A champion shows his heart

Charles Whittaker was on the ropes fighting for his life Saturday night-and he never looked better.

Caymanian Charles Whittaker nearly lost it all Saturday night at the Lions Center. Pitted against Jerome Ellis, 28, of the Bahamas in pursuit of the vacant NABO Jr. Middleweight title, Whittaker found himself in an all-out war. It took about 30 seconds into the first round for everyone to see that Ellis didn’t show up to serve as Whittaker’s punching bag for the entertainment of the Cayman crowd. He came to win.

Whittaker

Referee Donie Anglin breaks up Whittaker, foreground, and Ellis during their NBA/NABO Jr. Middleweight championship bout Saturday at the Lions Center, Grand Cayman. The fight was a bloody 12-round spectacle of skill, brutality and raw desire.
Photo: Guy P. Harrison

Whittaker, the reigning NBA Jr. Middleweight champion, was in trouble midway through the first round. The hard and scarred Bahamian moved toward Whittaker Terminator-style and then exploded, launching a flurry of punishing punches. Fans had never seen Whittaker take such punishment at home and most of the crowd was shocked into silence. But Whittaker, 33, is no poser. He is experienced, well trained, and talented. He would not go quietly.

In round two things only got worse for Whittaker. Ten of Ellis’s 11 career wins were by knockouts and it was easy to see why Saturday night. He continued to patiently advance while Whittaker bounced around trying to settle into a rhythm. Once in range, Ellis lunged forward and unleashed hell. Although Whittaker opened a cut on Ellis’s left eye, he was not controlling the fight. Ellis was showing so much power that it did not look like a happy ending was in store for the local fans. During one of his frontal assaults, Ellis had Whittaker backed up against the ropes and in trouble. The Caymanian champ covered up to try and weather the storm but too many of Ellis’s punches were hitting home for Whittaker to shake off. Ellis got off a vicious uppercut that found Whittaker’s chin. The champ’s legs buckled and Whittaker went down. He not appear to be finished as referee Donie Anglin began the count but fans wondered who would rise up from the canvas. Would it be a wounded man who just didn’t have it on the night or would it be the West Bay warrior who never quits? The answer would come in round three.

Between rounds, Ellis’s corner men were concerned about the cut over his eye and worked feverishly to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, Whittaker’s crew talked strategy while the champ calmly caught his breath. One could see experience and maturity on his face. There was no panic. No fear. His eyes stole glances at the worried crowd. He likely was reaching down into his personal basement hoping to find the courage and will that he would need to derail this Jerome Ellis freight train that had run over him in the first two rounds.

When the third round began, Ellis emerged from his corner ready to dish out more of the same. He started moving in on Whittaker but this time he came up against a more determined opponent. This time it was Whittaker who took charge. Charles out-boxed Ellis, landing several blows and avoiding several thrown his way. The crowd was hungry for this changing of the tides and thundered their approval. At a point in the fight when many of his fans were beginning to worry that he was beaten, Whittaker suddenly became the dominant fighter and it was Ellis who was now in danger of getting knocked out. He survived the round but it was now apparent that the two fighters were not backing down and ticket buyers were getting more than their money’s worth.

In the following rounds, the fight continued to be a fierce clash of two determined men. Both boxers traded bone-crunching blows. Both fighters had cuts and both were hurt. But neither man yielded, making this an astonishing and memorable display of courage and desire. In the end, Whittaker won the decision to take the previously vacant NABO title and remain the NBA World Jr. Middleweight Champion.

‘I had a tough fight tonight,’ said Whittaker. ‘Give credit to Jerome Ellis. He came here and put up one hell of a fight. Let me tell you, the man can punch. It was rough going 12 rounds but I know I won the fight. I respect Jerome. He’s a fierce competitor. We were throwing bombs. He caught me good in the second round. But I got a good chin and I was able to come back and rock him a few times myself. It was a great fight.’

Whittaker thanked Alden McLaughlin, government’s minister for sports, for attending the fight. He said he was grateful to the Cayman people for supporting him once again. He also honored his former coach, mentor and inspiration.

‘I dedicate this victory to the life and memory of the finest human being I was ever blessed to know-Mr. Dalmain Ebanks. He’s gone but he will never be forgotten.’

Finally, Whittaker thanked his corner men, trainer Norman Wilson and John David Jackson, for helping to get him through 12 tough rounds.

Ellis sounded bitter about the loss once he had returned home to his training base in New Jersey. ‘What can I say? I went down there and did much more than enough to win. I mean, I beat the guy up pretty badly,’ Ellis was quoted as saying in the Bahama Journal.

Some local fight fans also questioned the unanimous decision. However, a more objective observer might point out that Whittaker’s NBA belt was on the line Saturday night and one of boxing’s most time-honoured traditions is that to beat the champion and take his title you have to beat the champion. Close fights are supposed to go to the champ and that is precisely what happened Saturday night.

In retrospect, the biggest question of all from the fight is why anyone was surprised by Whittaker’s toughness. Why was anyone surprised that Whittker kept a cool head, even when Ellis nearly knocked it off with a right hook? Saturday night was not the first time Whittaker has had his back against the wall. He has been on the ropes and under fire his entire career and most of his life. From day one, he has been on the verge of getting kayoed by doubts, by frustrations. He’s never had it easy.

The fact that he made himself into Cayman’s first world champion, riding most of the way on nothing but his own blind determination, should have taught all of us well before Saturday night who Charles Edward Whittaker is. This is not the sort of man who gives up when things don’t go as planned or when someone hurts him. He gets back up on his feet. He keeps moving forward. He has always answered doubts with confidence. Saturday he answered Ellis’s brawling power by out-boxing him and he won because he never gave up. Whittaker believes in himself in a way that few athletes can match or even imagine.

He is a driven man and that drive was laid bare for everyone to see that memorable night in Grand Cayman when he added another title belt to his collection and one more chapter to his remarkable story.

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