“When officers arrived on scene, they located an adult male victim who had been hit by a vehicle,” a Virginia Beach Police spokesman told WTVR-TV. “[Whitaker] succumbed to his injuries on the scene."
Obituary: Pernell Whitaker, lightweight boxing champion who won Olympic gold, dies at 55
Devon Whitaker, his youngest son, told the Virginian-Pilot that visibility may have been an issue.
“I guess he was wearing dark clothes, the road was dark, and the driver didn’t see him,” he said.
A native of Hampton, Va., Whitaker was known as a supremely elusive southpaw, one of the best defensive fighters in history, who turned pro after winning gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and won his first major belt with a unanimous-decision win over Greg Haugen for the IBF lightweight title in February 1989. Whitaker unified his titles by beating Jose Luis Ramirez six months later for the WBC title and then scoring a first-round knockout of Juan Nazario in August 1990 for the WBA belt. Ring magazine named him its boxer of the year in 1989.
“You couldn’t hit Pernell in the backside with a handful of buckshot,” author and historian Bert Sugar, who rated Whitaker No. 48 in a book on the 100 greatest boxers, told the Virginian-Pilot in 2006. “To me, a man wins a fight by imposing his will on the other man. When he did what he did and did it well, he imposed his will on everybody.”
Whitaker successfully defended those titles six times, the longest-ever run for a unified lightweight champion, before moving up in weight classes and winning titles in the junior welterweight, welterweight and light middleweight classes. He became a mainstay on HBO Sports in the process.
“Pernell Whitaker was beautiful — both as a fighter and as a human being," the network 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.”
Whitaker’s later career was overshadowed by drug use: A 1997 win was overturned after Whitaker tested positive for cocaine, and he served two years in prison on a drug possession charge after his final bout in 2001. More recently, in 2014 Whitaker won a court decision allowing him to evict his mother and two siblings out of the home he bought for them in 1984, which the former boxer said he needed to do to pay off debts.
Finishing with a career record of 40-4-1 with 17 knockouts, Whitaker was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007, his first year of eligibility.
Whitaker later became a trainer, guiding the likes of heavyweight contender Calvin Brock and Zab Judah, who won the IBF welterweight title under Whitaker’s guidance in 2011.
“I loved PW and he loved me — there was no doubt,” Kathy Duva, whose Main Events company promoted Whitaker throughout his career and who remained close to him after his retirement, 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.”
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