Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, a legendary pound-for-pound king was fatally struck by a vehicle on Sunday night (July 14). 

ESPN reports that the former boxing champion, 55 was killed in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The champ was apparently, hit by a car around 10 p.m. Sunday while he was on foot at an intersection and the incident remains an active investigation, according to the Virginia Beach Police Department.

“When officers arrived on scene they located an adult male victim who had been hit by a vehicle. The victim succumbed to his injuries on the scene,” Virginia Beach Police Department spokesman L.M. Bauder said in a statement. “The driver of the vehicle remained on scene with police.”

18 Nov 1995: Pernell Whitaker (right) and Jake Rodriguez are ready for action during the bout. Whitaker won the fight with a knockout in the sixth round. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello /Allsport

The southpaw was a Norfolk, Virginia native, who was apotheosized as perhaps the best defensive fighter in history.

In 2006, Sweet Pea was elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He also won world titles in four weight classes.

The undisputed lightweight world champion who also won titles at junior welterweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight had slick moves that perplexed opponent after opponent during the 1980s and 1990s.

6 Jan 1999: Felix Trinidad (l), Don King (c), and Pernell Whitacker (r) pose for a picture during a press conference about the upcoming fight between Felix Trinidad and Pernell Whitacker at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire /Allsport

The dominant force in boxing also won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. The boxing icon’s youngest son, Devon Whitaker said that his father was a “cool guy,” reports The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

“That’s all I can say about him,” he told the newspaper. “I can’t really say how I’m feeling because I’m feeling shocked. I’m still trying to process everything that’s going on. But he was a cool guy.”

Kathy Duva, Main Events promoter, whose company promoted Sweet Pea during his boxing career, mourned Whitaker’s passing too.

“I loved Pernell Whitaker and he loved me — there was no doubt,” Duva told ESPN. “He was this person who was only comfortable in the ring. He had demons, but when he was in the ring, that was when he was in control and when he was happy and when he was the very best at what he did, and he wanted to show that to everybody.”

Duva’s late husband Dan signed Whitaker out of the amateurs. He was signed alongside a myriad of 1984 U.S. Olympians. Duva remained close to Whitaker even following his retirement.

The legendary boxer had four losses and one draw on his record (40-4-1, 17 KOs). However, to a lot of people, Whitaker truly only lost two times during the end of his career.

Whitaker lost to then-prime welterweight world title titleholder Felix Trinidad and to Carlos Bojorquez in a fourth-round stoppage, which was a one-sided decision when he suffered a broken clavicle.

Two losses were highly controversial. The split decision loss to Jose Luis Ramirez for a lightweight world title and Whitaker’s loss of his welterweight belt to Oscar De La Hoya in 1997.

However, the most controversial thing that transpired in Whitaker’s career was the draw he received against Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. that took place on March 12, 1993.

20 Sep 1996: Pernell Whitaker sits in his corner during a fight against Wilfredo Rivera at the James L. Knight Center in Miami, Florida. Whitaker won the fight in twelve rounds. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello /Allsport

Although Whitaker was considered one of the greatest boxers, many often pondered if the champ would have been much greater had he not had a drug addiction.

Whitaker was addicted to drugs throughout his career and also following his retirement. He survived a cocaine overdose, but things went downhill and in 2002 he was convicted of cocaine possession.

“He had a lot of problems outside the ring and those problems probably cut his career short,” Duva said. “He was far from a perfect person and a pain in the ass at times, but I still loved him. He was one of the greatest boxers of all time. There’s no doubt.”

Whitaker became a staple on HBO during his career and the television network had good things to say about the boxer.

“Pernell Whitaker was beautiful — both as a fighter and as a human being,” HBO, which was his longtime television home, broadcasting 19 of his fights, said in a statement. “An artist in the ring, ‘Sweet Pea’ appeared on our World Championship Boxing platform for a decade (1990-1999), giving fans many unforgettable moments. His is a Hall of Fame legacy, which we are forever grateful to call our own heritage. Pernell’s passing is a great loss. We send our condolences to his family, as well as his extended family at Main Events and throughout the boxing community.”

De La Hoya also had good things to say about his rival.

“I’m deeply saddened by the loss of this great champion, who gave a tremendous amount of joy to those who watched him,” De La Hoya, now chairman of Golden Boy Promotions, said in a statement. “It was an honor to share the ring with him. In terms of his defense and ring generalship, Pernell Whitaker was the best fighter that I ever fought. On behalf of everyone at Golden Boy, we send our prayers and condolences to his family and friends.”

Several other boxing champions, athletes, and others a part of the sports world have all spoken about Whitaker on social media, as well as given their condolences. Check out the messages below.


Glennisha Morgan is a Detroit-bred multimedia journalist and writer. She writes about intersectionality, hip-hop, pop culture, queer issues, race, feminism, and her truth. Follow her on Twitter @GlennishaMorgan.