Boxing legend Pernell Whitaker dead at 55
HALL of Fame boxer Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker died Sunday after being struck by a vehicle in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was 55.
The Virginia Beach Police Department said in a news release that a man was hit by a vehicle around 10 p.m. ET on Sunday at an intersection west of downtown Virginia Beach and pronounced dead at the scene.
Police later identified the victim as Whitaker, who won world titles in four divisions during his career and also earned a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
The driver of the vehicle remained on the scene after the accident, according to police, and the case is being investigated by the department’s Fatal Accident Crash Team.
“The investigation is still ongoing,” police spokesperson Linda Kuehn told USA TODAY Sports in an email. “However, it does not appear that drugs/alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.”
Whitaker’s youngest son, Devon, told the Virginian-Pilot on Monday morning that he believes his father “was wearing dark clothes, the road was dark and the driver didn’t see him.”
A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker was one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of his era. After racking up an amateur record of 201-14 — with 91 knockouts, to boot — he turned pro in 1984 and quickly climbed the ranks. He earned his first lightweight title belt in 1987 by defeating Roger Mayweather, the uncle of current boxing star Floyd Jr.
Known almost ubiquitously by his nickname, “Sweet Pea,” Whitaker was named :Fighter of the Year” the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1989. He went on to capture title belts at light welterweight, welterweight and light middleweight over a career that spanned more than 15 years.
“He wasn’t a big puncher. His whole thing was making you miss,” his friend Mark Breland told the Washington Post in 2001. “You couldn’t hit him. When he was at the top of his game, he was at the top.”
Whitaker made his retirement announcement from a hospital after a 2001 fight that left him with a broken clavicle. He later spent time in prison for cocaine use, according to The Virginian-Pilot, before becoming a trainer. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006.