If he had lived, if he had not fallen victim to a terrible road accident that took his life back in July of 2019, all-time great Pernell Whitaker would today be celebrating his 59th birthday. “Sweet Pea,” for many the finest defensive boxer of the modern era, if not of all-time, was a very special boxer, a masterful practitioner of the Sweet Science.
Whitaker was a fine advert for the sport in as much as he made all people who watched him perform his magic, be they hardcore fight fans or casual observers, acknowledge how much brains and skills are needed in a sport that is often referred to by critics as “savage” and “uncivilised.”
When Whitaker was doing his stuff, it was akin to watching a genius lay down a beautiful piece of art. Whitaker dazzled on the canvas, this as he dazzled, bamboozled and thoroughly defeated his opposition. A superb amateur who won gold at the 1984 Olympics, the southpaw from Virginia Beach went on to rule the world at no less than four weights. And have a look at the good to great fighters Whitaker didn’t just defeat but dominated:
Roger Mayweather, in an NABF title fight win.
Jose Luis Ramirez, in the rematch, this after being blatantly robbed in the first fight for the WBC lightweight title.
Greg Haugen, for the IBF lightweight title.
Juan Nazario, this 1st round KO showing how “Sweet Pea” could crack as well as avoid any and all blows coming his way.
Rafael Pineda, winning the IBF belt at 140 pounds.
James “Buddy” McGirt, for the WBC title at 147.
Julio Cesar Vazquez, for the WBA title at 154 pounds.
And Julio Cesar Chavez, forget what the judges did that day in San Antonio, back in 1993.
In the end, his reflexes sufficiently faded, big hitters Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad punched out decision wins over Whitaker, yet even here, “Sweet Pea” received praise, with him giving De La Hoya fits in dropping a debatable decision, and with Whitaker showing immense heart in the at times hellish battle he endured with the murderous-punching Trinidad.
Aside from his final fight in April of 2001, when a broken clavicle forced the bout with Carlos Bojorquez to be stopped, you could argue that only a prime Trinidad ever truly defeated Whitaker; this a 35 year old Whitaker.
Some experts say Floyd Mayweather is the finest defensive fighter ever, others say Willie Pep. Some say Nicolino Locche, others point to the 1960s version of Muhammad Ali.
But for many millions of fans, admirers, and critics alike, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker was the finest ever when it came to making an opponent miss. Whitaker did it with style, panache and seemingly effortless grace.
Pernell is sorely missed.