Mancuso: Reason They Called Him “Sweet Pea”

Pernell Whitaker was called “Sweet Pea” and the name fit. And from this perspective that was seen the first day we worked together at the boxing venue held in Los Angeles during the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.  He may have been better than, Meldrick Taylor, Virgil Hill, Tyrell Biggs, Frank Tate, Henry Tillman, Mark Breland all medal winners who went on to successful pro careers,

He stood out over Bronze Medal winner Evander Holyfield. Whitaker got the Gold. Of course, Holyfield got more headlines as heavyweight champion and a Boxing Hall of Famer.  And that 1984 team was the last of the best and may never be seen again.

Whitaker, a 2006 Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, was struck by a car in Virginia Beach and killed Sunday night.  Yes, he also battled some demons with drug addiction over the years, also something we all have been accustomed to hearing too much of with atheletes in our world of fun and games.

But that hot day in Los Angeles, mid July of 1984,  yours truly and others saw what was coming.Whitaker was perhaps the best defensive fighter of the modern era and many years before the rise of eventual Hall of Famer, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Back then, assigned to work the publicity venue of the 1984 boxing venue, He said, ‘Good afternoon. You from New York? I can tell the way you talk.’  Immediately that opened the door, he became a favorite.

Months later, “Sweet Pea” along with his Olympic teammates and medal winners, they had successful pro debuts under the Main Events promotional banner at Madison Square Garden. He remembered more of that initial conversation in July of 1984.

And so on this day, boxing lost another legend. He held world titles in four weight classes. Undisputed lightweight, championships at junior welterweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. The record, 40-4-1, with 17 KO’s

Oh that defense. That’s what made him “Sweet Pea.” 

Bert Sugar, the late boxing author and historian in a book co-authored with Teddy Atlas, “The Ultimate Lists of boxing”, ranked Whitaker second to Marvin Hagler as a top-10 southpaw. 

“Whitaker had a southpaw style that enabled him to run and hide at one and the same time, in what may be best described as a form of fistic break dancing.”

The draw with Julio Cesar Chavez, perhaps the most controversial fight in boxing history, said Sugar, “Crimes against the senses and others too numerous to mention.”  That fight and for the WBC Welterweight title, September of 1993, at the Alamodome in San Antonio Texas, Whitaker, according to CompuBox, outlanded Chavez 311-220. He landed 46 percent of his power punches vs. Chavez.



Troy Dorsey 620 L 12 Jorge Paez 126 2/4/90
Roman Gonzalez               594                     W 12 Katsunari Takayama 108            7/14/09
Philip Holiday 555 W 12 Ivan Robinson 135 12/21/96
John Molina 550 W 12 Manuel Medina 130 6/22/93
Jonnhy Perez 531 W 12 Joseph Agbeko 118 10/31/09
Joseph Agbeko 528 L 12 Jonnhy Perez 118 10/31/09
Pernell Whitaker 526 W 12 Santos Cardona 147 4/9/94
Daniel Zaragoza 504 W 12 W. McCullough 122 1/11/97
Fedor Chudinov 504 W 12 Frank Buglioni 168 9/26/15
Kassim Ouma 502 W 12 Kofi Jantuah 154 1/29/05

“He was a hell of a lefty,” Mark Medal said. The former super welterweight champion from Jersey City who sparred with Whitaker up in the Catskills where fighters often met back then.  Medal said those sparring sessions prepared him for successful wins and to the  IBF Super Welterweight title. They talked about meeting in the ring one day providing there was an opportunity at the right weight.

“Pernell did say, alright let’s do it,”Medal said. Of course, Mark Medal went his way with success  and “Sweet Pea” did it his way with better success and made a lot of money at the time.

 Medal often compares Whitaker to Terence Crawford, who holds a piece of the welterweight title and considered by many to be the top pound-for- pound fighter in boxing. 

“Incredible body puncher,” Medal said Monday afternoon. “His speed, power, agility, head movement. He reminded you of Crawford the way he came in. A great southpaw. He wasn’t a showman and came to fight.”

So the legacy was left. Pernell Whitaker made that mark in boxing history. Now in a totally different era of boxing, and where the complexion of the sport has changed, what still remains is the southpaw and how that definitely becomes an advantage against your opponent. 

He was called “Sweet Pea for a reason. It’s called the “Sweet Science for a reason.” And there was only one Pernell Whitaker.

Rest In Peace Champ.

Comment: [email protected]  Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

Get connected with us on Social Media