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Original Issue

Out on a Limb

His injured left arm all but useless, Buddy McGirt lost his WBC welterweight crown to Pernell Whitaker

They are a couple of throwbacks, Pernell Whitaker and Buddy McGirt, two stone-cold professionals better suited to an era when men with tied-down holsters challenged each other for something other than money and titles. Whitaker and McGirt faced each other in Madison Square Garden last Saturday night, but Cool Hand McGirt showed up with one of his six-guns empty, and Kid Norfolk shot him full of holes.

Rather than a blazing shoot-out, what the crowd of 10,814 got was a good—if somewhat one-sided—fistfight. McGirt lost the unanimous, 12-round decision, and his WBC welterweight title, by trying to do battle with a left hand that was as useless as a paper umbrella in a monsoon.

"It was an easy fight," said Whitaker, the 1984 Olympic 132-pound champion from Norfolk, Va., who joined Henry Armstrong, Barney Ross and Roberto Duran as the only men to win titles in the lightweight and welterweight divisions. But it should not have been that easy.

A slick counterpuncher, McGirt had employed a left hook as his primary weapon in scoring 44 knockouts while winning 59 of 62 fights, with one draw, going into Saturday's fight. But McGirt has had recurring arm miseries ever since he ripped his left biceps tendon while winning a 10-round decision over Jose Bermudez in 1990. In his last outing, against lightly regarded Genaro Leon in January, the arm went dead, and though McGirt won a decision on sheer courage, he was almost knocked out in the final round.

In the days leading up to the Whitaker fight, McGirt described the limb as 95% healthy, though it was 100% useless during his sparring sessions. Still, the 29-year-old from Brentwood, L.I., declared that unless the arm fell off he would enter the ring against Whitaker—and not only because it was a $1 million payday for both fighters. Whitaker and McGirt, along with Terry Norris and Julio Cèsar Chàvez, are among the claimants to the title of the world's best pound-for-pound fighter, and both felt that the winner of Saturday night's bout would be recognized as boxing's mythical top gun.

Whitaker, also 29, is a superb defensive lighter, a blend of speed and skill cut from the same magical fabric that gave the world the featherweight champion Willie Pep. Whitaker terrorized the lightweights for eight years, then won the IBF junior welterweight title last July. With a record of 31-1, he moved up to welterweight because he felt too few of the 140-pounders were worthy of him. "I hate easy fights," he says. "They give boxing a negative image. The best should fight the best."

While receiving far less notice, McGirt had been brilliant as a welterweight and had lost only one of his previous 32 fights. But McGirt's left hand was ineffective from the outset on Saturday, though he did not tell his corner that it was hurting until after the fourth round. His manager, Al Certo, kept pleading with McGirt to use the left. Finally, McGirt came clean: "Al," he said, "I can't even try. The arm is gone. All I can give you is what I got."

McGirt had three good rounds, the fourth and fifth—when Whitaker holstered his jab, a change in strategy that destroyed his rhythm—and the 12th, in which he tagged the showboating Whitaker. The rest of the night Whitaker conducted a clinic. He spent his time in McGirt's impassive face, there but not really there, a puff of smoke in short red pants. "He's harder to hit than the numbers," says his trainer, George Benton.

Even so, judges Rudy Ortega and Chuck Giampa scored it tight, 115-114 and 115-113, respectively. Dalby Shirley judged it 117-111.

Hardly was the sweat dry when Whitaker was handed his next assignment: a Sept. 18 meeting with Chàvez. McGirt's next light will be in a hospital. "It's a torn rotator cull," said the dethroned champion. "I need surgery. This time I am going to do it right. I'll be back. I take nothing away from Whitaker, but he hasn't seen the real Buddy McGirt yet."

There was a rematch clause in the contract for Saturday's fight, which means that after Chàvez, one of Whitaker's next two opponents must be McGirt. We still may get high noon in Tombstone.



The southpaw Whitaker (left) sized up McGirt with jabs, then stung him with hard lefts.