NEW YORK -- In the always curious world of professional boxing, Pernell Whitaker had already been signed to a multimillion-dollar showdown with unbeaten Julio Cesar Chavez in the fall before wresting the World Boxing Council welterweight crown from Buddy McGirt last night at Madison Square Garden.
Dan Duva, representing Whitaker, had already struck a deal with rival promoter Don King, who speaks for Chavez, for what should finally settle barroom debates as to the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
The left-handed Whitaker was effective, but unspectacular in gaining a unanimous decision over McGirt, ostensibly a one-handed fighter after he re-injured his left shoulder in the fourth round of this 12-round contest between two boxing masters.
Whitaker, who joined the elite company of Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong and Roberto Duran in becoming only the fourth former lightweight king to also capture the welterweight crown, applauded himself for "a wonderful performance" and claimed he won as easily as he planned.
But it was anything but easy, as indicated by the final margins of two officials' cards. Rudy Ortega of California ruled it 115-114, and Chuck Giampa of Nevada voted 115-113. Dalby Shirley of Nevada seemed far off the mark with his 117-111 card, particularly in view of the fact that Whitaker showboated and lost the final two rounds in the eyes of all three judges.
McGirt skipped the post-fight news conference to have the shoulder he hurt against Mexico's Genero Leon in January examined at a nearby hospital. He threw only a handful of left hands against Whitaker, who fought most of the fight inside, consistently catching the champion with his flicking jab and quicker combinations.
"I knew my arm wasn't 100 percent, but I had to do what I had to do," said McGirt. "I was just hoping I could get through it all right. But my left arm just didn't have the usual strength, and I may need surgery to get my title back."
But Whitaker, who said he was only interested in "fighting big fights," said McGirt could have his title back while he eyed bigger game in Chavez.
"I concentrated on beating McGirt tonight even though Chavez was on the back of my mind," said the Norfolk, Va., native, who raised his professional record to 32-1 with 15 knockouts. Now we can determine who's better between me and Chavez. It will be a spectacular fight. As long as the best fights the best, there are no losers."
The crowd of 10,814 was definitely pro-McGirt, a New York native. They applauded his craftiness and effective counter-punching, but there were few electrifying moments with neither fighter ever in serious trouble.
"I wanted to control the fight from the beginning and that's what I did," said Whitaker, who still reigns as the International Boxing Federation 140-pound champion. "My game plan was only to keep pressure on McGirt and beat him to the punch."
McGirt's manager, Al Certo, supported his fighter's right to defend his title even though there were suspicions during training camp that he was still favoring his left arm. It was such talk that made Whitaker a 12-5 favorite in Las Vegas.
"We had Buddy checked out by a therapist, chiropractor and doctor," Certo said. "They all said he was 100 percent. But his arm just didn't hold up."
Said Whitaker, "There are no excuses. McGirt still had a good right hand. He tried but it never worked."
King wants Chavez and Whitaker to be the opening event for a new 60,000 stadium being erected in San Antonio.
As the title challenger, Whitaker surprisingly got a bigger cut of the purse. He was guaranteed $1.25 million compared to McGirt's $1 million.
Whitaker, who still owned the International Boxing Federation junior-welterweight title, entered the ring as a 12-5 favorite over the defending welterweight king. At 146 1/2 , he was giving away a half pound.