Pernell Whitaker, a longtime pound-for-pound king and one of the greatest boxers in history, was killed Sunday night when he was hit by a car in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was 55.
The Virginia Beach Police Department said that the incident remains an active investigation but that Whitaker was apparently hit by a vehicle at around 10 p.m. Sunday when he was walking at an intersection.
“When officers arrived on scene they located an adult male victim who had been hit by a vehicle. The victim succumbed to his injuries on the scene,” Virginia Beach Police Department spokesman L.M. Bauder said in a statement. “The driver of the vehicle remained on scene with police.”
Known as “Sweet Pea,” Whitaker, a southpaw from Norfolk, Virginia, was revered as perhaps the best defensive fighter in history as his slick moves confounded opponent after opponent.
Whitaker, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006, won world titles in four weight classes. He was the undisputed lightweight world champion and also won titles at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight as the one of the dominant forces in boxing for much of the 1980s and 1990s. He won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
Whitaker’s youngest son, Devon Whitaker, told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper that his dad was a “cool guy.”
“That all I can say about him,” he told the newspaper. “I can’t really say how I’m feeling because I’m feeling shocked. I’m still trying to process everything that’s going on. But he was a cool guy.”
“I loved PW and he loved me — there was no doubt,” Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, whose company promoted Whitaker throughout his career and who remained close to him after his retirement, told ESPN.
“He was this person who was only comfortable in the ring. 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 (40-4-1, 17 KOs) may have had four losses and a draw on his record, but to many he truly lost only twice, in the final two bouts of his career: a one-sided decision to a then-prime welterweight world titleholder Felix Trinidad and a fourth-round stoppage loss to Carlos Bojorquez when Whitaker suffered an arm injury.
A split decision loss for a lightweight world title in 1988 to Jose Luis Ramirez and the loss of his welterweight belt to Oscar De La Hoya in 1997 were highly controversial. But nothing was more controversial than the draw he was saddled with against Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. on March 12, 1993.
Chavez, the reigning junior welterweight titlist at the time, moved up in weight to challenge Whitaker for his welterweight world title before some 65,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio in a showdown for pound-for-pound supremacy. Whitaker appeared to win handily, but while one judge scored the fight 115-113 for Whitaker, two others scored it 115-115, resulting in a majority draw that remains perhaps the most controversial decision in boxing history.
Whitaker won his first world title at lightweight by outpointing Greg Haugen in 1989. Two fights later, Whitaker avenged the draw against Ramirez by winning a unanimous decision to retain the title. During his lightweight title reign, Whitaker also defeated fellow future Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson by clear decision and then stopped Juan Nazario by rare first-round knockout to become the undisputed champion.
Whitaker moved up to junior welterweight in 1992 and outpointed Rafael Pineda to win a 140-pound world title. In 1993, in the fight after the megafight with Chavez, Whitaker notched the first of his two decision wins over Hall of Famer James “Buddy” McGirt to win a welterweight world title, which he would defend eight times before losing it to De La Hoya.
During his welterweight reign, Whitaker made a one-fight jump to junior middleweight and outpointed Julio Cesar Vasquez in 1995 to win a title in his fourth division.
Following the loss to De La Hoya, Whitaker outpointed Andrey Pestriev but tested positive for cocaine, and the result was changed to a no-decision. Sixteen months later, Whitaker returned, but he was a shell of himself against Trinidad.
As an amateur, Whitaker not only took home gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he also won gold at the 1983 Pan American Games and a silver medal at the 1982 World Championships when he was only 18.