Last Sunday, boxing lost one of its great ones due to a vehicular accident. Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, regarded as one of the greatest lightweight fighters of all-time and one of the most unhittable fighters inside the boxing ring, was ironically hit by a vehicle in Virginia. Local police received a report at around 10 pm ET about an incident involving a vehicle and a pedestrian. The pedestrian, who died instantly on the scene, was the 55-year old Pernell Whitaker.
“We lost a legend truly one of boxing’s greatest Pound 4 Pound champions my father Pernell Sweetpea Whitaker.” His son Dominique posted on Facebook.
Interestingly, Whitaker’s death came at the 10th anniversary of one of the saddest months in the history of boxing. It was in July 2009 when eight boxers died in different circumstances- suicide, ring injuries, criminal or unsolved incidents. Among these were former world champions Arturo Gatti, Vernon Forest, and Alexis Arguello.
Arguello shot himself in the chest on July 1, 2009, after a long battle with depression. He was known for his battles with Aaron Pryor. Gatti was found dead on July 11, 2009, in a condo in Brazil where he was on vacation with his wife. Gatti was only 37 and just two years retired. His death was ruled by the police as a suicide. Forest was gunned down on July 25, 2009, after chasing thieves who robbed him while he was putting air on his car tires in Atlanta. He was 38 and the perpetrators are now serving a life sentence for his murder. Pernell Whitaker’s death wasn’t as violent as those we mentioned, but it is just as tragic.
Born on January 2, 1964, in Norfolk, Virginia, Pernell Whitaker Sr. was a highly decorated amateur fighter. He burst into the scene with his silver medal-winning performance at the 1982 World Championships, losing in the finals to two-time Olympic gold medalist Angel Herrera Vera. He avenged that loss though, four times at that, most notably at the gold medal match in the 1983 Pan-American Games in Caracas. Whitaker capped his stellar amateur career by winning the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He would finish his amateur career with 201 wins in 2014 fights with 91 knockouts.
Right after the Olympics, Sweet Pea turned pro. He made his professional debut on November 15, 1984, and knocked out Farrain Comeaux in the second round of their six-round bout. In only his 11th fight, he defeated former world champion Roger “Black Mamba” Mayweather via unanimous decision to win his first belt, the NABF lightweight title. Two fights later, the unbeaten Whitaker annexed the USBA lightweight belt. In his 16th bout, he fought and lost to Jose Luis Ramirez for the WBC lightweight title via a controversial split decision in a fight many observers felt Whitaker won, with plenty to spare. He finally won his first world title when he captured the IBF lightweight title by defeating Greg Haugen in February 1989. There were more belts to come.
He avenged his loss to Ramirez on August 1989, winning the WBC and Ring lightweight titles. One year later, he knocked out Juan Nazario in the first round to add the WBA and lineal lightweight titles. Whitaker would move up to light-welterweight and win the IBF Junior welterweight title by beating Rafael Pineda. Two fights later, he would beat Buddy McGirt to win the WBC and lineal welterweight titles.
In his next fight, Whitaker would face Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez who was an immaculate 87-0 before their fight. It appeared that Whitaker outboxed Chavez and make the prolific Mexican boxer miss most of his punches. However, two of the judges scored the bout a draw and the third gave Whitaker the win, resulting in a majority draw. Many believe that Whitaker won nine of 12 rounds but the judges didn’t see it that way and many though Whitaker was robbed.
Sweet Pea moved up in weight and won the WBA super welterweight title by defeating Julio Cesar Vasquez. In 1997, a young and rising fighter named Oscar De La Hoya dealt Whitaker only his second career loss via unanimous decision and took the WBC and lineal welterweight belts from him. Whitaker failed a drug test in his next fight against Andrey Pestryayev and his win was overturned into a no-contest. It was downhill from there are he would lose to Felix Trinidad for his third loss. In April 2001, Whitaker lost by knockout for the first time, losing to little known Mexican Carlos Bojorquez in four rounds. It was the end of Whitaker’s professional boxing career. His final record was 40 wins, 4 losses, 1 draw, and 1 no-contest. The three losses and the no-contest came in his last four bouts, meaning he was almost spotless before that.
While his speed and agility declined just before his retirement, Whitaker’s ring IQ and boxing knowledge remained. He used both to become a trainer in his home state of Virginia. Among the fighters he trainer Dorin Spivey and Joel Julio. He was also a trainer for heavyweight Calvin Brock. He would later become trained for former world champion Zab Judah. In 2006, he was inducted to the boxing Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He had been away from the limelight for a long time and it’s just tragic that he returned to the scene during the 10th anniversary of boxing’s saddest month. Whitaker now joins the likes of Gatti, Forrest, and Arguello whom we all lost in July. I hate July now more than I hated it 10 years ago. Long before Floyd Mayweather Jr. became boxing’s best defensive fighter, there was Pernell Whitaker. It’s only unfortunate that the man whom boxers couldn’t hit inside the ring was hit by a vehicle and his life taken away like a thief in the night.
His marriage to childhood sweetheart Rovanda Anthony ended in divorce. Whitaker is survived by his mother and his three sons, Dominique, Dantavious and Devon and a daughter named Tiara. He also had a son, Pernell Jr. who died before him.