TRYING TO catch Pernell Whitaker was often, in the words of SI's William Nack, like "chasing wisps of ringside smoke." Never a big puncher, the boxer known as Sweet Pea instead relied on his evasiveness, waiting for his opponent to miss—and he would miss—and then pouncing. The strategy led to world titles in four divisions and a five-year run as The Ring magazine's best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
But Whitaker's style often left matters in the hands of judges, a notoriously shady group. Of Whitaker's four losses, one was a clear case of larceny, and one was at least petty theft. The biggest fight of his career, in front of 65,000 in the Alamodome against Julio César Chávez, ended in a draw so dubious that SI ran a photo of Whitaker connecting with Chávez over the word ROBBED!
Though he relied on feints on defense, Whitaker—who was fatally struck by a car on July 14—was captivating, both as a fighter and a personality. His fights, which drew the highest TV ratings of any nonheavyweight, were seldom boring. He pulled down Roger Mayweather's shorts mid-fight. And he once deftly maneuvered Buddy McGirt into a specific position in the ring just so he could mockingly wink at one member of McGirt's ringside posse who had worn a tuxedo. "We've got to put our tap shoes on," Whitaker explained. "I'm an entertainer."