The late, great Pernell Whitaker was naturally gifted and very special. The southpaw genius captured world titles in four weight classes – from lightweight to junior middleweight – and he was one of the best defensive fighters in boxing history.
Whitaker was a highly decorated amateur, winning silver at the 1982 World Championships and gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He turned professional later that year with Main Events.
“Sweet Pea” won his first 15 bouts before facing grizzled veteran Jose Luis Ramirez for the WBC lightweight title in France. Almost everyone who watched the fight believed Whitaker won, however, two of the three judges disagreed and the Mexican retained his title in spurious circumstances.
Unperturbed, Whitaker went on to claim the IBF title by outboxing Greg Haugen, then whitewashed Ramirez in a rematch to add the WBC belt. He later knocked out WBA titleholder Juan Nazario in one round to become the undisputed champion, establishing himself as one of the finest lightweights of all time.
Now a pound-for-pound entrant, Whitaker made a brief pitstop at junior welterweight, besting Rafael Pineda for another IBF title, before moving on to full welterweight. The Norfolk resident claimed the WBC 147-pound title by defeating James “Buddy” McGirt by unanimous decision and made eight defenses, notably outboxing fellow legend Julio Cesar Chavez (D 12) and McGirt (UD 12) in a rematch.
In the middle of his welterweight reign, he also dared to be great by stepping up to 154 pounds and proved too slick for the much larger WBA titleholder Julio Cesar Vazquez (UD 12).
Father time began to catch up with Whitaker in 1996 when he struggled to get past Wilfredo Rivera and Diobelys Hurtado the following year. With that said, he was still good enough to give Oscar De La Hoya fits in a close tactical battle, but that decision went against him.