Pernell Whitaker (born January 2, 1964) is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1984 to 2001….and currently works as a boxing trainer. He is a four-weight world champion….having won titles at lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight, and light middleweight….as well as the undisputed lightweight title and the lineal lightweight and welterweight titles. In 1989, Whitaker was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA)….for from 1993 to 1994….The Ring ranked him as pound for pound….the best boxer in the world.
Whitaker had an extensive amateur boxing career….having started at the age of nine….he had 214 amateur fights while winning 201….with 91 of them by knockouts. He lost to two-time Olympic Gold medalist Ángel Herrera Vera at the final of the World Championships 1982….but beat him four other times….notably in the final of the Pan American Games 1983 in Caracas….and he crowned his amateur career with an Olympic Gold Medal in 1984 in Los Angeles….where my Bone Daddy saw him fight “live and in color” at ringside.
In just his eleventh and twelfth pro bouts….Whitaker defeated Alfredo Layne on December 20, 1986 and former WBA Super Featherweight title holder Roger Mayweather on March 28, 1987. On March 12, 1988, he challenged José Luis Ramírez for the WBC Lightweight title in Levallois, France….where he suffered his first pro defeat when the judges awarded a split decision to Ramirez. The decision was highly controversial, with most feeling that Whitaker had won the fight with something to spare. In his 1999 edition of the ‘World Encyclopedia of Boxing,’ Harry Mullan stated that the decision in this bout was “generally considered to be a disgrace.” To date, the decision is rated at or near the top of many boxing observer’s “worst ever boxing decisions” lists.
Whitaker trudged on, winning a decision over Greg Haugen for the IBF Lightweight title on February 18, 1989 by becoming the first boxer to knock Haugen down by dropping him in the sixth round. He then added the vacant WBC title & The Ring belts by avenging his loss to Ramirez on August 20, 1989.
Now a champion, Whitaker proceeded to dominate boxing’s middle divisions over the first half of the 1990’s….when in 1990 he defended his lightweight title against future champion Freddie Pendleton and Super Featherweight Champion Azumah Nelson of Ghana. On August 11, 1990, he knocked out Juan Nazario in one round to win the WBA and vacant lineal welterweight titles….this becoming the first Undisputed Lightweight Champion since Roberto “Manos de Piedras” Durán. His highlight of 1991 was a win over Jorge Páez and a fight against European Champion Poli Díaz that ended in another win.
In 1992, he began his ascent in weight, winning the IBF light welterweight title from Colombian puncher Rafael Pineda on July 18. On March 6, 1993, he decisioned James (Buddy) McGirt to become the Lineal and WBC Welterweight Champion….as Whitaker was gaining momentum and boxing experts and fans felt that he needed to win against the pound for pound best boxer in the world, Julio César Chávez….when the two met in a welterweight superfight simply named “The Fight” on September 10, 1993 in San Antonio, Texas. In the eyes of many of the spectators, Whitaker outboxed the Mexican legend….however, 2 of the 3 judges saw an even bout with the other judge scoring in favor of Whitaker….which resulted in the fight being a majority draw….as Sports Illustrated featured a cover titled “ROBBED!” after the conclusion of this fight and believed that Whitaker had won 9 of the 12 rounds in the fight. The now defunct Boxing Illustrated magazine….whose editor-in-chief was boxing historian Bert Sugar…. had a heading on the cover of its post-fight edition telling readers not to buy the issue if they really believed “The Fight” was a draw.Whitaker continued on to dominate for the next few years by defending his welterweight title in a rematch against Buddy McGirt on October 1, 1994.
In his next fight on March 4, 1995, Whitaker added Julio César Vásquez’s WBA super welterweight title to his collection. This was a history making fight for Whitaker….as he became only the fourth fighter….joining Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Roberto Duran….in history to have won a legitimate world title in four different weight classes….however, he chose to move back to welterweight….when Whitaker successfully defended his WBC belt against Scotland’s Gary Jacobs on August 26, 1995. In January, 1997, Whitaker put his title on the line against Cuban fighter Diosbelys Hurtado….as Hurtado gave Whitaker all he could handle and then some. Hurtado had Whitaker down on all the judges scorecards going into the 11th round….whereby Hurtado scored flash knockdowns against Whitaker in rounds 1 and 6….plus Whitaker had a point deducted in the 9th round for hitting Hurtado behind the head….but midway in the 11th round….Whitaker landed a left hook that hurt Hurtado and, in a rare display of aggression & power, unleashed a barrage of left-handed power shots which pummeled Hurtado into the ropes and knocking Hurtado out and almost completely out of the ring before referee Arthur Mercante Jr. stopped the fight at the 1:52 mark….giving Whitaker the come-from-behind TKO win. The win set up a showdown with undefeated 1992 Olympic gold medalist Oscar De La Hoya.
He met Oscar De La Hoya on April 12, 1997, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Whitaker, defending his WBC championship and the mythical status as the best pound for pound boxer in the world….succeeded in making De La Hoya look bad through his crafty defense….but he was unable to mount a sufficient offense to convince the judges. Whitaker was awarded an official knockdown in the 9th round….and, according to CompuBox stats….outlanded De La Hoya in overall punches and connect percentage while using the jab as his primary weapon….but De La Hoya threw and landed almost twice as many power punches….thus having a slightly higher power punch connect percentage than Whitaker….which may have been the key factor in De La Hoya winning by a disputed unanimous decision. There were many boxing analysts and sportswriters at ringside who felt that Whitaker actually won the fight. It was another controversial decision against Whitaker….but it wasn’t seen as a blatant robbery like the Ramirez or Chavez fights. For his part, De La Hoya wasn’t too pleased with his own performance against Whitaker….and had hinted at a possible rematch to prove that he could do better against him….but Bob Arum, De La Hoya’s promoter at that time, decided against it.
Whitaker’s next bout was against Russian-born fighter Andrey Pestryaev in a world title elimination fight….where the winner would earn an automatic #1 contender spot for the WBA Welterweight crown which was held at the time by Ike Quartey. Whitaker originally won the fight, but the win was nullified and changed to a No Decision after he failed a post-fight drug test. On February 20, 1999, Whitaker suffered his first convincing defeat against the much bigger and much fresher Félix Trinidad….by gamely taking the Puerto Rican the distance in an attempt to win Trinidad’s IBF welterweight title.
His last fight came on April 27, 2001, against journeyman Carlos Bojorquez….when Whitaker, the former lightweight, entered the ring at 155 pounds. He broke his clavicle in round four and was forced to retire….when following this fight….Whitaker officially announced his retirement. He finished his professional career with an official record of 40-4-1 with 17 knockouts. In 2002, The Ring ranked Whitaker as the 10th Greatest Fighter of the Last 80 Years. On December 7, 2006, Whitaker was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame along with contemporaries Roberto Durán and Ricardo López. They were all elected in their first year of eligibility.
Any way you cut the pie….Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitker was one of the legendary boxers of the golden age of boxing from 1964 – 1995….and he deserves his place in Imasportsphile history….and is worth watching in any of his fights.