Tributes are flowing for Olympic gold medallist and four division world champion Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker who tragically died after being hit by a car in Virginia Beach on Sunday night. He was 55.
Whitaker was crossing the street at the intersection of Northampton Boulevard and Baker Road when he was struck and killed by a vehicle. The driver remained at the scene and is assisting police with their investigation.
Southpaw Whitaker won gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and went on to win world championships as a professional in the lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight divisions in a career that spanned 17 years.
He finished his career with a record of 40-4-1 (17) and was a first ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006 alongside fellow legends Roberto Duran and Ricardo Lopez. They were all elected in their first year of eligibility.
Whitaker was widely regarded as one of the best defensive fighters of all time but is also well known for the dubious decisions that went against him.
In 1993 Whitaker travelled to San Antonio, Texas to defend his WBC welterweight title against then-undefeated Mexican superstar Julio Cesar Chavez. In front of 65,000 fans, Whitaker appeared to do more than enough to hand Chavez his first defeat, but the fight was controversially ruled a draw.
Four years later Whitaker was again on the wrong end of a decision in Las Vegas when most ringside observers believed he deserved the nod over rising star Oscar De La Hoya, who was having his first fight at welterweight.
Whitaker’s long-time promoter Kathy Duva said they were generally agreed to be the worst decisions in boxing.
“When you see the list of greatest boxing robberies in history they were both No. 1 and No. 2 on the list,” Duva said. “And every list of top 10 fighters of all time he was on, too.”
Some of the biggest names in the sport have paid tribute to Whitaker on social media.
“I’m truly lost for words to hear Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker is no longer with us,” Mike Tyson tweeted. “He was a flawless fighter. Condolences to his family.”
Olympic teammate Evander Holyfield expressed his shock and grief.
“I am saddened to learn of my good friend and Olympic teammate Pernell Whitaker’s untimely passing last night,” Holyfield wrote on Twitter.
“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.”
Former heavyweight champion George Foreman wrote on Twitter that Whitaker impressed him the very first time he saw him in the gym.
“When I first saw “Pernell Sweet Pea Whitaker” in Training Camp; it was like watching a Cat with boxing gloves,” Foreman wrote. “Best balance I’d ever seen in a Boxer.”
Former opponent De La Hoya tipped his lid to one of the greatest he ever faced.
“I’m deeply saddened by the loss of this great champion, who gave a tremendous amount of joy to those who watched him,” wrote De La Hoya.
“Wow I can’t believe this!!! Somebody that I’ve always loved to watch and wanted to meet so bad and now it will never happen. SMH RIP SWEET PEA you will for ever be one of the greatest to ever lace em up,” tweeted WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.
“God bless Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker and his family. Pernell showed us that boxing could be an art as well as a sweet science,” Manny Pacquiao posted.
Whitaker had his demons outside the ring but was at his happiest showing off his sublime skills inside the square circle.
“He was this person who was only comfortable in the ring,” Duva told ESPN. “He had demons, but when he was in the ring, that was when he was in control and when he was happy and when he was the very best at what he did, and he wanted to show that to everybody.”
Whitaker, who was divorced, is survived by four children.