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Iconic former boxing champ Pernell Whitaker dies after being struck by car

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Iconic former boxing champ Pernell Whitaker dies after being struck by car

Pernell Whitaker, an Olympic gold medalist and four-division champion who was regarded as one of the greatest defensive fighters ever, has died after being hit by a car in Virginia. He was 55.

Police in Virginia Beach said the former fighter was hit by a car Sunday night. The driver of the car remained on the scene, and police said they were investigating the circumstances of the death.

Sweet Pea was Whitaker's nickname, and it fit perfectly. He was a master of hitting and not getting hit back, a southpaw who slipped in and out of the pocket and rarely gave an opponent an opportunity to land a clean shot.

Whitaker won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles -- one of nine U.S. boxing champions that year -- and made his pro debut on national television. He advanced quickly, and was fighting for a major title by his 17th fight, a loss to Jose Luis Ramirez that he would avenge the next year.

But Whitaker was also known as the victim of one of the worst decisions in boxing, a draw that allowed Julio Cesar Chavez to remain unbeaten in their welterweight showdown before a crowd of more than 60,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio in 1993.

Four years later, Whitaker was on the losing end of another difficult decision against Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, a fight many ringsiders thought he had won.

"When you see the list of greatest boxing robberies in history they were both No. 1 and No. 2 on the list," said Kathy Duva, his longtime promoter. "And every list of top 10 fighters of all time he was on, too."

Whitaker was a champion in four weight classes, winning his first one with a 1989 decision over Greg Haugen at lightweight, in a professional career that spanned 17 years. He finished with a record of 40-4-1 and was a first ballot selection into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

His style was unique and effective, a hit-and-don't-be-hit strategy that was later adopted by a rising young fighter named Floyd Mayweather Jr. Whitaker and Mayweather never met in the ring, but Whitaker did win a decision over Mayweather's uncle, Roger, in 1987.

Still, it was two controversial decisions -- one a draw, the other a loss -- that may have defined his career more than anything.

The first came against Chavez, the Mexican great who was unbeaten in 87 fights when he and Whitaker met in a highly anticipated fight in San Antonio.

Whitaker came out in his trademark style, confusing Chavez and frustrating the Mexican champion. Chavez stalked Whitaker throughout the fight, but Whitaker wasn't there to be found for the most part, and when he traded punches with Chavez he seemed to get the better of the Mexican. Ringside statistics showed Whitaker landing 311 punches to 220 for Chavez, while throwing 153 more punches.

But when the decision came down, it was a draw that was roundly criticized throughout boxing.

"He would stand in the pocket and make everybody miss and frustrate the hell out of them," Duva said. "He said it was the most beautiful feeling in the world, to hit the other guy and not get hit."

Whitaker would go on to lose his next mega fight against De La Hoya, despite bloodying his opponent and seemingly out-boxing him over 12 rounds in their welterweight title fight. A poll of ringside writers showed the majority thought Whitaker won, and he thought so, too.

"Of course (I won) but that really doesn't matter," Whitaker said. "As long as the world saw it, then the people can say who won the fight. I should have gotten 10 out of 12 rounds. It was a shutout. For 12 rounds, he took punishment, he took a beating. He can have the title but we know who the best fighter is."

Whitaker's last big fight came near the end of his career, when Felix Trinidad scored a unanimous decision in their welterweight title fight at Madison Square Garden. He would fight only once more before retiring, and later worked as a trainer for fighters in the Virginia Beach area.

Former heavyweight champion George Foreman wrote on Twitter that Whitaker was one of the greats in the art of boxing.

"When I first saw "Pernell Sweet Pea Whitaker" in Training Camp; it was like watching a Cat with boxing gloves," Foreman said. "Best balance I'd ever seen in a Boxer."

Duva, whose Main Events company promoted all his fights, remembered Whitaker as being as sweet as his nickname. She said he was generous to a fault with a large group of family members, buying a house for many of them to live in before losing it after he retired from boxing.

Whitaker made millions in the ring -- $6 million for the De La Hoya fight alone -- but Duva said he had little left in the end.

"He wasn't a spender. He was very modest," she said. "But he was supporting an awful lot of people for a long time."

A native of Norfolk, Whitaker battled alcohol problems throughout his adult life, Duva said. He also served time in prison after violating his probation in 2003 on a conviction for cocaine possession.

But in recent years Whitaker had been happy going to boxing events and meeting fans and signing autographs. He was supposed to be a part of the Manny Pacquiao-Keith Thurman fight night Saturday in Las Vegas, where he was to be honored as a boxing legend.

"For years he wouldn't do those things," Duva said. "He found out that it was great, everybody was telling him how much they loved him and what a great fighter he was."

Duva said Whitaker was divorced and had four children. His family issued a statement saying the death was "one of the darkest moments in our lives."

Mystics semifinals opponents to get travel help from league

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Mystics semifinals opponents to get travel help from league

The start of the Mystics' first playoff series won't be marred by the semi-regular travel woes that plague the league's players during the regular season. 

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced on Sunday that the league will cover the cost of charter flights for Connecticut and Washington's opponents in both Game Ones in the semifinals round of the WNBA playoffs.

“With both second-round WNBA playoff games taking place in the Pacific Time Zone on Sunday and WNBA semifinals set to tip-off on Tuesday in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., the league has arranged and will cover costs for charter flights for the winners of Sunday’s games," she said in a statement released by the league. "We believe it is in the best interest of the players to provide them with an opportunity to arrive expeditiously in the city of the first game of the WNBA semifinals and have a full day on-site to practice, rest and prepare.”

WNBA players, who fly commercial flights, have often voiced concern about their travel arrangements.

Earlier this season, Elena Delle Donne wrote on Instagram that she was "sick of" taking commercial flights cross-country, citing a fellow passenger's derogatory remarks made while the Mystics were on a flight to Las Vegas. In 2018, the Mystics game against the Aces was canceled after the Las Vegas-based team's travel woes resulted in them traveling for reportedly 24 hours and arriving only a few hours before game time. 

The issue also was one of the central points in WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike's essay on The Player's Tribune in 2018 after players opted out of their CBA. Players have to renegotiate a deal before the 2020 season.

"This is not purely about salaries. This is about small changes the league can make that will impact the players," she said in the essay. "This is about a six-foot-nine superstar taking a red-eye cross-country and having to sit in an economy seat instead of an exit row. Often with delays. Imagine the last time you took a red-eye business trip and you sat in the middle seat with your knees all cramped up, and how shook you were for that entire rest of the day."

The top-seeded Mystics, who clinched a double-bye to the semifinals, start their postseason on Tuesday at home. 

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Beyond the Scoreboard: HBO teaming up with Belichick and Saban

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Beyond the Scoreboard: HBO teaming up with Belichick and Saban

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

  • From an agency perspective, the NFL is moving in the right direction. Rick recently sat down with Arnold Wright, Executive Vice President and co-head of consulting for Octagon. Wright brings NFL team, league, and player deals to life for sponsors including Castrol, Delta, Bank of America, and others. “The league is obviously an incredible platform that leaps up year to year in terms of ratings and engagement,” Wright said. “The on field action is also as good as it’s ever been.” From a global perspective, Wright says, “The international piece in particular has been great for the league. You continue to see key markets like the UK, Mexico, and even Brazil growing internationally. It’s bringing other brands into the NFL ecosystem from a partner and promotional perspective.” As for the NFL’s 100th season platform, Wright says, “The league has done a lot of really great work in terms of positioning themselves, celebrating the history of the league from a player and a fan perspective. They have demonstrated a real savviness around their marketing and their connectivity to fans. The league several years ago probably would not have demonstrated that level of flexibility in terms of their marketing and what you could do with their platforms. But that’s certainly changed.”
    • YouTube stars Logan Paul and KSI will make their professional boxing debut. Last year, the two online sensations faced each other in an exhibition fight that generated more than 1 million pay-per-view buys on YouTube. Now they will fight each other again – this time, in an official professional fight at in Logan’s hometown of Los Angeles at Staples Center on November 9. According to ESPN, the event will be a six-round cruiserweight fight streamed on DAZN and is sure to pack the house after last year’s sold out 57-57 majority draw that happened at Manchester Arena in KSI’s hometown of Manchester, England. They are both now professional boxers, have passed their required medical exams, and will meet at a launch news conference in Los Angeles on September 14, with another news conference to be scheduled in the United Kingdom. KSI and Paul have more than 40 million YouTube subscribers between them and should bring tons of new fans to the sport of boxing, while the sport’s traditional enthusiasts can relish undercard events that will feature an assortment of more established fighters in the boxing world.
    • HBO Sports and NFL Films are teaming on Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching, a feature-length film about the four-decade friendship between football coaches Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. According to Cynopsis Sports, the pair grant unprecedented camera access to their annual coaching retreat, where they share conversation about their interwoven history, admiration, coaching philosophies, and more. “Bill Belichick and Nick Saban have become the modern versions of Vince Lombardi and John Wooden – symbols of success not just in sports but in life,” said Ross Ketover, Chief Executive of NFL Films. “Their lessons on leadership are an inspiration; not just for those of us who love football but for anyone who wants to thrive at whatever passion they pursue.” The film is slated air in December on HBO. Belichick and Saban have both started their 2019 campaigns off with a bang, as Alabama handily won its first two games and the Patriots obliterated the Steelers 33-3 on Sunday night.