The L.A Games: When The U.S Dominated Olympic Boxing!
By James Slater: The Olympics are soon to be upon us, with London 2012 looking like being a very interesting games as far as boxing goes. The U.S must do better than at the 2008 games, where just one(!) boxer picked up a medal - truly astonishing when you think about it (this man being Deontay Wilder). The U.K has some serious talent looking to pick up medals, with big man Anthony Joshua (a fighter some have already stated will be the next Lennox Lewis!) a favourite to win the gold.
Article posted on 17.03.2012
In the past, though, American really did dominate at boxing in the Olympics. From 1960 when Cassius Clay won gold, to the ‘76 games that saw a born superstar in Sugar Ray Leonard spring to global fame, to the pot of gold that was the ’84 games in L.A - when a number of U.S stars shone brightly.
As hard as it may be to realise, it is now almost thirty long years since that superb team dominated the games in Los Angeles. The team was chock full of talent and many medals- mostly gold- were won. Many of the fighters went on to become household names as professionals. Men like Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Mark Breland. But who had the finest PRO career of them all?
Let’s start with some of the lesser known members of the team.
Paul Gonzales won a gold and turned pro in 1985. He never won a world title but did get as far as challenging for one. He stepped into the ring with the very talented IBF bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales. Unfortunately, he was stopped by the champ in just two rounds, on cuts. He retired in 1991.
Steve McCrory was another to take home a gold medal and he also turned pro the year after the games. He did better in his only chance at a world title when he fought the teak-tough Australian, Jeff Fenech, also for the bantamweight title. But after a brave effort he was stopped in the fourteenth round of a good fight. McCrory retired in 1991 also.
Jerry Page won a gold medal, but never got as far as boxing for a world title and Robert Shannon failed to win a medal or fight for a world title.
The Stars of the great squad:
Although his name is more than likely the most well known, Evander Holyfield actually only managed to capture a bronze medal in’84. He was controversially disqualified for hitting his opponent, Kevin Barry, on the break and therefore had to make do with third position on the medals board. He is certainly a very strong candidate for my choice as having had the greatest pro career out of the entire team, however. “The Real Deal” dominated and cleaned up the cruiserweight division before moving up to become a FOUR TIME heavyweight champ. An astonishing accomplishment.
One of the most defensively gifted boxers of all-time, Pernell Whitaker won world titles in four weight classes and dominated such brilliant fighters as Julio Cesar Chavez (despite what the judges said) Azumah Nelson and James “Buddy” McGirt. “Sweet Pea” had a quite superb pro career.
Meldrick Taylor was only a mere two seconds from producing THE win of his career, amateur or pro: in the fight with Julio Cesar Chavez that took place almost six years after his Olympic glory. If “The Kid” had danced and stayed away from Chavez in the final round of their majestic super fight, Meldrick would have picked up a truly sensational victory. The fact that he was stopped with such precious little time remaining on the clock and after sustaining much punishment also, all but ruined him as a fighter. He was never the same again after, despite winning another world title.
Mark Breland was tipped by many to become the finest member of the team as a pro. Some even had him down as becoming the next “Sugar” Ray Leonard. But, despite winning a couple of world title belts, he was an overall disappointment during his years as a paid boxer. Tyrell Biggs, at one time reckoned to be in with a chance at winning a world heavyweight title, was badly beaten in his only attempt. Mike Tyson brutally KO’d Biggs and in effect finished his career as a big name player. Henry Tillman found himself in a similar position. Given an excellent chance of winning at least a version of the cruiserweight title, he was thoroughly outclassed in his only challenge for a belt. Ironically, it was his former team-mate in Evander Holyfield who gave him the painful boxing lesson, stopping him in seven rounds.
Tillman was also destroyed by Mike Tyson three years later when he found that, while he was once able to handle “Iron Mike” as an amateur, he was no match for him as a professional. As for Frank Tate, though he succeeded in ascending to the world middleweight title, he too was ultimately a letdown, being best remembered for losing to then prospective great, Michael Nunn.
And finally the U.S had silver medallist Virgil Hill (who is malignly about to make a comeback at age 48!). Hill won the light heavyweight championship and, officially, broke the record for successful title defences at 175-pounds - a record previously held by the legendary Bob Foster. And while this looks extremely good on paper, in reality Hill’s acomplishment is tainted due to him only having captured and then defended one alphabet version of the title- whereas Foster was the linear champ during his tenure as king.
But Hill, like a number of the men who fought in L.A that summer 28 years ago, was a fine, fine talent. I think the legendary Holyfield has to go down as the fighter who had the best, the most successful and the most glory-filed pro career, however.
Who will shine at London 2012? And which fighter from the upcoming games will go on to shine most brightly at pro level?
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