Pernell Whitaker, a left-handed defensive master in the boxing ring who won a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics and became a champion in four weight classes as a professional, was killed on Sunday when he was struck by a car in Virginia Beach. He was 55.
The Virginia Beach Police Department confirmed the death, saying he was crossing a street at night when he was hit. The driver of the car remained at the scene, and the police said they were investigating the incident.
Whitaker, known as Sweet Pea or Pete, was an elusive fighter who deftly avoided being hit, or hurt, by his opponents.
“He could stand in front of you and you couldn’t find him,” Jim Lampley, the longtime HBO boxing announcer, said in a phone interview. “He would smile at you and demonstrate to you, while smiling, how remarkably easy this was for him.”
Whitaker lost his first chance at a championship in 1988, but he rebounded the next year to win the International Boxing Federation world lightweight title from Greg Haugen. He then beat Rafael Pineda for the I.B.F. super lightweight title in 1992 and Buddy McGirt for the World Boxing Council welterweight belt in early 1993.
The victory over McGirt set him up for a much-anticipated fight against Julio Cesar Chavez at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Whitaker and Chavez, who was 87-0 at the time, were considered two of the greatest boxers, pound for pound, of their day. They offered contrasting styles: Whitaker was mobile and slippery, Chavez an aggressive attacker.
But in a fight that many observers thought Whitaker had won easily, two judges called it a draw and a third voted for Whitaker, leaving the fight ruled a draw.
“Last night it was like someone put a knife in me and twisted it,” Whitaker told Sports Illustrated the next day, irate at the decision. He added: “I mentally and physically beat him. I put an old-fashioned project beating on him. A housing authority beating. A ghetto beating.”
The draw let Whitaker hold onto the title, and he won his next eight fights, including one that brought him the World Boxing Association super welterweight title. He then faced the undefeated Oscar De La Hoya in 1997 for the W.B.C. welterweight belt.
Whitaker outpunched De La Hoya and scored the only knockdown, but the judges awarded De La Hoya a unanimous decision.
“I was robbed again,” Whitaker said afterward. “It was a blowout, a shutout. I couldn’t have performed better.”
The rematches that Whitaker wanted against De La Hoya and Chavez never happened.
Whitaker finished his career with a record of 40 wins, four losses and that one draw.
Pernell Whitaker was born on Jan. 2, 1964, in Norfolk, Va., one of seven children of Raymond and Novella Whitaker. A street fighter as a youngster, he learned to box at a local recreation center. At 10 he fought in the Norfolk Arena; by 13 he was battling sailors from the nearby naval base.
As an amateur, Whitaker won a silver medal at the 1982 World Boxing Championships, a gold at the Pan-American Games in 1983 and a gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, all in the 132-pound lightweight division.
Three months after the Olympics, he and several other members of the United States boxing team, among them Evander Holyfield and Mark Breland, made their professional debuts at Madison Square Garden in New York. Whitaker stopped his opponent, Farrain Comeaux, on a technical knockout late in the second round.
It was the first of Whitaker’s 15 consecutive victories through 1988, a pace that was slowed temporarily by an injury that kept him from fighting on a card at the Pavilion Convention Center in Virginia Beach in December 1985. But he still showed up at the arena — to marry his fiancée, Rovanda Anthony, in the ring after the evening’s last fight.
“I always wanted a church wedding,” Ms. Anthony said before the wedding. “But since we can’t seem to keep Pete out of the boxing ring, I guess this is the best place.”
The ring remained his best place until the loss to De La Hoya. He won his next fight by unanimous decision over Andrei Pestriaev, but the ruling was changed to no decision after Whitaker tested positive for cocaine. A planned fight in 1998 against Ike Quartey, then the W.B.A. welterweight champion, was scuttled when Whitaker again tested positive for cocaine.
When he returned to the ring in early 1999, he fractured his jaw in a decisive loss to Felix Trinidad for the I.B.F. welterweight title. He retired after being stopped, his shoulder injured, in the fourth round of a fight against Carlos Bojorquez in 2001.
In recent years, with the millions he had earned largely gone, Whitaker trained fighters, including Zab Judah, who won the I.B.F. world super lightweight title under Whitaker’s tutelage. He earned money at autograph shows as well.
He drew some news media attention in 2014 when he got into a dispute with his mother, leading him to evict her from the house he had bought her in Norfolk because she was not paying for its upkeep.
His survivors include his sons, Devon, Dominique and Dantavious, and his daughter, Tiara. His son Pernell Jr. died in 2015. His marriage ended in divorce.
Kathy Duva, the chief executive of Main Events, which promoted Whitaker’s fights, recalled telephone conversations between Whitaker and her husband, Dan, the president of Main Events, who died in 1996.
“I could hear Dan telling him, ‘I’ll get you an easy fight, for a breather,’ and Pete would say, ‘I don’t want no easy fights,’ ” she said. “Dan said, ‘I can get you a couple of million dollars,’ but Pete would say, ‘I don’t want no easy fights.’ ”