Pernell Whitaker: 1964-2019
Members of the Boxing Monthly online team pay tribute to the richly talented Pernell Whitaker, who has died aged 55...
'He was in the same bracket as Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. One of the greatest I ever saw.'
Earvin 'Magic' Johnson.
Pernell Whitaker was the Terence Crawford of his day. There was a period in the '90s when the Los Angeles '84 gold medallist was rightfully considered the best P4P fighter in the world. He was rated as such in virtually every edition of every boxing publication.
Standout memory? The Gary Jacobs fight. I remember so looking forward to it, staying up in the hope that the Scot (who can forget the purple trunks with the Star of David?) might pull off a win of Honeyghan like proportions. Jacobs was a fine boxer himself but, as always, Sweet Pea was just too slick. I can never remember him trash talking. He did his talking in the ring.
We salute you, Sweet Pea. - Luca Rosi
A true legend of boxing, one who dazzled with his unique style in the ring and achieved it all. There’s a very strong case for him having been the best talent of the 1990s, the greatest defensive fighter ever and perhaps the best southpaw ever to do it. That tells you everything about his stature in the sport. Boxing’s lost a great man far too early, RIP. - Lee Gormley
In his prime, Whitaker was unbeatable. The only people who could touch him were the judges who robbed him of victory against Jose Luis Ramirez and Julio Cesar Chavez as well as a rightful 42-0 record. Boxing’s pound-for-pound No.1 throughout the mid-90s, Sweet Pea only became human at the tail end of his career when age dulled his incredible reflexes.
A defensive master who won Olympic Gold and world championships across four weight divisions, Whitaker should be regarded as one of the top five fighters of the last 30 years. He was that good. - Mark Butcher
Outside of die-hard boxing fans I have always felt that Whitaker never quite got the mainstream acclaim and attention his incredible talents and achievements deserved. Part of the blame for that can levelled at the incompetent judges who robbed him of deserved victories.against Ramirez and Chavez, and also did him an extreme injustice with ridiculously wide cards in a fight against De La Hoya that I had him winning.
A wondrous talent, he deserved better luck in the ring, and, it turns out given the tragic circumstances surrounding his death, outside of the ring too. Perhaps the cruellest irony of all is that Sweet Pea's untimely death may help his legacy to become more widely known. It's hardly a heartening message, but if Pernell Whitaker's 55 years on this Earth teach us one thing it's that life isn't fair, and neither is boxing. - Luke G. Williams
Pernell Whitaker was a natural. He was as comfortable in a ring as a lot of poor boxing judges are in their employment – and boy did a few of those cost him over the years.
A dazzling amateur who didn’t lose a point en route to Olympic gold in 1984, Whitaker was abandoned by boxing officials at three crucial career points. The first, a decision loss to Jose Ramirez - which stands as one of the worst decisions ever televised – was emphatically avenged.
The second, a masterful boxing display against the great Julio Cesar Chavez in Texas, was controversially scored a draw. Chavez never wanted to see Whitaker again after escaping with his unbeaten record that night – despite Dan Duva offering him seven million dollars for the rematch.
The third occasion came when Whitaker was 33-years-old and was in with the bigger, younger, quicker, and stronger Oscar De la Hoya. A desperately close fight that had ringsiders split, went to 'The Golden Boy' by incongruously wide margins.
What was it about Whitaker that turned judges off? Was it his nonchalant skill inside the ring? Or was it his ‘kiss my ass’ attitude outside of the ropes? Or like so many fighters before him and since, maybe he was just in the wrong corner at the wrong time?
However you feel about those injustices, they won’t affect Whitaker’s historical standing. Arguably the greatest fighter since the Sugar Ray Leonard era, he stands as one of the finest lightweights of all time. His stellar wins over Azumah Nelson, James 'Buddy' McGirt, Chavez (you read that right) and Julio Cesar Vasquez up at 154lbs., along with his spirited performances against young lions De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad up at 147 lbs., define him as one of the last great fighters who’d fight anyone, anywhere.
If I close my eyes and think of him, I think of the Chavez fight. I remember him standing on the ropes in a corner, wincing incredulously, when he should have been smiling. Boxing was never kind to Whitaker while he was fighting. I imagine it will be now that he’s gone. - Andrew Harrison
Andrew Harrison hit the bullseye with his tribute to Sweet Pea. The media and fans didn’t fully appreciate Whitaker when he was active, at least not when at his dazzling best as undisputed lightweight champ in the early 90s. I’m guilty too, for back then my own boxing heroes usually bore more resemblance to starring men in action movies of the period than this cerebral pure winner, who often almost made it all look too easy.
I don’t see the match referred to very often now but at the time Whitaker vs Chavez really was the super-fight, pitting the pound-for-pound two best fighters against each other and fittingly dubbed 'The Fight'” Oddly the match wasn’t shown live on U.K. television and we had to wait to watch all 12 rounds as part of a later show, which may have been Bowe vs Holyfield II. Chavez, darling of the WBC, got away with out-and-out robbery as the judges ruled a draw that night at the Alamodome.
Like our own Chris Eubank, it was perhaps only towards the end of his career when the skills and reflexes dulled, that fans really warmed to Whitaker as he challenged himself against the very best of a fresh new era in Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad. The tributes already being shared on social media suggest that Whitaker now commands both the respect he earned during his early career as well as the affection generated as it waned. As the famous Sports Illustrated cover simply stated, Whitaker was 'The Best'. - Chris Williamson
‘Sweet Pea’ was part of the era slightly before I became fully hooked on boxing, so I’ve had to revisit him. But I’m always thankful I took the time to do so. Sometimes, defensive masters can be labelled as boring for not engaging in Rocky Balboa style shoot-outs. But nobody, surely, could watch Whitaker and call it boring. The fluidity of movement; the economy of his precision. The way he pivoted, slipped and rolled and then often celebrated his own defensive artistry like it was a big punch.
And it wasn’t like he couldn’t and wouldn’t throw back when the opportunity arose, which it did often as he wriggled out of danger yet again. He had a physical charisma which still shines decades after his prime years.
His resume is outstanding. Forget the official result. His best performance was beating the iconic and seemingly impenetrable Chavez. Boxing can stink, and Whitaker was often on the wrong end of the wrong result. But not many have shown how sweet the ‘science’ can be as Pernell Whitaker. - James Oddy
Somewhere there is a box in a wardrobe in my old childhood bedroom at my parent's house. Amidst old 'Shoot' annuals and vintage copies of 'Roy of the Rovers' comics, there is lurking at least a couple of years worth of editions of 'The Ring'. They are long ago forgotten and their content discarded from my memory, but with one exception - a front cover featuring Pernell 'Sweet Pea' Whitaker wearing the red, white and blue framed gold of 'The Ring' championship belt.
He was a dominating and seemingly permanent force in their P4P rankings. I don't remember him winning his first world title and saw very little of him in live-action; having zero viewing options outside of council television. But every month when I got my fix of 'The Ring' he was always there. Unbreakable and unbeatable; only the low cunning of myopic judges could ultimately ground him.
A fighter for all seasons he could do everything with apparently effortless grace and unfading pizzazz. He can hold his head up high with the greatest of any era.
Yet, despite this, he is locked in my teenage years to a specific time and place. When my classmates would talk about the obvious names of Benn, Eubank, Tyson or even Bruno; I would prove that I knew something about this sport by telling them about Whitaker. That's the best tribute I can think to pay. - Garry White
'Sweet Pea' was quite simply, the (non-mouthy) Floyd Mayweather Jr of the previous era. Incredible defensive skills, an absolute master of not being hit... It's easy to only remember him as a non-media-friendly 'boring' welterweight champion, but his Olympic gold medal, his world titles in four weight classes and his superb run at lightweight should be remembered too. He still holds the record as having technically the shortest world title reign in history, while his only true losses were at the very end of his career. I still think of him as being as close to 'touching down' (while actually being defensive) as seemed possible, or his little 'run' he did out of the corner. The 'boring' tag seemed harsh at the time, and even more so after seeing Mayweather's career. Whitaker was only the fourth fighter to become a four-weight champ, was in the top three fighters of the 1990s, one of the best lightweights in history, and can lay claim to having held the mystical P4P crown... May he rest in peace. - Colin Harris