Boxing / 1984
Dream Team Part 3
The Aftermath After the Olympics, the country was riding a feel good wave of momentum. ABC had shown the Olympics to 180 million and boxing was one of the sports for which the intervening four years saw a maintained interest in the sport. The boxers were all aware of the commercial success of the 76 Olympians and wanted to cash in. The race was on to sign the prospects. It was won by Lou Duva and Shelly Finkel, signalling Main Events’ arrival as a true player in the boxing world, aiming to rival Don King and Bob Arum. The Main Events team had only chosen to sign five men though; Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield and Tyrell Biggs. Paul Gonzales missed the rest of 1984, owing to the injuries suffered at the Olympics. Jerry Page would also take a year, he wanted to remain in Columbus and another knee operation would hamper his progress .Frank Tate who had been with the Kronk Gym chose to instead sign with the Houston Boxing Association despite offers of a house and a car. Tillman was not signed by HBA but made his debut on the same card. Steve McCrory, desperate to follow in the footsteps of his brother, would fight with the Kronk stable. Robert Shannon, the only non medalist, saw a lack of interest and would turn professional also in September, to little fanfare. Finally, Virgil Hill would also find himself without much interest. Like the five starlets though, he would make his debut on ‘The Night of Gold,’ as part of a one fight deal with Duva. Held in Madison Square Garden, it was attended by almost 20,000 Tickets were free, something pushed by Mark Breland who felt he owed the fans something. To obtain tickets, written requests had to be made to the New York Daily News. There was a limit of four tickets per request. He also got “goldbusters” t-shirts printed up for the fighters. The card was shown on ABC on prime time Thursday night. Duva called it “a breath of fresh air for boxing.” This was despite struggles in the ratings, only receiving a 15% share of televisions used at that time, trailing Magnum PI and the Bill Cosby Show. Hill did not even manage to get a place on the televised card. Even yesterday as the chosen five weighed in wearing gold and orange sweatsuits emblazoned with ''Night of Gold.'' Hill was in simple blue sweats. As he later remarked “losing the final might possibly have cost me a great deal of money.'' That night, he was only paid $10,000 and fought in front of an almost empty MSG. His original opponent Pedro Monteiro failed his physical examination so Arthur Wright took the fight on short notice. Wright put up a fight early, landing a nasty left hook which only spurred Hill on. He would return the favour, going to the body and finishing him to the head at 2:05 in the second round. Taylor was next up and the most impressive that night. Along with the four television fighters, he entered to the Olympic theme. Taylor earned $55,000, not bad for an eighteen year old, but unfortunately his fight was not shown on television. His opponent Luke Lecce spotted an 11-2-1 record and had recently gone nine rounds with Charlie Brown, who went on to challenge for a world title at lightweight. Taylor wasted him in the first round. Right from the onset, he was too quick, his combinations landing at will. It was a fight that ending in him retiring from boxing. Evander Holyfield would take on Lionel Byarm, 9-1-2, known as the Brown Bomber because of an uncanny resemblance to Joe Louis. The pair decided to trade at close range, Holyfield winning a unanimous decision with scores of 60-54, 59-55 and 58-56. Byarm believed he hurt Holyfield when he went to the body and heard him grimace in the fourth. He stated Holyfield was not as big of a puncher as claimed but did predict someday he would become a champion. Whitaker would be matched against the unbeaten Farrain Comeaux. Whitaker was merciless throughout the fight, smiling throughout the rounds as he landed vicious hooks almost at will. It was finally stopped at the end of the second round. An early version of Compubox being trialed ringside, counted that Whitaker landed 94 punches in that time, 78 of them clean shots to the head, with Comeaux only landing ten punches. Tyrell Biggs was perhaps the disappointment of the night against Mike Evans, most famous for appearing in a Bud Light commercial. Biggs was unable to pry open a landing spot for his punches and the fight was a bore decision win for Biggs. Six weeks after his debut, Biggs could be found in a California hospital, being treated for “alcohol and drug abuse.” It was a cycle that had begun in high school and Biggs never really got out of until much later. Biggs, Holyfield and Whitaker all earned $75,000. Breland was set to be the star of the night, earning $100,000, part of the richest contract ever signed by an amateur. Breland would take on 7-1 Dwight Williams. Breland described it as “the toughest fight I ever had." Williams looked to come forward early throwing wild punches. Breland reminded composed, mainly punching behind the jab which reduced Williams to a punchbag, intent on survival. He managed to survive, with the Breland performance a bit disappointing despite winning a decision. Tillman was sitting ringside that day, a day after it was announced his debut would come the following month alongside Jerry Tate. He summed up the likely feelings of all the other Olympians stating “I'd have liked to be out there with my teammates. It would have been like it was in L.A. I guess (the promoters) had their five guys, and that was it. I don't know why.” Tate and Tillman would mark there debuts with wins, although both overcame adversity. For Tate it was a nasty bout of chicken pox about a month prior to the bout which left him weak. Tillman’s adversity came in the bout when he was knocked down in the first round. Tillman would get up and finish future world champion Uriah Grant off with an uppercut right hand combination. McCrory would debut on the undercard of the Hagler v Hamsho title bout and stop Jeff Hanna in the fourth round. 1984 ended with all the team either unbeaten, ranging from 1-0 to 3-0, or still not turned professional. The final two would turn over in 1985. Page had received numerous offers, reaching $60,000, but the operation saw many see him as damaged goods. He ended up making his debut for $10,000 in 1985. Gonzales would cash in comparatively, giving $40,000 for his debut, the same amount that Sugar Ray Leonard received for his debut. That was from CBS-TV and Gonzales was described by Mort Shannon as “handsome, a great smile and the most stylish fighter.” The only problem - making America fall in love with a smaller fighter. His opponent for the debut was Jose Torres, coming off a loss to Charlie Magri. Gonzales dominated every round on his way to a decision win. By the end of 1985, all twelve remained unbeaten with a combined record of 82-0-1. That draw came as Steve McCrory took on the man who would become EBU Champion, Louis Gomis. 1986 would be the year where many would sink or swim. The challenges would come as early as February. Paul Gonzales would have his first twelve round fight, overcoming Alonzo Gonzalez. A broken knuckle would mean he never really capitalised on the momentum from the win. Robert Shannon would find himself drawing with Daniel Garcia and then Karry Allen in March. That would also be the month where Tyrell Biggs would break his collarbone when taking on Jeff Sims, keeping him out of the ring for a while. Mark Breland was enjoying his time in the professional ring, still touted by many as a mega prospect and would get a chance to take on the only man to have ever beaten him, Darryl Anthony. Anthony had out-jabbed him in the amateurs and Breland was determined it would not happen again. He got his own jab off first and landed punishing blows until the doctor stopped the fight in the third round. That summer would see the first defeat for the Dream Team as professionals. Henry Tillman would take on Bert Cooper for the NABF Title, that Tillman had won by impressively stopping Bash Ali. He was supposed to have been fighting Carlos De Leon for a world title but the Puerto Rican pulled out. Instead Tillman and Cooper would throw bombs at each other, Tillman dropped twice in the second round, but boxing beautifully against the aggressive Cooper. The aggressiveness of Cooper coupled with the two knockdowns were enough to seal a close decision win for Cooper. The first world title challenge of the group would come in July. Evander Holyfield would take on the tough Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA Title in a bout that many suspected came too soon. It would be an all time classic, The Ring magazine called it the 46th greatest title fight of all time in 1996. Holyfield wore a t-shirt on Friday that simply stated “I’m going to win.” Many weren’t so sure, believing his gas tank was poor and if Qawi survived the early rounds he would go on to take the victory. Holyfield would take the early rounds but Qawi would survive and in round four it seemed as though Holyfield had hit the wall. Holyfield would get his second win though and soon they were taking turns stunning each other with big shots and barely a break to be seen. Holyfield was the slight busier of the pair, throwing 1290 and landing 629. His stiff jab and swift does to the side probably earned him the win. He took a split decision (147-138, 144-140 and 141-143) while being cheered on by teammates Breland, Biggs, Whitaker and Taylor. He earned $100,000 for the win. The following weekend would see the second man challenge for a world title. The impatient Steve McCrory demanded Emmanuel Steward find him a title bout. Steward would protest it was too early but a bout with Jeff Fenech was set up anyway. Fenech dominate a dirty fight as the two men looked to fight inside the pocket. The judges had it scored so only the sixth and seventh rounds went unanimously to McCrory. McCrory was dropped in the thirteenth and did not recover heading into the next round. Fenech would pin him on the ropes and unloaded a barrage of punches forcing the referee to step in. Meldrick Taylor would take on ‘76 Val Barker Trophy winner Howard Davis. It was a draw, that could have gone either way. Paul Gonzales got himself a huge win in only his fourth fight, getting off the canvas to defeat future world champion Orlando Canizares. Another reversal would come for the team when Robert Shannon took on Greg Richardson for the NABF Super Bantamweight Title. He lost a majority decision to the future world champion. McCrory also took his second loss when trying to rebound against Jose Sanabria.1986 ended with one world champion and a combined record of 140-4-4. Whitaker begun 1987 winning the NABF Title with a victory over Roger Mayweather. The second world champion would come a few weeks later with Mark Breland stopping Harold Volbrecht to win the vacant WBA Title. The awkward South African made him work hard but Breland would corner him and finish him with the right. A week later, two members of the dream team would clash for the first time. Evander Holyfield would defend his title against Henry Tillman. Holyfield looked in constant control and when he begun to land vicious uppercuts it was only a matter of time, finally stopping Tillman in the seventh. Robert Shannon would have another loss against Jose Sanabria before the most shocking loss yet occurred. Mark Breland defended against Marlon Starling and although he took a lead, Starling would tired him with body punches before finishing him with three hard rights and a left hook in the eleventh. His spot as a Dream Team World Champion would be replaced by Virgil Hill. He would take on Leslie Stewart is his 19th fight, who won the title off Marvin Johnson. Hill would stop Stewart in the fourth round, becoming the third Dream Team World Champion. Number four was just around the corner. Frank Tate was a heavy underdog taking on Michael Olajide for the IBF Championship vacated by Sugar Ray Leonard. Olajide was seen as a future star whilst Tate was a lesser respected Olympian. Tate came in and gave Olijade fits with his power and accuracy winning a wide decision. Also in October would be arguably the most anticipated bout for any Olympian up to that point as Tyrell Biggs would take on Mike Tyson. Tyson was beginning to show his cracks but the 21 year old was still an undefeated terror at that point. Biggs was seen as a challenge for Tyson and his trash talking before the fight meant Tyson wanted to punish him. After a tight opening round that was exactly what happened. Tyson consistently landed strong punches and in the seventh round it was finally stopped. Another loss came for Henry Tillman, as he lost to journeyman Dwain Bonds. Evander Holyfield had carried on looking impressive, defending his title twice before a rematch with Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Holyfield would dominate this time, stopping Qawi in the fourth round. By the end of 1987 there was three world champions, with another four who had lost their title shots. Mark Breland had won a title at the start of the year before losing it. The record of the team was 187-9-4. The eighth member to receive a world title shot would be Pernell Whitaker, coming in March. It came against the highly rated Jose Luis Ramirez, who would win a split decision despite the majority of people believing Whitaker had won. Henry Tillman would take on Willie DeWitt who he had beat in the Olympic final. This time he lost by unanimous decision. Mark Breland would also take part in a rematch, for him, it came against Marlon Starling. Most onlookers believe Starling was comfortable, Breland struggling to put together punches, but the judges scored it a draw. Evander Holyfield would continue his dominance in a unification bout with Carlos De Leon, stopping the tough Puerto Rican in the eighth before a move up to heavyweight. Jerry Page had won eight bouts before a fight against Vinnie Pazienza for $25,000 was scheduled but an injury got the fight called off, Page chose to move up and take on arguably a tougher opponent in Terrence Alli for only $12,500. He regretted his decision, claiming “I had nothing left after making weight,” and losing a clear decision to the former world title challenger. Paul Gonzales, still riddled with self inflicted injuries including a broken ankle and knee damage when stepping over the door of his red corvette, was handed his first defeat against Ray Medel. Mort Sharnik would describe him as “becoming too absorbed in himself, not concentrating on the fight life.” Frank Tate would lose his title to Michael Nunn after fading late and being stopped in the ninth. Meldrick Taylor would win a world title, stopping Buddy McGirt for the IBF Title. Another Olympic rematch would take place as Biggs fought Francesco Damiani. The Italian would open a cut up over Biggs’ right eye which led to the referee stopping the bout. That year members of the team went 25-7-1. 1989 was a quieter year. Mark Breland won the WBA Title with a first round stoppage against Seung-Soon Lee. Robert Shannon, Tyrell Biggs and Jerry Page would also suffer more losses while Paul Gonzales’ coach turned up drunk and wrapped his hands so badly it cut off the circulation. The star though was Pernell Whitaker. He won the IBF Title off Greg Haugen before unifying the decision by avenging his defeat to Jose Luis Ramirez. 1990 would mark the end of two careers. Robert Shannon would finish with an 18-6-2 record and go on to become a professional barber in Washington; his biggest purse, only $10,000. Jerry Page would also retire with a record of 11-4. In retirement he would work the corners of fighters such as Manny Galloway and Darrin Allen before going on to work full time for the Department of Corrections at a nearby prison, with his gold medal in a draw. The action in the ring would continue with two of the best remembered fights for the team. Meldrick Taylor famously led Julio Cesar Chavez going into the final round. As the Mexican poured on the pressure, referee Richard Steele would wave it off in the final moments of the fight. Evander Holyfield would take on Buster Douglas, coming off his shock over Mike Tyson. Holyfield dominated a sluggish, overweight Douglas to become the unified, undisputed heavyweight champion. Mark Breland would lose his title to 6-1 underdog Aaron Davis, knocked out by a picturesque overhand right. Frank Tate lost a world title attempt against Lindell Holmes. Tillman would go full circle with Tyson, taking him on as a professional. Tyson was dominant this time, his power obvious, as he stopped Tillman in the first round. Another rematch came, as Paul Gonzales was granted a world title shot against a man he had previously defeated, Orlando Canizales. Once again, the form would be reversed as Canizales dished out a beating, stopping Gonzales in the second round on cuts. 1991 would see Paul Gonzales retire, finishing on a 16-4 record. He fought three times that year earning $10,500 and back living with his Mother. He would give back to young people, working for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and mentors young boxers. This year though, his story took a nasty turn as he was arrested for committing lewd acts on a child. Steve McCrory would also retire that year after losses to Jesse James Leija and Stephane Haccoun finishing with a 30-5-1 record. He died in 2000 following a prolonged battle with illness with there being suggestions he battled with alcohol and drugs. Mark Breland would also retire, only to return a few years later. The retirement was rough on by a defeat to Jorge Vaca, Emmanuel Steward claiming he “shouldn’t be Breland’s sparring partner.” Elsewhere it was a bad year for other members of the team. Tyrell Biggs was starting to be positioned as a gatekeeper, losing to young contender Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis. Virgil Hill lost his world title against Thomas Hearns. He entered the fight as favourite, earning over $1 million but struggled to get past the sensational jab of Hearns. Meldrick Taylor made up for his teammates by getting revenge over Aaron Davis, winning the WBA Title. The aggressive Philly fighter stayed on top of Davis, but learned from his Chàvez defeat, getting on his bike with the fight sealed to win a comfortable decision. Taylor would move up to Light Middleweight to take on Terry Norris the following year. Once again the Philly instincts to fight would cost Taylor. He would look to work inside against the stronger Norris, Norris finishing him in the fourth with some great right hands. A return to Welterweight seems a good idea to get Taylor back to his best but he was pummelled by Crisanto Espana. The second matchup between two Dream Team members took place as Frank Tate clashed Virgil Hill for the vacant WBA Title. Hill would win the title by unanimous decision. The final unbeaten member of the team, also saw his first loss as Evander Holyfield was defeated by Riddick Bowe. With that loss, Pernell Whitaker took over the mantle as the number one, moving up to Light Welterweight and taking the IBF Title off Rafael Pineda. It would also be the final time we saw Henry Tillman in the ring, as he lost to Terry Davis finishing with a record of 25-6. His turn around had seen him volunteering at Rebuild L.A and working with youngsters. Unfortunately a gambling addiction brought him down, and he served a sentence for attempted murder and manslaughter. As of late though he is back in the public eye, training heavyweight contender Charles Martin. Five men had retired at the end of 1992 but others on the team were also on their the way out. Tyrell Biggs would never get back to the same heights, eventually retiring in 1998 with a 30-10 record. Frank Tate would get one more world title shot, a rematch with Virgil Hill but he would again lose a decision, ending with a 41-5 record. Meldrick Taylor was also on the decline. He got one more world title shot, a rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, but this time was dominated and stopped in eight. His final record was 38-8-1. He has since gone on to suffer from dementia. Breland did eventually return in 1996, going unbeaten for five fights. The opponents he took on were not at a high level though and he retired with a record of 35-3-1. The other three men were all still champion or championship level fighters. Virgil Hill would unify the titles with a split decision victory over Henry Maske. He attempted to add another world title to his collection against Dariusz Michalczewski. Hill was hampered by a leg injury and would lose a close decision. On his return things would not get any easier as he took on Roy Jones Jr. He became another victim on the Jones’ highlight reel, going down to a vicious body shot. He would return at Cruiserweight, winning the WBA Title by stopping Fabrice Tiozzo in the first round. He lost the title against Jean Marc Mormeck, failing in a rematch when attempting to win back the title. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 but returned to the ring for a farewell fight in Bismarck, North Dakota which he won, leaving him with a 51-7 record. Since his retirement he has been working as a coach and is also a spokesperson for the USABAA. Pernell Whitaker was the first ‘84 Olympian inducted into the Hall of Fame. He became a three weight world champion by defeating Buddy McGirt and then the fourth when beating Julio Cesar Vasquez. A draw against Julio Cesar Chavez which many believed he won perhaps robbed him of a signature win. He ended his career with four negative results. Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad both got decision victories over him with a victory against Andrey Pestryaev overturned for drug use. His final fight came in 2001, stopped on the doctor’s advice by Carlos Bojorquez. He battled drug addiction after his retirement and according to some during his career. His legacy will probably see the majority of people rate him as the greatest boxer from the dream team. He is one of the best defensive boxers of all time and held the number one spot on most pound for pound rankings to begin the nineties. The member of the Dream Team held with the most reverence of the fans was actually Evander Holyfield. He would win back the Heavyweight Title four times, defeating old rival Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson twice. He would have defeats to Chris Byrd, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe and James Toney in his prime. He eventually retired in 2011 after a win over Brian Nielsen, finishing with a record of 44-10-2. The Ring rated him as the 22nd greatest fighter of the past 80 years in 2002. Like Whitaker, he squandered most of his money and was also accused of using drugs. He has recently turned his hand to promoting and according to marketing technology company Amobee, in 2017, he was the sixth most famous boxer alive. He is the one of the most recognisable faces and names in boxing. The Dream Team goes down as the most successful team ever, with six members becoming world champions. Four other members fought for world titles. The combined record was 377-71-8. Given the changing landscape of boxing, it could be the final time that such a team comes together in one place. Since the ‘84 Olympics, America has not managed to win as many total boxing gold medals as they managed that year. Every Olympics seems to bring through a special talent, but the impressiveness of the team diminishes. In ‘88 it was Roy Jones Jr, Oscar De La Hoya in ‘92, Floyd Mayweather in ‘96. Jermain Taylor, Andre Ward, Deontay Wilder and Errol Spence were the following four Games whilst it is too soon to assess the 2016 Games. It has not only seen the decline of American dominance, but their historical rival Cuba has also lost some of its might. More countries than ever are competitive in boxing and winning medals. America has also begun to have less people on the pound for pound lists and dominating boxing. It has become a universal sport which makes the likelihood of another Dream Team, very low.
Dream Team Part 2
The Games The Games were opened with one of the most thrilling opening ceremonies ever at the Coliseum, including a man in a jet pack. The boxing would take place next to the Coliseum, at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Mark Breland would be the only American competing on day one, the hype around summed up by the commentator describing him as having had more publicity than Sugar Ray Leonard at the same point in his career. His first opponent was Wayne Gordon (Canada) who believed Breland could be beat. It was obvious how talented Breland was that day, boxing behind his long jab and quick reflexes, he was very hard to hit, although Gordon showed some flaws. Breland would too often throw single punches and could be pinned on the ropes. The aggressive Canadian would even give Breland a standing count, an overhand right wobbling him, a warning for what would come in the professionals. Despite this though he would get the decision victory and promise to be better. Day two would see two Americans enter the fray. Gonzales would set the tone for the whole tournament with a great victory. He was drawn against the number one ranked boxer; Kim Kwang-Sun (South Korea), who would himself go on to win gold at the 1988 Olympics. Gonzales made that ranking look silly. He knocked down Kim in the first round and would then give him a standing count in the same round. Whenever Kim attempted to make his way inside, Gonzales would use his speed and range to land blistering straight punches. Virgil Hill also got his campaign started. He took on Edward Neblett (Barbados) and would stop him in the second round after five left hooks landed. Neblett claimed after “I would have beaten him, I can’t believe the ref stopped it,” but in ring his protestations were a lot more muted. For Hill though, it was a big performance. Just days before the Olympics, he had fallen sick with a 103-degree fever. It meant he was eight pounds overweight just four days before the game. The American team were ready to replace him with Michael Nunn, only for Hill to recover in time. The North Dakotan grew up on a small ranch and was inspired after watching the Golden Gloves, beginning training when he was eight. He is a Native American who drew a huge crowd in his hometown. Former mayor Bill Sorenson described Hill as “the only show in town; our professional franchise.” Day three saw another three Americans scheduled to fight. Only two would though. Steve McCrory was scheduled to take on Tad Joseph (Grenda), but Joseph, enjoying the American treats would eat himself out of his weight division. Fellow Kronk boxer Frank Tate would also get the win, however this was not met with the rousing response that the Americans were used to. Tate won a unanimous decision over Lofti Ayed (Sweden) but many disagreed. Tate boxed behind his jab while Ayed looked to work his way past the jab with his aggression. When the decision was announced, the American fans booed. Evander Holyfield would also compete, intelligently pressing Taju Akay (Ghana). After a flurry on the ropes led to Akay receiving his first standing count, Holyfield would press on and stop him in the third round. Mark Breland looked more comfortable in his second bout. He was utterly dominant against Carlos Reyes (Puerto Rico), dropping him twice and also handing him two standing eight counts. It was finally stopped in the third round. Jerry Page made his debut that day beating Helmut Gertel (West Germany) winning a close, but unanimous decision. The fifth day would see the Americans get to ten victories with no defeats. Meldrick Taylor eventually got past the southpaw jab of Nicolae Talpos (Romania) and worked the body to win a unanimous decision. He also started the bout by handing Talpos a tiny American flag which the Romanian claimed would be a “treasured gift.” Robert Shannon took the fight to his opponent in Sammy Mwangi (Kenya). Shannon was a tad overenthusiastic, looking for the stoppage, although he did get a knock down in the third round. The action in the second round was completed the following day when Pernell Whitaker took on Omar Adolfo Mendez (Nicaragua). He claimed his teammates had discuss how no one had shocked the crowd and Whitaker wanted to be that guy. In the third round of the bout, while standing in the middle of the ring, he flashed a crossover backstep against his Central American opponent and then blind-sided Mendez with a solid left to the head. The punch landed cleanly, but also surprised referee Roman Szramkowski, who interrupted to caution Whitaker for turning his back on his opponent - which, in fact, the American boxer never did. Whitaker smiled at the referee, shrugged his shoulders and then finished pummelling Mendez on his way to a decision victory. The third-round bouts also begun that day. Virgil Hill got a comfortable win over Brain Schumacher (Great Britain). Tyrell Biggs would take on Isaac Barrientos (Puerto Rico), who had only fought in eight bouts prior to the Olympics. Biggs won a comfortable decision, but the critics were not impressed. Neither was the crowd, who begun to boo during the bout. Barrientos stated after the bout that “what Biggs does in the ring is theatrics, I don’t think he will win the gold easily.” Biggs stated, “I don’t have to stand there and prove my manhood.” The following day would see the American fans thirst for stoppages sated. Steve McCrory would pressure Fausto Garcia (Mexico), dropping him twice with right hands before the referee called an end to the bout. Holyfield was also impressive, working at a high rate, almost constantly landing shots on Ismail Salman (Iraq). It was a left hook that finally finished the fight, with Holyfield looking increasingly dangerous. Paul Gonzales also got a win that day, a comfortable decision victory over William Bagonza (Uganda). The first loss for an American came the following day, in what many believed was the bout of the tournament. Robert Shannon took on Moon Sung Kil (South Korea). Moon was behind on four of the five scorecards, struggling with the aggressive style of Shannon. The two had gone to war, with the 9,814 inside the building standing on their feet. Shannon ended the second-round giving Moon a standing count. Whilst in the neutral corner, Shannon blew a kiss at the crowd before rushing in, looking to finish. Moon would instead be the one to land a punch, connecting with a huge overhand right which dropped Shannon. He piled the pressure on the American and a big right hand finally caused the referee to jump in with a minute and 46 seconds left in the final round. Shannon would find himself in tears on Pat Naggi’s shoulders in the ring. He stated afterwards “I learned in that bout, you can’t just go out there and slug with everyone.” Shannon was still important in Los Angeles, being the team barber, charging $2 for a trim. It was a job he would later have, when retired from boxing. The Americans would not have to wait long to get back to winning ways. Jerry Page said the defeat gave him new resolve to avoid defeat. He boxed well behind the jab in the first round, before getting aggressive in the second when he realised Octavio Robles (Mexico) couldn’t hurt him. Learning lessons from Shannon, he chose to not engage wildly in the third, winning a comfortable unanimous decision. Taylor beat his teammate Francisco Camacho (Mexico), with his strong body attack opening up his straight right on his way to a unanimous victory. Pernell Whitaker also got a big win over Geoffrey Nyeko (Uganda), winning a unanimous decision. The fans were back to booing an American boxer the following day as Mark Breland got a victory over Rudel Obreja (Romania). Breland boxed comfortably behind the jab, but hardly ever stretched himself. He was booed at the end of the fight and when the decision was announced. Henry Tillman would have his first bout, having waited nine days. He used his head movement to get under the punches of Kaliq Singh (India) and land a right hand to the body, before coming upstairs and dropping him with a big right hand. As Singh arose, Tillman would land a combination of punches, knocking him through the ropes prompting the referee to jump in. Tate almost moved through with a unanimous victory over Romolo Casamonica (Italy). There were eleven Americans in the quarter finals and six of them would box on the first day of quarter finals. McCrory was first up against Peter Ayesu (Malawi), getting a wide unanimous victory, outclassing the Malawi fighter. Jerry Page followed up against Kim Dong-Kil (South Korea), a victory that would cause controversy as the South Koreans put in a protest and threatened to walk out after Page won a split decision. The two battled in a slugfest, with Page giving Kim a standing eight count to end the second round. The Korean just kept on coming but Page was landing powerful shots of his own. Despite that, the crowd were booing when the decision was announced. Virgil Hill followed it up with victory over Damir Skaro (Yugoslavia), in a lacklustre bout where some saw him as lucky. He used mainly his left hand, winning a split decision. The two best performances came from Mark Breland and Evander Holyfield. Breland dropped the aggressive Genaro Leon (Mexico) in the first 30 seconds of the bout and then again at the end of the round, finishing him. Holyfield would stop another opponent in the first round. This time it was Syivaus Okello (Kenya). The final bout of the evening was Paul Gonzales. He took on John Lyon (Great Britain), overcoming a sluggish first round to land strong jabs in the face of his opponent. He bloodied Lyon, but could only win a split decision, promising better in the following rounds. Tyrell Biggs came up against young Lennox Lewis (Canada), who would go on to win gold at the following Olympics. He was forced to fight a greater deal at close range here, but worked the body of Lewis successfully on his way to a unanimous decision victory. Meldrick Taylor also had a tough bout, struggle at times to penetrate the defence of John Wanjau (Kenya). He did manage to stop Wanjau in the third round, stinging his right eye closed forcing the referee to intervene. Whitaker was once again arguably the most impressive, stinging Reiner Gies (West Germany) with strong right hands and showboating in the final round. Tate also got a first round stoppage beating Christopher Kapopo (Zambia). Henry Tillman took on Tevita Taufoou (Tonga). Tillman would drop the Tongan, with a short, straight hand with only three seconds left in the second round. Although, he managed to get back to his feet the referee decided to wave it off, despite protestations. Into the semi finals and the Americans had guaranteed themselves eleven medals. Paul Gonzales got the victory against Marcelino Bolivar (Venezuela) in a close, but clear fashion. Steve McCrory was a level above Eyup Can (Turkey) and got another unanimous decision which included some showboating after giving him a standing count in the second. Once again, Meldrick Taylor showed his immense ability against Omar Catari (Venezuela). Most impressively, he dropped Catari with a brilliant lean followed by a punishing right hand on his way to a decision victory. Pernell Whitaker was wary of Chun Chil-Sung (South Korea) after the two had sparred and Chun knocked some gold out of the teeth of Whitaker. Whitaker did not need to worry, he handed out another boxing lesson barely being touched. Jerry Page was the winner of another clear decision, when beating World Championship bronze medalist Mirko Puzovic (Yugoslavia). Mark Breland was dominant if not impressive against Luciano Bruno (Italy) but bruised the tendons in the back of his right hand. Frank Tate got the easiest path of all, receiving a walkover against Manfred Zielonka (West Germany) because of a broken right hand. Virgil Hill cruised over Mohamed Zaoui (Algeria) to another decision victory. Tillman also got a win over Angelo Musone (Italy) but it was nowhere near as easy. Originally he lost a 3-2 split decision, but under rules which saw every 3-2 reviewed by a jury, it was overturned 4-1. Boos once again rained down from the crowd, whilst the Italian Press described the decision as ‘scandalous’ and ‘hallucinatory.’ Also cruising to a win was Tyrell Biggs, who beat Azis Salihu (Yugoslavia). The final semi final was between Evander Holyfield and Kevin Barry (New Zealand). Holyfield had been one of the most impressive boxers of the tournament and looked on his way to winning the Val Barker Trophy. He started off well against Barry, scoring a standing eight count in the first round and hurting him several times. Barry had retreated into survival mode and was warned twice for holding Holyfield. Basically, the fight was well on its way to being over. When the referee instructed the pair to stop, Holyfield was already throwing a left hook. He landed the punch, dropping Barry. The Yugoslav referee Gligorije Novicic would disqualify Holyfield with Barry unable to continue. Holyfield was stunned but nothing compared to coach Pat Nappi who had to be restrained from charging into the ring by assistant Roosevelt Sanders. The crowd was dismayed, with people throwing things into the ring. As ever, Holyfield remained dignified, despite his Olympic dreams being dashed. Finals day saw America with ten competitors. The first was Paul Gonzales. Instead of winning his gold in the ring though, he was handed it by walkover as opponent Salvatore Todisco (Italy) pulled out due to a broken thumb. Gonzales revealed that he had himself been injured in his second fight, the muscles in his right arm were in a bad way,. The confident fighter claimed “I never worried; I could have won one-handed.'' Gonzales went up on the podium with two flags in his hand - one of the USA and the other of Mexico. He told reporters, "I won this gold medal, not just for myself or my mom or my coach, but the for the kids like me who are always told, "You're nothing"." He had attempts to bring his Mother up on the podium but it wasn’t allowed. Instead she wept in the crowd as the gold medal was draped around his neck. He described himself as “so proud of who I was.” It would get better for Gonzales was awarded the Val Barker Trophy for the Outstanding Boxer at the Games, voted on by the IABF (International Amateur Boxing Federation) members. Steve McCrory would come up against Redzep Redzepovski (Yugoslavia), who had controversially defeat Jeff Fenech, earlier in the tournament. McCrory would guarantee a gold medal heading into the final. He got the gold medal with a 4-1 split decision victory. It was also a hard-fought victory for Meldrick Taylor against Peter Konyegwachie (Nigeria) with a few suggesting he got lucky with the decision. Pernell Whitaker was again incredibly impressive, beating Luiz Ortiz (Puerto Rico). He used his superb defensive reflexes and counter punching to dominate, with the corner retiring Ortiz with three seconds left in the second round. Jerry Page, who many believed was lucky to even make it to the final, took on Dhawee Umponmaha (Thailand) and got a decision victory. ABC announcer Howard Cosell described the match as one of the greatest fights he had seen. The Thai officials believed their man had been treated unfairly. Mark Breland would take on an aggressive An Young Su (South Korea). The first round was slow but Breland grew into the contest, landing big straight punches in the second round, eventually dropping Su with a left hook. Frank Tate upset the favourite Shawn O’Sullivan (Canada). The powerful Canadian gave Tate two counts in the second round, coming close to stopping Tate. Tate stayed away from O’Sullivan in the third round behind his jab but most believed O’Sullivan had done enough. Instead Tate was given a unanimous decision, a decision that was booed by the American crowd. Even Emmanuel Steward, coach of Tate, admitted that O’Sullivan may have won. Virgil Hill was on the other side of a disputed decision against Joon Sup Shin (South Korea). The first and third rounds were incredibly close as the two men look to engage in war, whilst Shin took the second. Two judges scored the victory to either men, whilst the fifth had it even. Obliged to pick a winner, he went with Shin, a decision that was upheld by the appeals jury. The only action in the Light Heavyweight division came when the medals were handed out. Barry had lifted Holyfield’s arm after the fight suggesting he should have been the victor and on the medal platform Anton Josipovic, lifted Holyfield up to the gold medal platform with him, allowing him to take the applause from the crowd. Doug DeWit (Canada) was favoured over Henry Tillman given he had twice defeated him. This time though, it was Tillman who got the victory. A unanimous decision was probably fairly fortunate but a robbery would be a stretch. The Olympics were also the place where Tillman met his future wife, Gina Hemphill who was the granddaughter of Jesse Owens and had been a torchbearer. It was another workmanlike victory in the Super Heavyweight division as Tyrell Biggs got a split decision victory over Francisco Damiani. America had won nine golds, a silver and a bronze.
The Gold Team Part One
“Dream Team” tends to evoke memories of various dominant sporting teams. The 1992 Olympic Basketball team is usually the team referenced but a strong Barcelona team in the early 90s, the Philadelphia Eagles of 2011 and the ‘95 Puerto Rican baseball team have all been called a dream team. Boxing, as an individual sport has not seen many dream teams. The American Olympic team in 1984 earned that title. They won 11 medals in 12 weight classes, only one man not managing to medal. Nine went on to challenge for world titles. The Olympics was slightly tainted by the Soviet boycott which also meant Cuba missed out on the Olympics but the success the American team went on to enjoy at the professional level shows the amount of sheer talent they had in that team. It also arguably marked a decline in American boxing. Since that Olympics, 30 years ago, they have won less gold medals in total than they managed that year. The Build Up The 1984 Olympic Games must be framed in the context of the Soviet boycott. Mainly seen as retaliation for the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics by the United States, the Soviet Union declared it was to avoid the “anti-Soviet hysteria whipped up in the United States.” This meant that the USSR, East Germany and Cuba all missed out on the tournament. These countries had combined for all but six of the finalists in 1980. They chose to concurrently hold the Friendship Games. Cuba dominated that, winning all but one gold medal themselves with East Germany taking the other. It obviously impacted the American medal count positively, although you could still argue the American team was probably good enough to have still broken the boxing gold medal record. Prior to 1984, the dream team had referred to the 1976 US Olympic team. They won five gold medals against strong Cuban and Soviet teams. The undoubted star was Sugar Ray Leonard and I think the memory of Leonard being part of that team tends to elevate it in the minds of fans. Howard Davis was the boxer of the tournament but would go on to struggle as a professional, never winning a world title. It also had the two Spinks brothers, Leon and Michael who impressed both at the Olympics and then as professionals. The other gold medal winner was Leo Randolph. Argument still rage as to which team deserves to be labelled the dream team. That team laid the path for the ‘84 team. The exposure they received from newspapers and tv had helped, along with Ali, revitalise boxing in America. Going into the Olympics, more of the boxers had become household names. The two ‘Dream Teams’ have long been compared although Howard Davis and Mark Breland both described the two teams as almost even. America has long been that nation that dominates boxing. My top fifty boxers of all time, has 34 Americans. They have 13 more Olympic gold medals than any other nation, despite only winning eight golds in the last eight Olympics. The glamour divisions throughout the 70s up until the Olympics were also dominated by Americans. George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Bob Foster, Michael Spinks, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Aaron Pryor, Ray Mancini and Jeff Chandler were all big names over that period. America had and was dominating boxing. Given the American boycott of the 1980 Olympics it would seem illogical to begin there. However, for one member of the team, his journey begun with qualification for the 1980 Olympics. Robert Shannon qualified in the 106-pound division as a 17-year-old. Unlike his ten teammates who had all chose to turn professional, Shannon had opted to stay amateur because he was told he was too small and there was no money out there for a Flyweight. He believed everybody begun to forget about him but he was always a tough fighter, with great power in his hands and he would not be forgotten for long. He even claimed to have almost quit boxing, in 1982 he went to work on a fishing boat in Alaska. Shannon claimed the 15 to 20 hours a day of thinking time made him realise he wanted to go back into the ring." For most, the story begins with the 1982 World Championships. Many of the team were not yet on the team, but for some their ability was obvious. Pernell Whitaker cruised through the tournament as an 18-year-old before coming up against two-time Olympic Gold medallist Ángel Herrera Vera of Cuba. Whitaker would battle the Cuban, losing a split decision. Tyrell Biggs battled his way through the tournament. Whilst doing so, he got lucky as Teófilo Stevenson, the three-time Olympic champion, was shocked by Francesco Darmani. Biggs would go on to beat Darmani to become world champion. Mark Breland would be perhaps the most impressive boxer of the tournament, winning each fight either by unanimous decision or stoppage, dropping the impressive Kazakh, Serik Konakbayev, in the final. America had three other men who medalled. Floyd Favors won gold, Michael Collins took silver, whilst Iran Barkley won bronze. Breland was seen as the future of boxing and a certainty for the gold medal. SI described it as being as plain as the graffiti on the buildings in Bed-Stuy that he would win gold. For good reason to, he only lost once as an amateur. He won a record five consecutive New York Golden Gloves championships, knocking out 19 of 21 opponents. In 1981 and 1982 he won the national championships, and in 1982 he won the World champioships, dropping and defeating the brilliant Serik Konakbayev of Kazakhstan (then part of the USSR) in the final. Most perceive him to be a busy, because of eventual failings as a professional. What he did do was earn a lot of money. Three months after winning gold he had signed a $3-million dollar ABC deal, was driving a luxury car and lived on Park Avenue. Perhaps his greatest move was putting an annuity in his contract, as advised by Shelly Finkel in 1984. Since turning 30 he has received $100,000 every year and will continue to until his death. Most of the men who were part of the Dream Team had long amateur careers, often beginning as juniors. In 1982 though, one man had never even had an amateur bout before. That was Henry Tillman. He was sentenced to two years in prison for armed robbery in 1981. The 20-year-old had grown up just four miles from the Los Angeles Sport Arena, but in a rough neighbourhood in South-Central had found himself getting into increasingly escalating trouble. Throughout his teens he had served short stints in jail for drug sales, grand theft and battery. That prison sentence, at the California Youth Authority, would change his life. He would sign up to the boxing program run by Mercer Smith, having never put on gloves in his life. As 1983 came other boxers were beginning to represent America. A 1983 duel with the Soviet Union would see three boxers represent America at every weight. In addition to Whitaker, Jerry Page, Frank Tate, Virgil Hill, Henry Tillman, Paul Gonzales and Robert Shannon were also called up. A month later and the US would take on Cuba. Only Hill and Tillman represented the US in what was a whitewash for the Cuban team, while Holyfield fought for the B team. The eventual Dream Team would begin to take more of a shape when it came to the Pan American Games later that year. Six of the twelve team members qualified for that tournament, with two more losing in box offs. Robert Shannon was one who missed out, losing to Favors in the semi-final, something which made the Washington man begin to regret his decision to put off professional boxing. The team that went to the Pan American Games would pick up two gold medals, five silvers and four bronze medals. Middleweight Michael Grogan missed the Games with a freak back injury meaning every American medalled. When McCrory lost a split decision to the Dominican Republic’s Laureano Ramirez in the Semi Final, McCrory said he was going home to restructure his thinking. The star of the games was undoubtedly Pernell Whitaker, overturning his previous defeat to Angel Herrera by almost stopping the legendary Cuban. America were also subjected to two overturned decisions. Bernard Gray was originally awarded the win over Santos Cardona in the semi-finals only for it to be overturned whilst Paul Gonzales was also given the decision in the ring, this time in the final. Gonzales, known for his short temper, surely erupted when the changed was announced. The classic boxer, grew up in a rough East Los Angeles neighbourhood. Product of a broken home after his Father left the eight children when Paul was seven. At nine, he joined one of the thirteen gangs in the area. At twelve, a Chevrolet Impala he was in was shot up by a rival gang and a bullet caught him in the side of the head. At fifteen a murder charge was filed against him. He got off, a policeman who noticed his potential in a street fight, helped him escape the charges. Surgery in his hand cost him a year as a seventeen-year-old, but a returning victory over Olympic champion, Shamil Sabirov, showed his class. The end of 1983 saw the North American Games. Only two of the eventual Olympic team would fight at the tournament. Virgil Hill was the gold medallist, he defeated Bernardo Comas, the Cuban who was World and Pan American Games Champion. Frank Tate was the silver medallist, losing a split decision to Shawn O’Sullivan. The end of year US National Championships helped to continue to determine which Americans were primed for the games. Steve McCrory was arguably the most impressive, winning both his fights by stoppage. Paul Gonzalez, Mark Breland, Frank Tate and Tyrell Biggs also won gold. Robert Shannon and Evander Holyfield both went out at the semi-final stage. The American begun 1984 with team matches against Yugoslavia and Soviet Union with Paul Gonzales, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Frank Tate, Virgil Hill, Evander Holyfield and Tyrell Biggs featuring. The team that would take on Cuba in Reno was closer to the team that would go to the Olympics. Steve McCrory and Evander Holyfield both lost unanimous decisions. Pernell Whitaker beat Angel Herrera for the third time by a split decision. Tyrell Biggs lost to Stevenson again, however it was the closest he would come, losing a 3-2 split decision after a third-round knockdown which Biggs claimed was a foul. The best performance came from Meldrick Taylor who defeated two-time World Champion Adolfo Horta. Taylor was only 17 when the Games came around. He was a prodigy, blazing a trail through Philadelphia gyms. He was the 1982 National Golden Gloves and AAU Champion. He reached the final of the 1983 AIBA World Junior championships, only to be knocked out in the third round by the brilliant Cuban Angel Espinosa. But that was at light welterweight, and as Taylor matured he dropped down to featherweight. He still struggled with weight. On the night before his bout with Horta, during bed checks Nappi found Taylor tucked in bed with a large pizza. Incensed Nappi threw the pizza away and Taylor just about made weight. He put in a strong performance with his lightning hands stating, “I had to show everybody that my potential is as good as Horta's potential.” The timing of Horta did give him serious trouble though and he managed to drop Taylor in the second. It was an exciting fight and fans were robbed of another contest between the pair. The AIBA Challenge matches in 1984 would be the final time prior to the Olympics that some of the American team would take on international level opponents. Six American winners were Floyd Favors, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Frank Tate, Rick Womack and Tyrell Biggs. Three silver medallists were Henry Tillman, Bernard Gray and Steve McCrory. McCrory was best known for being the little brother of world champion Milton McCrory. Allured by the fame his brother had received, his head had been turned by the professional game and it was clear in the ring. His worse moment, arguably came on his 20th birthday as he was stopped in two rounds by Cuba's Pedro Reyes. Once seen as a lock to be part of the Olympic team, he was in danger of missing out due to his bad form. The Americans chose to have a rather convoluted system in order to get on the Olympic team. Olympic trials were held at Fort Worth with each weight having eight fighters who have qualified through regional qualifiers. Instead of the trials winner qualifying for the Olympics, they would go into a box off against the twelve “most noteworthy opponents” as labelled by the Amateur Boxing Federation. The trials winner would only have to win one bout, whilst if the opponent won on the Friday night, it would go on to a winner takes all bout on Saturday. Nine trial winners would advance, three opponents overturning their disadvantage to qualify for the Olympics and another three winning the first bout only to lose in the second bout. The six men who found qualification the easiest, winning the trial and then in the first box off were Paul Gonzales, Steve McCrory, Robert Shannon, Mark Breland, Frank Tate and Henry Tilman. Gonzales was comfortable; he beat Jose Rosario by a unanimous decision in the trials final and then Israel Acosta in the box off final, who he had already defeated in the trials semi-final. Gonzales was in control the whole time, despite Acosta trying to needle him with elbows and stepping on his feet. McCrory, having a tough time of it mentally and in the ring, was also relatively comfortable, opting for a solid rather than flashy defence defeating Bernard Price. Robert Shannon qualified as easily as any other man, despite his division maybe being the best in America. He won a wide decision over the North American Champion, Jesse Benavides in the trials final. The tougher test came in the box off, against the World Champion Floyd Favors. Shannon stopped him, dropping him in the second before the referee called it at the end of the third, the only stoppage in the box-offs. Mark Breland, despite a stomach virus, overcame stubborn Louis Howard of St. Louis in the box offs after cruising through the trials. Frank Tate was also quite comfortable, easing to wins over Ron Essett. Henry Tilman was the man who kept Mike Tyson from making the Olympics, defeating the protégé of Cus D’Amato twice. He used a long jab to keep Tyson off, winning a unanimous decision at the trials and then 4-1 at the box off. The three men who would win the trials, lose in the first bout, only to go on and win in the second were Pernell Whitaker, Virgil Hill and Tyrell Biggs. Whitaker was the big shock. He was the number one ranked fighter in the world in his division and seen as a shoo in to be the American representative. He beat Joe Belinc in the trials but that was avenged on the Friday. He pledged “to be more flashy and really cut loose,” in the decider. The story goes that Lou Duva shadow sparred with him for 45 minutes after the bout, working on moving off to the side. Whittaker went on the backfoot, against the hooking, come forward Belinc. The decision was booed by the Caesers Palace crowd as Whitaker was given the 3-2 victory. He blamed a lacklustre performance on blisters which led to Belinc suggesting “maybe you should try out for the 100-yard dash." His trainer Troy Summer suggested the decision was potentially a political one. Whitaker suggested “I just outboxed me, he didn’t even hit me with clean shots.” Virgil Hill had a bit of needle with the main who he fought three times to qualify, Michael Nunn. He believed Nunn thought he was an easy touch, moving up to his weight because “he couldn’t beat anyone at 156.” Hill took the split decision victory at the trials, before they both had a unanimous victory, giving Hill the spot at the Olympics. Tyrell Biggs fought his way through the trials, winning every bout by decision, perhaps due to his lack of power. The man he defeated in the final was Craig Payne. Payne, a brawler who he had defeated five times, got the win on the Friday night with Biggs complaining of sore ribs. Biggs said he reminded himself before the decider to box and not slug. Still not looking at his best, he boxed behind his jab and kept it moving, winning a split decision 3-2 over Payne. There were two major surprises at the Olympic trials. Jerry Page was an American representative after Iran Barkley turned professional following the 1982 World Championships. Unfortunately, though he had “had two knee operations, taking out the cartilage,” which arguably led to his defeat to Timmy Rabon in the semi-finals of the trial. When it came to the box off though, he pitched back to back 5-0 shutouts against the Los Angeles fighter. Meldrick Taylor was an even greater shock, despite being described as ‘a surprise package’ by long time team U.S.A coach Pat Nappi, as he went down to Andrew Minsker, the National Golden Gloves champion, in the Quarter Finals. Taylor revealed that Minsker had told him after that bout that he was hurt to the body. Taylor knew he would qualify then as he had given up his secret. Taylor kept banging to the body, listening to him grunt. Classy Taylor won the first fight by a split decision and was even more dominant on Saturday, becoming the youngest American boxer to qualify. Evander Holyfield caused the greatest shock at the box off. He had lost 3-2 at the trials to Ricky Womack, who was seen as a lock for the Olympic team, in the quarter finals. Womack had strong international experience and was a hard hitter. Holyfield was not seen as being on his level, but would go on to win split decisions in both box off bouts. Womack would go on to spend a long stretch in prison for armed robbery. The Olympians; Paul Gonzales, Steve McCrory, Robert Shannon, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Jerry Page, Mark Breland, Frank Tate, Virgil Hill, Evander Holyfield, Henry Tillman and Tyrell Biggs.