989 punches (47%) and Nelson connected on 179 of 739 (24%).
As a result, after 12 rounds at Caesars Palace, the 26-year-old Whitaker scored a unanimous decision over the 31-year-old Nelson to retain his International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council lightweight titles.
All three judges had it for Whitaker, an Olympic gold medalist from Norfolk, Va.: Dalby Shirley by 116-11l, Harry Gibbs by 116-114 and Sid Nathan by 115-113.
”I told him to stay on the outside and keep him looking for you – boxing like you got bad breath,” said George Benton, Whitaker’s trainer.
In the early rounds, Whitaker worked Nelson from a distance, using his jab and countering Nelson’s wilder swings. Not until the third round could Nelson, moving forward with his arms crossed in front of him, draw Whitaker into serious exchanges.
Whitaker managed to hit Nelson repeatedly in the fourth round, and by the fifth, Whitaker was scoring well with hooks and uppercuts, landing practically every punch he threw against his slower opponent.
In the sixth round, Nelson was so frustrated at his inability to reach his target that he ran at Whitaker. Nelson scored early in the seventh round with a right-left-right combination, but by the end of the round, Whitaker was timing Nelson’s charges and scoring with combinations.
Whitaker won the IBF lightweight title in February 1989 by decision over Greg Haugen.
In his first defense, in April 1989, Whitaker knocked out Louie Lomeli in three rounds.
Then, in August 1989, he avenged the only loss of his career when he beat Jose Luis Ramirez by decision. With that victory, Whitaker retained his IBF title and won the WBC lightweight championshipas well.
In his only bout in 1990 before this, Whitaker won a 12-round decision over Freddie Pendleton in February.
Nelson won his first world title in December 1984, when he knocked out the WBC featherweight champion, Wilfredo Gomez, in 11 rounds. In February 1988, Nelson stepped up in class and won a 12-round decision over Mario Martinez for the WBC super featherweight title.
Location: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Referee: Mills Lane
Judge: Harry Gibbs 116-114
Judge: Sid Nathan 115-113
Judge: Dalby Shirley 116-111
*World Boxing Council Lightweight Title (2nd defense by Whitaker)
*International Boxing Federation Lightweight Title (4th defense by Whitaker)