Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s illustrious International Boxing Hall of Fame journey to stardom was launched in Los Angeles at 1984 Olympic Games where he captured Gold as a member of arguably the greatest Olympic boxing team ever. His life came to a tragic end on Sunday July 15th in Virginia Beach about 18 miles from his birthplace of Norfolk, VA. He was 55.
Whitaker was walking near the wide intersection of Northampton Boulevard and Baker Road, when he was fatally struck by a pickup truck before 10p.m., according to police.
He was pronounced dead at the scene, where the driver of the vehicle remained until officers arrived. The incident did not appear alcohol-related, nor was drugs or speed a factor on the part of the driver, said officer Linda Kuehn, a police spokeswoman.
News of Whitaker’s death lit up social media, with fighters from throughout the boxing community offering their condolences at the loss of one of the truly great pugilist during the modern era of the sport.
“I am saddened to learn of my good friend and Olympic teammate Pernell Whitaker’s untimely passing last night. We share so many great memories. He was small in statue but yet so big in heart and skills inside the ring, there will never be another like him, he will truly be missed.” Tweeted Evander Holyfield
Holyfield, Tyrell Biggs, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland and Whitaker were all members on that star studded 1984 USA Boxing Team. Holyfield, Taylor, Breland and Whitaker became world champions. Biggs was undefeated before he ran into Mike Tyson in a clash of undefeated fighters when Tyson destroyed him to retain heavyweight title in 1987.
Tyson, the former undisputed and the youngest heavyweight world champion was also stunned by Whitaker’s death, tweeting; “I’m truly lost for words to hear Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker is no longer with us. He was a flawless fighter. Condolences to his family.”
Mayweather, the winningest undefeated retired boxer in history took to Instagram to share his thoughts with a photo of him and Whitaker that was taken two days before he died:
“R I P champ, one of the best fighters to ever do it.”
Much like Mayweather, Whitaker was destined for stardom.
He began boxing at a young age and evolved into brilliant amateur, capturing a silver medal in the lightweight division at the 1982 World Championships, followed by gold at the 1983 Pan American Games and 1984 Olympics.
He won world titles in the lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight accumulating 40 victories against just 4 defeats, a draw and a No Contest.
Whitaker, became only the fourth fighter in history – joining Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Roberto Duran – to have won a legitimate world title in four different weight classes, March 4, 1995, when he defeated Julio César Vásquez’s WBA super welterweight.
An elite defensive and elusive tactician with blazing fast hands, he dazzled crowds with his showmanship and frustrated opponents with snappy combinations and then vanishing from danger before being hit.
He defeated the rugged Hall of Famers Buddy McGirt twice and Azumah Nelson and he finally got his shot against an 87-0 Julio Cesar Chavez in San Antonio, Texas in 1993, a match billed as “The Super Fight”.
It was a fight that would earn Whitaker his greatest praise. Many thought Whitaker had outpointed Chavez, but the judges ruled it a majority draw.
“Last night it was like someone put a knife in me and twisted it,” Whitaker told Sports Illustrated the next day, irate at the decision. He added: “I mentally and physically beat him. I put an old-fashioned project beating on him. A housing authority beating. A ghetto beating.”
Many of the champions avoided fighting Whitaker, and while the public demanded a rematch against Chavez he never got one.
He would fight Oscar De La Hoya in 1997 and lost a disputed unanimous decision and he lost a unanimous decision to the dynamic Felix Trinidad in 1999 and two years later fought for the final time against the unheralded Carlos Bojorquez and lost via TKO.
Following his retirement in 2001, Whitaker returned to the sport as a trainer and worked with former world champion Zab Judah.
In 2002, The Ring Magazine ranked him tenth in their list of “The 100 Greatest Fighters of the Last 80 Years”.
Like many fighters Whitaker had his battles outside the ring, including testing positive for cocaine, but during his glorious career his talent in the sport was undeniable and his style influenced Mayweather among many others.
“We lost a legend truly one of boxing’s greatest Pound 4 Pound champions my father Pernell Sweetpea Whitaker,” his son, Domonique Whitaker, wrote in a Facebook post.
His sons, Devon, Dominique and Dantavious, and his daughter, Tiara, survive Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker. His son Pernell Jr. (2015) preceded him in death. Funeral services were pending at press time.