The boxing world lost a legend over the weekend when Pernell Whitaker died tragically at age 55.
An Olympic gold medallist from 1984, “Sweet Pea” was a truly brilliant fighter best known for his unique and uncanny ability to avoid damaging punches. His signature defensive tactics and counterpunching resulted in him becoming undisputed lightweight and lineal welterweight champion during his Hall of Fame career.
Whitaker turned pro in 1984 after his Olympic triumph and he quickly began rising in the rankings. He won his first pro title in 1987 when he fought Roger Mayweather, the uncle and future cornerman of Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The Norfolk, Va., native continued racking up wins and titles en route to cleaning out the lightweight division. His lone loss in the weight class was a split decision to José Luis Ramírez in March 1988 that he avenged in August 1989.
When he eventually moved up to welterweight in the early 1990s he was matched up with the great Julio César Chávez in 1993. The two fought to a controversial split draw most believe Whitaker deserved to win.
Whitaker moved on from the Chávez draw by winning eight straight, including his iconic 11th-round knockout of Diosbelys Hurtado to set up a fight with fellow Olympic hero Oscar De La Hoya in 1997.
Similar to the Chavez bout, Whitaker wasn’t able to emerge victorious despite a strong performance as De La Hoya took home a controversial unanimous decision.
Whitaker, after a handful of other bouts, retired in 2001 before being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006.
Pound-for-pound great and the best defensive fighter of his era, Floyd Mayweather, who saw Whitaker over the weekend, said the Hall of Famer was “one of the best fighters to ever do it.”
Acclaimed trainer Freddie Roach described Whitaker as “a speed demon” while former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson referred to him as a “perfect fighter.”
Here is some reaction from the boxing and sports world.
Rest in Love King!
Pernell Whitaker 1964-2019 pic.twitter.com/tNznlMbTpo
— Lennox Lewis (@LennoxLewis) July 15, 2019
Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker was in the class of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard as one of the most entertaining fighters in my lifetime. I’m praying for his family during this difficult time. Rest in Peace my friend.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 15, 2019