Some fighters defy logic with the way they’re able to see events 5 steps ahead of everyone else, whose reaction time is as quick as the flick of a light switch, and can adapt to anything presented in front of them with a natural acumen to their craft.
In boxing, I don’t think there’s a better example in the last half a century of this than the great ♛🥇🇺🇸Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker (40-4-1, 17KO👊), who had the greatest reflexes displayed since the great Nicolino Locche, and superseded Locche’s ability by being able to counter routinely off of those insane angles and pivots that he would use to evade the onslaught of punches. “Sweet Pete” had very strong legs, which enabled him to cover a lot of ground which made his defensive acumen even scarier, and was the foundation of his overall attack.
He had very good speed, sharp hands, was an excellent counter-puncher, and was one of the headiest boxers of the last 30 years. He had a calm about him that enabled him to have fun in spots where other boxers would tighten up, and worry when the stakes would get high, but for Whitaker, the tougher the stage, the more he appeared to be at home inside of the ropes. Despite his incredible footwork and impeccable ability to fight on the outside while being short of stature, he was very physically strong, being able to throw around his weight with the best of them in closed quarters, and possessed underrated ability to fight on the inside. All things considered, he was a nightmare for everyone to deal with in his prime, and no matter who you put in front of him, or how good they were, he ultimately made it look easy.
Whitaker during his amateur days was given the name “Sweet Pete” by fans as they would chant his name in the crowd. He was known as Pete around his family. A newspaper mistook the chants as “Sweet Pea”. After liking how it sounded, Pernell essentially stuck to that moniker. While turning heads with his performances, he was picked up by the legendary ◯◯◯◯◯🇺🇸1984 Olympic team, and joined an astonishing 8 other teammates in winning an Olympic Gold-Medal. He would immediately make the move to go pro in the same calendar year of 1984. Displaying his God-given ability from the get-go, he would take on an early challenge against former Lineal Super-Featherweight Champ ♛🇵🇦Alfredo Layne, who was known primarily for his big upset over Wilfredo Gomez just two fights prior. Whitaker had no problem in getting past Layne. Following this fight, Pea would meet up with quality opponent ♛🇺🇸Roger Mayweather. In just his 11th fight, Whitaker secured another big victory despite having to get up off the deck in the 1st round, and with this win, it helped him accelerate his path upwards in the ranks, and eventually to a World Title opportunity. Pernell’s shot at a World Title came against respected Mexican fighter & WBC Lightweight Champion 🇲🇽Jose Louis Ramirez in 1988. Whitaker from round 1 to round 12 put on a beautiful performance, taking advantage of Ramirez slow hand and foot speed, countering, and routinely finding his mark. Whitaker was unhittable, often playing with his opponent who came into the fight with 1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ victories, even remaining completely unscathed when he was trapped on the ropes, and Ramirez wailing away hoping at least one of his significant shots landed, but that moment never came, as the young fighter toyed with him. It had appeared that the young phenom would be the latest to be crowned a Champion after his incredible performance, however the unthinkable was about to occur. For someone such as Whitaker who won about 10 rounds to anyone that watched the fight, the 3 judges awarded a Split-Decision victory to Ramirez, thus him retaining his Title. You can make an argument that this was the worst robbery in the history of boxing, and Pea’s reaction said it all after the cards were read, as he slumped down to the canvas in complete disbelief, realizing how bad he just got jobbed.
With the powers that be realizing Whitaker’s status in the division despite the ruling, he would get his 2nd shot at a World Title, this time against the talented, scrappy IBF Champion 🇺🇸Greg Haugen. Pea stood toe to toe in the pocket with Haugen, yet he was as slippery as an eel, couldn’t be touched, and seemed to always let off first, dictating the pace and the action of the fight throughout 12 rounds, turning Haugen into a punching bag with legs. In a more commanding performance than his fight against Ramirez, Pernell left no doubt as he scored a shutout on 2 of the 3 scorecards, and finally became claimant of a World Title belt on February 19th, 1989, and dominating a well respected fighter in doing so. Pea’s first defense of his new IBF Title was against a young, undefeated fighter Louie Lomelli, and dominated him through 3 rounds with no resistance. Whitaker for the long haul ultimately had revenge on his mind, and fortunate for him, his long-goal plans came rather quickly as he would get his rematch opportunity with WBC Champ 🇲🇽Jose Louis Ramirez. This time it was a Unification match for both IBF & WBC belts that each fighter possessed, and raising the stakes, this fight would award a new ♛Lightweight Lineal World Champion (seemed only fitting to have the rematch for all the marbles). To try and avoid any catastrophic situations that occurred in the first fight, Pea decided to fight Ramirez a little more flat-footed, and in the pocket. The level of domination from Whitaker over Ramirez was the same, however the tone of the fight and the manner in which it was fought was different. Whitaker outsmarted, outworked, and outmaneuvered the Mexican Champion, once again showing his true dominance, landing repeatedly over Ramirez slow delivery of his punches. This fight just like the first one went the full 12. Fortunate for Whitaker, that was the only parallel between the two fights. As Whitaker was nervously hearing the scoring, he was probably thinking to himself “not again”. Fortunate for him, credible scorecards were shared, and Whitaker was properly awarded for his dominating performance, thus Whitaker getting his redemption, and becoming the new ♛Lineal Lightweight Champion of the World in the process.
As the man in the division, he would face African legend ♛🇬🇭Azumah Nelson, who was campaigning and ruling at Super-Featherweight, and decided this opportunity was too good to pass up in testing himself against already one of the best fighters in all of boxing. Azumah would quickly find out that there was a different level that he hadn’t seen yet up to that point, and could not sustain any type of consistent offense against the man that couldn’t be hit, but Azumah did give it full effort, trying to land something of significance. The man from Virginia had the Ghanaian fighter routinely swinging at air all night, and the more Nelson opened up, the more he was countered, and turned around after every one of Whitaker’s hard pivots, constantly finding himself out of range and off-balanced while trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube of boxing. Pernell won upwards of 9 or 10 rounds against the all-time great, yet the Judges called it far closer than the combat that was witnessed, making the Whitaker contingent nervous. Be it as it may, Whitaker did get the decision, and secured the biggest name he fought thus far under his belt, conquering one of the sports true elites. At this point, the world was Whitaker’s to roam, and to cap everything off, he would face WBA Champion Juan Nazario to crown a new 👑Undisputed Lightweight Champion, with the winner hoisting up all 3 World Title Belts. Sweet Pea made quick work of his over-matched opponent, delivering one of the better knockouts of the decade, putting Nazario away in emphatic fashion in the first round. The normally subdued Whitaker was in full celebration mode as he accomplished one more goal from a laundry list of lofty & attainable aspirations.
With a division completely unified, he decided to stick around and rule, giving shots to whoever the best available options were, still going at Lightweight. He dominated 3 fighters in a row, and then met up with the colorful Jorge Paez in the fall of 1990. Paez was good enough to make an interesting fight of it, winning a few rounds, but Whitaker proved to be the superior fighter, and came out of that fight a Unanimous Decision winner. After defending his Lineal Lightweight Title 9 times, and his Undisputed claim 4 times, he would look upward in weight at his prospects for Whitaker to cast his eyes on with plans on securing quality fights. At the Junior-Lightweight division, Pete defeated the respected Harold Brazier. Later in that year (1992), he would get a Title shot against power punching IBF Champion Rafael Pineda. Whitaker all night offered up a steady dose of jabs, standing right in front of the bigger Pineda, yet while he appeared to always be in punching range, it was like Pea was teleporting out of the way of the punches, and Pineda couldn’t inflict any damage. After tacking on and piling up the points, Whitaker became the new IBF Junior-Welterweight Titleholder, and a Champion in his 2nd division. Defending that Title once, he had a broader picture to look at, now starting to rely on his P4P status more-so than just camping at a weight, so he moved up to the Welterweight division to face the resourceful future HOF’er & Lineal World Champion ♛🇺🇸James “Buddy” McGirt. Being the bigger man, and being nearly as resourceful as Pea was, Buddy McGirt was one who could match Pernell’s boxing wit, movement, and his accuracy. McGirt did injure his left shoulder a fight prior and you could see it with his noticeable reluctance to fire the good left hook that he did possess. Despite his handicap, Buddy fought well early and was very much into the fight. Despite Pea being the one that moved up, he fought aggressively in close, wrestling with Buddy, and resorted to very little outside movement while Buddy decided to box from the pocket to try and counter what Whitaker was doing. As the fight continued on, Buddy started slowing down, and Whitaker was landing at an increased clip. To the final bell it went, and just like that, Pernell Whitaker was the new ♛Lineal & WBC Welterweight Champion of the World, ultimately winning the triple-crown by winning World Titles in 3 different weight categories. What was next up on the horizon for Sweet Pea Whitaker? the fight that we essentially all wanted for the last few years.
As the 2 best fighters in the world were making their own individual marks without their paths crossing together, there was increased pressure from the boxing public towards both sides in eventually getting contracts signed up to fight, and we all finally got our wish, as a bout was scheduled on September 10th, 1993, as Whitaker would finally meet ultimate Mexican Legend All-time-great ♛🇲🇽Julio Cesar Chavez for a monster Super-fight. Chavez overall record was a ridiculous 8️⃣7️⃣ – 0️⃣–0️⃣, and had the claim of being P4P the best fighter in the world by Ring-Magazine & many other publications, but the feeling in many sectors was that Whitaker (P4P #2 at the time) was actually the superior tactician, despite whatever the record said. Fortunate for us, we would get all the answers we were looking for as they went on to fight their fight. Both were 5X World Champions in 3 weight divisions, but the implications for this bout was all about boxing supremacy. As expected, Chavez came out aggressively, trying to bully Whitaker and land combinations to the body while Pernell was on his back-foot, pivoting and finding lanes to exploit once he got Chavez timing down. The first 2 rounds was a back-and-forth affair, but once the 3rd round came, it became abundantly clear who was in charge in the ring. Sweet Pea looked faster than he had in his previous few fights, and his internal radar was laser-like, sidestepping and avoiding everything incoming from Julio, and forcing Chavez to follow him instead of cutting the ring off due to Chavez inability to anticipate any of his movements. Chavez began to grow frustrated not being able to work on and chop his opponent down like how he did for most of his 87 fights, and he began to get tagged in combinations at an increased percentage in the later rounds. Chavez was also surprised at the strength Pernell possessed, periodically operating on the inside and throwing his weight around, crowding the Mexican, not allowing him any range or leverage to get his shot, and even in times where he was able to let his hands go, he would punch at air while Whitaker was standing behind him. Pernell outclassed the great Julio Cesar Chavez in every facet imaginable, and knew of his dominance as he celebrated during the waning last seconds of the 12th round. The first scorecard read 115-113 for Whitaker, and even though it was for Whitaker, you had to have that inherent worry due to that scorecard being way too close. The final 2 scorecards were 115-115 for a draw verdict, an unbelievable spin upon what we had all just witnessed in the Alamo Dome. It is abundantly clear that at worst, Pernell won 9 out of 12 rounds, and was left to stand there after a verdict, showcasing frustration behind a sheepish grin wondering “what else could I have done?”. If the first Whitaker-Ramirez fight wasn’t the most egregious robbery in boxing history, then certain his fight with Chavez could make a strong case, and is definitely the worst decision of all-time when you consider boxing’s history of super fights. Despite the terrible ruling, the silver lining for Whitaker was that Ring-Magazine however bypassed the verdict of the fight, and flip flopped both names on the P4P list↕️, recognizing Pernell Whitaker as the P4P best fighter in the world, so in a way, Pea got his just-due for his master-class outing by getting the recognition from them, and also most of the boxing contingent the world over.
Now looked at as thee man in boxing, he would go on to secure another Welterweight Title defense, before he would give a rematch to the man he had won his Lineal Crown from, ♛🇺🇸James “Buddy” McGirt. This time McGirt was healed up, and had no concessions, wanting to put his best foot forward to reclaim what he used to have, and understanding how good Buddy was, Whitaker made sure to enter this fight in tip-top shape. The 2nd fight was a more exciting fight than the first bout, and out the gate, Buddy fought a far more aggressive, effective fight. Once again, they both fought in closed quarters, this time a more physical fight. McGirt knocked Whitaker down with a right hand that was technically blocked, but had enough force to put him to the canvas, making it legitimate. Pea smiled while the Referee was administering the count, then came back immediately to pummel McGirt with combinations. From about the 6th round on, things started to fall apart for McGirt, and his left eye was starting to swell up. Whitaker was razor accurate in the middle rounds, stringing 8, 9, 10 punch combinations together, rendering Buddy with no answers. In the back-end of the fight, Whitaker thoroughly dominated Buddy, but McGirt hung in there, being that he has no quit in him. He did get to the final bell, but the result was essentially the same, albeit Pernell had somehow put forth an even more dominant performance than the first one. Winning the fight by Unanimous Decision, Whitaker would once again test himself by taking a shot at a Super-Welterweight Title while he was still the Welterweight Champion of the World. 🇦🇷Julio Cesar Vasquez was next on the ledger, possessing the WBA Super-Welterweight Title, and was looking to make the 11th defense of that Title. Considering Vasquez was the heaviest boxer Whitaker would ever face, he fought exclusively off the backfoot looking to catch the Argentinian off-balance. Pea looked remarkably strong and agile at the weight. Vasquez gave him a goodie though, even scoring a knockdown on Whitaker in the 4th round. While the fight was a contested one, Pernell was the clear victor, becoming a 4-division World Champion. He decided that Welterweight was where he wanted to continue to nest, so he vacated that Title to look for suitable challenges. He would eventually face young talented Puerto Rican boxer Wilfredo Rivera. This was the first time that I started to notice some speed decline in Whitaker, but he was still a great fighter. Rivera made an excellent fight of it, standing bravely with the best fighter in the World, forcing close scorecards. Whitaker was given the Split-Decision victory. To put all and any doubts to rest, he would give an immediate rematch to Wilfredo Rivera. Once again Rivera put together an excellent performance, establishing himself as a very good fighter in the eyes of boxing pundits, but Whitaker put together a better performance than he did the first time around, winning by Unanimous Decision. Whitaker despite a slight decline was looking to make the 9th straight defense of his Lineal Welterweight Crown, and he would take on talented Cuban Disobelys Hurtado next in January of 1997. To the surprise of many, Pea was being out-boxed for a large portion of the fight, and seemed a step slow while Hurtado was tacking on the points. The fight itself was an ugly foul fest, but Hurado seemed to thrive in that type of setting. Whitaker knew he was in danger of losing, so he started to open up his offense in the 10th round. In the 11th round, Whitaker caught his big break, hitting Hurtado with a sledgehammer cross by the ropes, and while Hurtado was shelled up, Whitaker wailed away nonstop with haymaker left hands, firing about 10 of them as Hurtado was sitting on one of the ropes, then was eventually knocked out, with Hurtado’s back draped around the rope with his head out the ring. This was probably the signature single moment in Pea’s career, and it came in a spot where he really needed to make something happen to retain his Title.
With his time dwindling down as a top fighter in the sport📉, it was a perfect time for him to fight a young phenom who was on the scene, looking for the best fighters in the World to make his own stamp on the sport, and that was Mexican-American Olympic Gold-Medalist ♛🥇🇺🇸Oscar De La Hoya, the fight being fought on April 12th, 1997. For someone who was passed their prime, Whitaker still had his 🐈cat-like reflexes, and had 2 or 3 of the nastiest defensive sequences we’ve ever seen take place in the ring. On top of his impressive ability to slip punches from the very fast handed, active De La Hoya, he was landing counter-punches at will. Oscar especially in those younger days was very dangerous, and he was still able to land enough to make a real fight of it. A fun entertaining bout between 2 stand out fighters of different generations ultimately lived up to its bill, giving the fight fans the level of combat it was looking for. I thought, along with the majority of pundits that the old man delivered a shocking vintage performance over the young super-talent who was taking the world by storm, favoring Whitaker by about 3 points on my card. Oscar was given the fight by Unanimous Decision, and once again, Whitaker felt shafted in yet another big fight where he felt he was the clear victor in. I must say that Whitaker didn’t exactly help his cause in the 2 rounds where he played around acting like he was hurt when he dodged all of Oscar’s punches, and considering how fast the punches were, it’s easy for shaky judges to be influenced by that, not exactly having a concrete understanding of what was happening in their view. Even with that being stated, assessing by the extreme wideness of the scorecards (two judges had De La Hoya winning by 6 points, the other judge by 4), the fix was apparently in to force a passing of the torch type of situation to the young 💲bread maker whose career prospects and revenue earning seemed endless, and due to De La Hoya fighting a good enough fight, the judges were able to enact this protocol.
Whitaker afterwards won a fight by Decision, but was later ruled a No Contest after Pea tested positive for cocaine. With legal ramifications going back and forth, he spent 2 years out of the ring, and made his return at the age of 34, this time against the other Welterweight phenom who was wreaking havoc with his power, that being ♛🇵🇷Felix “Tito” Trinidad. Spending 2 years out of the ring to fight someone of this type of talent was a very risky proposition, and it backfired as Pernell’s skills, speed and timing eroded further, and Trinidad was on top of his game, with blinding handspeed as the force behind his punches that were all fired with serious power behind them. This was the 1 fight where there was no debating, being that Trinidad was landing at a far higher percentage than we’ve normally seen Whitaker hit in his whole career, and with Whitaker having serious problems dealing getting around Tito’s range and speed. Tito was rightfully awarded the Unanimous Decision victory over the Virginia legend. Considering his prospects, Whitaker decided to step away from the sport, before he came back for one more fight in 2001. In his final fight, he actually broke his collarbone in mid combat, and the fight had to be stopped by the Doctors in the 4th round, and it was officially ruled a TKO against Whitaker. An eventful 17 year run had come to a close, and it was a memorable one. Pea was so good, he could make a respectable claim to being the best retired boxer of the last 35 years without any harsh rebuttals. One of the greatest southpaw fighters of all-time, he did things his way, and in his prime, was virtually untouchable. His influence on the sport has been felt, and seen through the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Zab Judah, Terence Crawford and others as stylistic pugilistic surgeons with the substance to vary up their attacks in any given situation. Pernell Whitaker unfortunately lost his life a couple days ago due to a car accident in Virginia beach, hurtful times, but the legacy lives on. One of the greatest fighters of all time, he left us with a boatload of memories, and lived at the pinnacle of the sport when he was in his prime. Here are a list of his accomplishments. 🖼️
– 201 -14 – 0 Amateur Record
– 1984 Olympic Gold-Medalist
– 1X Undisputed World Champion (135)
– 2X Lineal World Champion (135, 147)
– 6X Champion (LINEAL, WBA, WBC, IBF)
– 4-Division Champion (135, 140, 147, 154)
– Simultaneous 2-Division Champion (147 &154)
– Successfully Won 21 Title Fights
– Won 13 Lineal World Title Bouts
– Defeated 5 Undefeated Boxers
– Beat 14 Fighters Whom Were Champions in their Career
– 5 Wins over 4 Boxers Who Were Lineal World Champions
– Has 3 Wins over 2 Hall-of-Famers (McGirt 2X, Nelson)
– Ring-Magazine P4P Best Fighter in the World (1993-1997)
– 1989 Ring-Magazine Fighter of the Year
– Widely Regarded as one of the Greatest Lightweights
– Seen by a Few as the Best Fighter of the 1990’s
– Heralded by Some as the Greatest Southpaw Boxer
– Known as the Slickest Defensive Fighter in Boxing History
– International Boxing Hall-of-Fame (First-Ballot in 2007)
SIGNATURE MOMENT – His systematically brilliant performance against Él Gran Campéon ♛🇲🇽Julio Cesar Chavez, out-boxing the great Mexican warrior despite the egregious ruling by the judges, calling it a draw.
NOTABLE WINS – ♛🇬🇭Azumah Nelson, ♛🇺🇸Buddy McGirt (twice), ♛🇺🇸Roger Mayweather, 🇲🇽Jose Louis Ramirez, 🇺🇸Greg Haugen, ♛🇵🇦Alfredo Layne, 🇲🇽Jorge Paez, 🇦🇷Julio Cesar Vasquez, 🇵🇷Wilfredo Rivera (twice), 🇨🇴Rafael Pineda…..highly controversial losses to ♛🥇🇺🇸Oscar De La Hoya & 🇲🇽Jose Louis Ramirez, with most believing he won both bouts.
NOTABLE DRAWS – Was blatantly robbed against ♛🇲🇽Julio Cesar Chavez, who was 87-0-0 at the time, but was thoroughly out-boxed in every way possible, yet the judges called it even.