Pernell Whitaker (born January 2, 1964), nicknamed “Sweet Pea”, is a professional boxing trainer and retired American professional boxer. A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker was the lightweight silver medalist at the 1982 World Championships, followed by the gold medal at the 1983 Pan American Games and the 1984 Olympics, and then embarked on a pro career in which he became world champion in four different weight divisions. During his career he fought world champions such as Julio César Chávez, Oscar De La Hoya and Félix Trinidad. For his achievements, he was named the 1989 Fighter of the year by Ring Magazine.
Whitaker is also the former WBA light middleweight champion, WBC welterweight champion, IBF light welterweight champion, WBC, WBA & IBF lightweight champion, and NABF lightweight champion.
After his retirement, Whitaker returned into the world of boxing as a trainer. Among his boxers there are Zab Judah, Dorin Spivey, Joel Julio and Calvin Brock. In 2002, Ring Magazine ranked him at number 10 in their list of ‘The 100 greatest fighters of the last 80 years.’ On December 7, 2006, Whitaker was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in his first year of eligibility.
Fighting styleWhitaker was known for his outstanding defensive skills and for being a strong counterpuncher. He was not an over-powering hitter on offense but applied a steady attack while, at the same time, being extremely slippery and difficult to hit with a solid blow.
Amateur careerWhitaker had an extensive amateur boxing career, having started at the age of nine. He had 214 amateur fights, winning 201, 91 of them by knockouts, though he says that he has had up to 500 amateur fights. He lost to two-time Olympic Gold medalist Ángel Herrera Vera at the final of the World Championships 1982 but beat him four times, notably in the final of the Pan American Games 1983 in Caracas. He crowned his amateur career with an Olympic Gold in 1984.
Professional career LightweightIn just his eleventh and twelfth pro bouts, Whitaker beat Alfredo Layne on December 20, 1986, and former WBA super featherweight title holder Roger Mayweather on March 28, 1987. Whitaker won both bouts before hometown crowds at the Norfolk Scope, less than a mile from where he lived as a child in a Norfolk housing project. Whitaker would fight nine times in the Scope arena during his career.
On March 12, 1988, he challenged José Luis Ramírez for the WBC lightweight title in Levallois, France. 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.”
Undisputed championWhitaker trudged on, winning a decision over Greg Haugen for the IBF lightweight title on February 18, 1989, becoming the first boxer to knock Haugen down, dropping him in the sixth round. He then added the vacant WBC belt by avenging his loss to Ramirez on August 20.
Now a champion, Whitaker proceeded to dominate boxing’s middle divisions over the first half of the 1990s. 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 vacant The Ring and WBA titles, becoming the first undisputed lightweight champion since Roberto Durán. His highlight of 1991 was a highly disputed win over Jorge Páez and a fight against European champion Poli Díaz that ended in another win.
Light WelterweightIn 1992, he began his ascent in weight, winning the IBF junior welterweight title from Colombian puncher Rafael Pineda on July 18.
WelterweightOn March 6, 1993, he decisioned James (Buddy) McGirt, another very disputed win, to become the Lineal and WBC Welterweight champion.
Julio Cesar ChavezWhitaker was gaining momentum, boxing experts and fans felt that he needed to win against the pound for pound best boxer in the world: Julio César Chávez. The two met in a welterweight superfight 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 scoring in favor of Whitaker. As in his first fight with José Luis Ramírez, Whitaker was not awarded a decision victory, this time having to settle for a draw. 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. Chávez stated after the fight: “I felt I was forcing the fight … he just kept holding me too much, he was throwing too many low blows too.” There was no rematch.
Whitaker continued on to dominate for the next few years, defending his welterweight belt in a rematch against McGirt on October 1, 1994.
For good measure, in his next fight on March 4, 1995, Whitaker added Julio César Vásquez’s WBA junior middleweight title to his collection but remained at welterweight to successfully defend his WBC belt against Scotland’s Gary Jacobs on August 26, 1995.
Oscar De La HoyaHe met a bigger, younger Oscar De La Hoya on April 12, 1997, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Whitaker 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, and despite receiving an official knockdown and outlanding De La Hoya in overall punches & connect percentage (according to CompuBox stats), De La Hoya won by a disputed unanimous decision. At the end of the fight, the judges’ scores were 111-115, 110-116, 110-116. Aft.
Felix Trinidad and farewell fightOn February 20, 1999, Whitaker suffered his first sound defeat against the much bigger, much fresher Félix Trinidad, gamely taking the Puerto Rican the distance. The bout was for the latter’s IBF welterweight title. The fight began with both boxers displaying aggressive styles, which included excessive pushing. In the following rounds both boxers used their jabs most of the time with Trinidad gaining an advantage when Whitaker attempted to attack inside, eventually scoring a knockdown in round two. In the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds the fighters exchanged combinations. Later in the fight both boxers fell to the floor in what were ruled as “accidental slips.” On the seventh round Whitaker displayed more offense, trading power punches with Trinidad, but the champion retained control in the fight’s tempo during the eight, ninth, and tenth rounds. In the last round Whitaker, with a badly swollen right eye, displayed a purely defensive stance, avoiding his opponent throughout the round while Trinidad continued on the offensive until the fight concluded. The judges gave the champion scores of 117–111, 118–109 and 118–109.
His last fight came on April 27, 2001, against journeyman Carlos Bojorquez. The former undisputed lightweight champion jumped into the ring at 155 pounds. Whitaker broke his clavicle in round four and was forced to retire; at the time of the stoppage Whitaker was trailing in all the judges’ scorecards by 28-29. Following this fight, Whitaker officially announced his retirement. He finished his professional career with an official record of 40-4-1 (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.
NicknameAs a youngster, Whitaker was known to friends and family as “Pete”, and when he began to emerge as a top amateur, fans in his hometown of Norfolk used to serenade him with chants of “Sweet Pete.” This was misinterpreted by a local sportswriter as “Sweet Pea”, and when this erroneous report came out in the local newspaper, the new nickname stuck.
Personal lifePernell was married to Rovanda Whitaker until they divorced. They had four children together, Dominique, Pernell Jr., Dantavious, and Devon.