IO – The boxing world mourns. Pernell Whittaker, former world champion in four different classes, has died Sunday night, July 14 in Virginia Beach. Whittaker died in a car accident. The driver of the car remained on the scene, and police said they were investigating the circumstances of the death.
Sweet Pea was Whitaker’s nickname, and it fit perfectly. He was a master of hitting and not getting hit back, a southpaw who slipped in and out of the pocket and rarely gave an opponent an opportunity to land a clean shot.
Whitaker won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles — one of nine U.S. boxing champions that year — and made his pro debut on national television. He advanced quickly, and was fighting for a major title by his 17th fight, a loss to Jose Luis Ramirez that he would avenge the next year.
But Whitaker was also known as the victim of one of the worst decisions in boxing, a draw that allowed Julio Cesar Chavez to remain unbeaten in their welterweight showdown before a crowd of more than 60,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio in 1993.
Four years later, Whitaker was on the losing end of another difficult decision against Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, a fight many ringsiders thought he had won.
“When you see the list of greatest boxing robberies in history, they were both No. 1 and No. 2 on the list,” said Kathy Duva, his longtime promoter as quoted by Time. “And every list of top 10 fighters of all time he was on, too.”
Whitaker was a champion in four weight classes, winning his first one with a 1989 decision over Greg Haugen as a lightweight, in a professional career that spanned 17 years. He finished with a record of 40-4-1 and was a first ballot selection into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
His style was unique and effective, a hit-and-don’t-be-hit strategy that was later adopted by a rising young fighter named Floyd Mayweather Jr. Whitaker and Mayweather never met in the ring, but Whitaker did win a decision over Mayweather’s uncle, Roger, in 1987.
Former heavyweight champion George Foreman wrote on Twitter that Whitaker was one of the greats in the art of boxing.
“When I first saw ‘Pernell Sweet Pea Whitaker’ in Training Camp; it was like watching a Cat with boxing gloves,” Foreman said. “Best balance I’d ever seen in a Boxer.”
Whitaker made millions in the ring — $6 million for the De La Hoya fight alone — but Duva said he had little left in the end.
“He wasn’t a spender. He was very modest,” she said. “But he was supporting an awful lot of people for a long time.”
A native of Norfolk, Whitaker battled alcohol problems throughout his adult life, Duva said. He also served time in prison after violating his probation in 2003 on a conviction for cocaine possession.
But in recent years Whitaker had been happy going to boxing events and meeting fans and signing autographs. He was supposed to be a part of the Manny Pacquiao-Keith Thurman fight night Saturday in Las Vegas, where he was to be honored as a boxing legend.
“For years he wouldn’t do those things,” Duva said. “He found out that it was great, everybody was telling him how much they loved him and what a great fighter he was.”
Duva said Whitaker was divorced and had four children. His family issued a statement saying the death was “one of the darkest moments in our lives.” (rp)