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.