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Updated: Aug 21, 2019

On 14th July 2019, one of boxing's masterful defensive fighters passed away at the age of 55. Pernell 'Sweet Pea' Whitaker was struck by a vehicle in his home state of Virginia.

Born 02nd January 1964 in Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker went on to be one of America's top amateur boxer's, capping off his multi-championships by taking gold at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 as a lightweight, finishing his record as 201-14.

Whitaker turned professional in November 1984, ending Farrain Comeaux's 11-0 ledger with a second round TKO at Madison Square Garden. Also on the card, making their debuts, were the other US Olympic medal winners, Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland, Tyrell Biggs and Virgil Hill.

In March 1987, Whitaker contested his first professional title, taking on Roger Mayweather for the vacant NABF lightweight championship. Greg Haugen relinquished the belt when he defeated Jimmy Paul for the IBF lightweight bauble in December 1986.

Whitaker was fighting in front of his home fans, getting off to a blistering start by flooring his man in the opening round. Mayweather returned the favour in round nine, with the local favourite clinching the title with a unanimous decision.

In July 1987, Whitaker added the USBA lightweight title to his collection by stopping Miguel Santana in the second round. At the end of the year he travelled to France and defeated American Davey Montana in the fourth round. Also on the bill was WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez, who won a fourth round non-title fight against John Rafuse.

Three months later Ramirez would defend his crown against Whitaker at France's Stade de Levallois. The champion had compiled a ledger of 100-6 (82 KO's) in his fifteen-years in the paid ranks. He first challenged for the vacant the WBC lightweight belt against the undefeated Edwin Rosario in May 1983. Ramirez would lose a unanimous decision.

In November 1984 he would gain revenge over Rosario, but it was the champion who got off to a great start by flooring the challenger once in rounds one and two. Ramirez finally regrouped and stopped the champion in the fourth round in what was an exciting slug fest. 

The new champion put his belt on the line to Hector Camacho, dropping a unanimous decision in August 1985. Ramirez settled in France after that and in July 1987 defeated Terrence Alli in a vacant WBC lightweight championship match, to become a two-time champion.

With a successful first defence under his belt in October 1987, stopping Cornelius Boza-Edwards, he

was ready to accommodate the twenty-four-year-old Whitaker. The contest was first given the green-light in October 1987, but a month later, Julio Cesar Chavez defeated Edwin Rosario to become WBA lightweight champion.

Jose Sulaiman, the WBC president, was rumoured to have wanted a unification match between his fellow countrymen Chavez and Ramirez. In an unprecedented move, Sulaiman installed Chavez as number-one WBC contender. The World Boxing Council don't usually rate world champions from the WBA or IBF in their rankings.

Promoter Don King got Chavez and Ramirez to agree to a unification battle, with Sulaiman coming out and stating: "I won't sanction Ramirez-Whitaker. American TV channel ABC, who purchased the rights for Ramirez-Whitaker protested, saying the WBC president had already gone back on his word for the original sanction and scrapping that fight would "royally screw ABC." Sulaiman backed down and allowed Whiatker to get his chance. 

According to Whitaker's manager, Shelly Finkel, the WBC executive Piero Pini shoved a piece of paper under Whitaker's nose at the weigh-in, telling him to sign a fight with Chavez, just in case he beat Ramirez. The champion had already signed, but the challenger's team refused.

After twelve rounds it appeared the challenger had done enough to lift the title after a dominating display. British judge Harry Gibbs agreed and scored the contest 117-113 in favour of the American. The other two judges had Ramirez in front by scores of 116-115 and 118-113.

Lou Duva, Whitaker's co-trainer, called Sulaiman a thief, with Finkel suggesting King and the WBC president fixed the fight, "no question."

Sulaiman claimed there was no fix and issued a $1 million slander and libel lawsuit. Duva had to admit he had no direct evidence claiming the fight was fixed and the lawsuit never saw the light of day.

Whitaker put the controversial decision behind him and won a fourth round TKO in November 1988. The victory put him in line with IBF lightweight champion Greg Haugen, who won the championship from Vinny Pazienza in February 1988. The champion was making the third defence against the Norfolk resident.

Whitaker put in another dominating performance and this the time the judges awarded him the title by unanimous decision.


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