Everyone was getting in their best punch Monday night at the Salem Civic Center.
The holder of numerous weight championships, member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Gold Medalist at the 1984 Olympics, Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker entertained an enthusiastic crowd at the monthly meeting of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club.
Currently a boxing trainer in the Tidewater area, the 49-year-old Whitaker talked about the long years he has invested in the sport.
The native of Norfolk started boxing at age seven and officially began his career in 1972 at age 9. Looking much younger today than his actual years, Whitaker talked about his style of fighting that took him to the highest levels of the sport.
“I was a defensive fighter,” Whitaker pointed out. “I liked to hit and not be hit.”
Whitaker, who fought 50 professional fights in his career, going 46-4, remains involved in the sport and is now a big supporter of amateur boxing and youth; “I want to help kids better their boxing skills.”
Whitaker told the crowd that winning the gold medal at the ’84 Olympics was the most important thing he ever did. “I was a world champion for an entire decade, but the medal was the biggest achievement.”
Whitaker noted that at age seven, his first trainer was a mailman. “And, my nickname came in an unusual way,” he laughed. “I wanted to be called ‘Sweet Pete’, short for Pernell. But, a newspaper misspelled it ‘Sweat Pea’ and it stuck.”
“It’s a very, very tough, demanding sport,” Whitaker noted. “A lot of training and dedication goes into a single bout. Fighting for a million dollars is great if you keep winning. But, if you lose, the next time you fight you might be fighting for a hundred dollars.”
BILL TURNER sports story/photo