USA ’84: Twelve Olympians, eleven podiums, and a boxer who didn’t medal
World Boxing News tells the story of one of the great Olympic boxing teams in the sport’s history that ended with only one solitary boxer failing to medal.
The Summer Olympics of 1984 was a stellar year for the US Amateur Boxing Team. Several future world champions made a name for themselves in Los Angeles.
Here, we look at what the fantastic collection of boxers went on to achieve. But also the only fighter of the twelve-strong squad who didn’t make it to the podium in bantamweight Robert Shannon.
Twenty-one at the time, Shannon went into the tournament as a hot favorite to medal. He went into the tournament having won the 1984 National Golden Gloves title.
At the trials for Los Angeles, Shannon defeated Jesse Benavides 5-0 to book his place on the team. All expected big things of the Seattle man.
Defeating Kenyan Sammy Mwangi in the first round, Shannon looked confident going into his second match with South Korea’s Sung-Kil Moon but shockingly got taken out in the third round of an entertaining slugfest.
Despite being warned by coach Pat Nappi to hit and move just moments earlier, Shannon was in trouble immediately in the third. First, he got dropped by a hard right.
The official allowed the fight to continue but eventually halted an unsteady Shannon on his feet.
Having qualified four years previously for Moscow, the event got boycotted by the United States due to war issues with the Soviet Union. It was a bitter blow for Shannon.
A turn to the pro ranks beckoned.
Racking up ten straight wins in just 18 months, Shannon was a real contender. That was until two draws in early 1986 led to a first defeat.
Then, towards the end of 1987, Shannon lost in a USBA title challenge against future world champion Greg Richardson.
Shannon attempted another push for world honors, but a loss against Jose Sanabria in 1987 further dented his hopes. The 24-year-old would then go on to taste defeat in four of his next eight bouts before retiring in 1990 on the back of a reverse against Vinnel Ponzio, whom he’d previously beaten.
Turning to coach in later life, Shannon remains around the sport to this day. However, he seems destined always to get remembered as the 1984 Olympian who left the tournament empty-handed.
The opponent who ended his dream – Sun-Kil Moon, lost out in the quarter-finals. Bronze medallist Pedro Nolasco of the Dominican Republic put him out.
However, he did go on to become the World Amateur Champion at the bantamweight limit two years later.
Those eleven who did claim prizes in 1984 earned a staggering nine gold medals at the Games.
One silver and one bronze rounded off the achievement, the latter of which many believe should have been a tenth gold from Evander Holyfield.
Here’s a rundown of the spectacular achievement and some other career highlights from the list of considerable talent:
106lbs: Paul Gonzales, Los Angeles, Calif. – Gold Medal
Gonzales would challenge the world’s bantamweight title in 1990, losing out to Orlando Canizales via stoppage on cuts and retiring in 1991 after two more defeats.
He got subsequently accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl at a boxing gym where he taught youths. Gonzales is awaiting trial and could face 18 years in prison.
112: Steve McCrory, Detroit, Mich. – Gold Medal
McCrory would also challenge a championship in 1986 against Jeff Fenech but got halted in the 14th round.
He similarly retired in 1991 following back-to-back losses to Jesse James Leija and Stephane Haccoun.
McCrory sadly died in 2000 following a long illness.
125: Meldrick Taylor, Philadelphia, Pa. – Gold Medal
Taylor won world titles at two weight classes between 1988 and 1992 but is most remembered for his loss in the dying seconds against a then-undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez at 68-0 when ahead on the scorecards in a WBC title fight. Taylor would rematch Chavez in 1994, again for the green and gold strap, but lost in the eighth round.
132: Pernell Whitaker, Norfolk, Va. – Gold Medal
Remembered fondly as one of the fighters of his generation, ‘Sweet Pea’ won his first world title in 1989 at lightweight before following up a long and successful run with title wins at 140 and with the World Boxing Council at 147.
Whitaker retired in 2001 with a record of 40-4- 1. He died in July 2019 in a tragic accident.
139: Jerry Page, Columbus, Ohio – Gold Medal
Page eventually turned pro in 1985. He managed to put together a run of eight victories.
In his first real test, Page lost to Terrence Alli three more times in his next six fights before retiring in 1990.
147: Mark Breland, Brooklyn, N.Y. – Gold Medal
Breland made an impressive start to life without the vest and won 16 straight before challenging the welterweight title against Harold Volbrecht. Breland, then just 23, stopped Volbrecht in seven rounds at Trump Plaza.
The New Yorker lost his position to Marlon Starling and failed in a bid to regain a foothold at the top eight months later when the pair shared a draw.
In 1989, Breland would begin a second reign before halted by Aaron Davis in his fifth defense, before a third career loss in 1991 led to a five-year retirement before five comeback victories and eventually a permanent retirement in 1997.
156: Frank Tate, Detroit, Mich. – Gold Medal
Tate bulldozed his way through the middleweight ranks until capturing a world title in 1987. He surrendered ut in 1988.
Tate headed up to 168 for a failed bid before settling at 175 and going down to losses against world rulers twice. He retired in 1998 on 41-5 and would never contest a WBC crown.
165: Virgil Hill, Williston, N.D. – Silver Medal
Hill looked unstoppable on his way to light-heavyweight glory through to 1987, winning a world title and making ten successful defenses until Thomas Hearns dethroned him in 1991. Hill recaptured the belt just over a year later, ironically against former US Olympic squad team-mate Frank Tate. He made another ten defenses – one more against Tate-to permanently write his place in history books.
‘Quicksilver’ lost in Germany to Dariusz Michalczewski before going down against Roy Jones Jr. and moving up to cruiserweight, where he won the world title on two more occasions.
Retiring in 2007, Hill made a brief return in 2015 at the age of 51, beating Jimmy Campbell in the second round. Hill’s record currently stands at 51-7.
178: Evander Holyfield, Atlanta, Ga. – Bronze Medal
Robbed of a certain gold medal against New Zealand’s Kevin Barry via a disqualification, Holyfield is much-revered as one of the greatest of all time in no less than two weight classes.
Becoming undisputed cruiserweight world champion in 1988 when winning WBC gold, Holyfield then took on all comers at the higher limit, winning the undisputed crown and a second WBC belt in 1990 before he reigned as a heavyweight king three more times.
Holyfield continues to be an active member of the WBC family and never complains that he should have walked away from California as a champion.
201: Henry Tillman, Los Angeles, Calif. – Gold Medal
Having defeated Mike Tyson via a unanimous decision to quality for Los Angeles and eventually taking the top prize, Tillman got highly touted as a future ruler.
Tillman embarked on a cruiserweight career in December 1984 that culminated in a failed world title challenge against Holyfield in 1987. Tillman was dropped four times en route to a seventh-round stoppage loss in the biggest fight of his career.
A move up to heavyweight also proved fruitless as Tillman lost four times, once to a returning Tyson when ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ had initially lost for the first time in his career against Buster Douglas.
In their much-publicized rematch from the trials, Tillman lasted less than one round.
+201: Tyrell Biggs, Philadelphia, Pa. – Gold Medal
Biggs went on a fifteen victory streak on the back of his first-place finish in Los Angeles before running into Tyson’s juggernaut in October 1987. Biggs almost made it to the end of the seventh before Tyson secured the inevitable stoppage.
A chequered decade transpired for Biggs until he hung up his gloves aged 38 in 1998 on 30-10.
USA OLYMPIC BOXING TEAM SUCCESSES
The brilliant 1984 team far surpassed the exploits of the 1976 squad. It featured legend Sugar Ray Leonard and the world title-winning Spinks brothers, Michael and Leon.
Sending eleven members to Montreal, Leonard and company brought back a haul of five golds, one silver, and one bronze as four fighters left without anything around their necks.
In 1988, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, and Roy Jones Jr. continued the standout success of the US Olympic boxing program with eight medallists from twelve.
Unfortunately, however, the latter was yet another victim of a contentious decision that really should have meant further golds for the US team.
Kennedy McKinney, Andrew Maynard, and Mercer took the top prize.
Jones Jr. had to settle for silver in one of the most controversial amateur decisions of all time against Park Si-Hun.
Bowe, for his part, was beaten by a better man on the day in future WBC ambassador Lennox Lewis.
Three medals made it onto the plane back from a possible twelve in 1992. They included Oscar De La Hoya’s solitary gold. That was followed up in 1996 by six fighters bringing a medal home.
David Reid grabbed gold in front of the home fans in Atlanta. Antonio Tarver, Nate Jones, and a youngster named Floyd Mayweather Jr. claimed three of five bronze medals from another talented dozen.
The Sydney Games in 2000 produced four medals but no golds for the US. However, 2004 saw Andre Ward pick up a one-off gold and team-mate Andre Dirrell take a middleweight bronze after losing to current WBC ruler Gennady Golovkin.
Another current WBC king in heavyweight, Deontay Wilder, captured the only medal of 2008 with bronze.
Four years later, 2012 drew a blank again despite future world champions Errol Spence and Rau’shee Warren competing.
2016 was slightly better due to medals from Nico Hernandez and Shakur Stevenson. However, the team remained a world away from the 1984 team.
The magnificent eleven all took prizes home, except for the hard-done-by Shannon.