Ex-champ Whitaker hit by car, dies

Pernell Whitaker, an Olympic gold medalist and four-division champion who was regarded as one of the greatest defensive fighters ever, died after being hit by a car in Virginia. He was 55.

Police in Virginia Beach said the former fighter was hit by a car Sunday night. 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. “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 at 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.”

Duva, whose Main Events company promoted all his fights, remembered Whitaker as being as sweet as his nickname. She said he was generous to a fault with a large group of family members, buying a house for many of them to live in before losing it after he retired from boxing.

Whitaker made millions in the ring, but Duva said he had little left in the end.

COMMENTS