by Cain Bradley
After the Olympics, the country was riding a feel-good wave of momentum. ABC had shown the Olympics to 180 million and boxing saw a prolonged interest in the sport. The boxers all 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. The Main Events had only chosen to sign five men though; Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield and Tyrell Biggs. Gonzales missed 1984, owing to the injuries suffered at the Olympics. Jerry Page would also take a year out, 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. Frank 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 to little fanfare.
Like the five starlets, Virgil Hill made his debut on ‘The Night of Gold’ with a one fight deal with Duva. Held in Madison Square Garden, it was attended by almost 20,000. Tickets were free, organised by Mark Breland who felt he owed the fans something. He also got “goldbusters” t-shirts printed up for the fighters. The card was shown on ABC, Duva calling it “a breath of fresh air for boxing,” despite only receiving a 15% ratings share. Hill did not even manage to get a place on the televised card and was an outsider at the weigh-in not wearing the same sweat-suits as his teammates. As he later remarked “losing the final might have cost me a great deal of money.''
That night, he fought in front of an almost empty MSG. His original opponent Pedro Monteiro failed his physical examination, so Arthur Wright took the fight. Wright put up a fight early, but Hill went to the body before finishing him to the head in the second round. Taylor was next up earning $55,000, but unfortunately his fight was not shown on television. Along with the four television fighters, he entered to the Olympic theme. His opponent Luke Lecce had recently gone nine rounds with Charlie Brown, a future world title challenger. Taylor dispatched of him in the first round. He was too quick, his combinations landing at will. Lecce retired that night. Holyfield took on Lionel Byarm, known as the 'Brown Bomber' because of a resemblance to Joe Louis. The pair traded at close range, Holyfield winning a unanimous decision. Byarm believed he hurt Holyfield to the body, but predicted someday he would become a champion.
Whitaker was 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, Whitaker having landed 78 clean shots to the head, with Comeaux only landing ten punches. Biggs was the disappointment of the night against Mike Evans; who was famous for appearing in a Bud Light commercial.
The fight was a bore decision win for Biggs. Six weeks later, Biggs was in a California hospital, being treated for 'alcohol and drug abuse'. It was a cycle that begun in high school and Biggs never really got out of it. Biggs, Holyfield and Whitaker all earned $75,000. Breland, the star, earned $100,000, part of the richest contract ever signed by an amateur. Breland would take on Dwight Williams. Williams came forward early throwing wild punches. Breland remained composed and won by a disappointing decision. Tillman sat ringside that day, a day after it was announced his debut would come the following month alongside Tate. He summed up the feelings of the other Olympians stating “I'd have liked to be out there with my teammates. I guess (the promoters) had their five guys, and that was it.”
Tate and Tillman would mark their debuts with wins, although both had overcame adversity. For Tate, it was chicken pox about a month prior to the bout. 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 debuted by stopping Jeff Hanna. The final two would turn over in 1985. Page received offers up to $60,000, but the operation saw his value decrease to $10,000. Gonzales received $40,000 for his debut, the same amount as Sugar Ray Leonard. That was from CBS-TV and Gonzales was described by Mort Shannon as “handsome and the most stylish fighter.” He dominated every round against Jose Torres, who was coming off a loss to Charlie Magri.
By the end of 1985, all twelve remained unbeaten with a record of 82-0-1. That draw came as McCrory took on Louis Gomis. The challenges of 1986 would come as early as February. Gonzales would have his first twelve round fight, overcoming Alonzo Gonzalez, but broke his knuckle. Shannon drew with Daniel Garcia and then Karry Allen. Biggs would break his collarbone when taking on Jeff Sims. Breland took on the only man to have ever beaten him, Darryl Anthony. Anthony had out-jabbed him in the amateurs and this time Breland got his jab off first and landed punishing blows until the doctor stopped the fight in the third round. That summer would see the first defeat. Tillman would defend his NABF Title, that he won by impressively stopping Bash Ali, against Bert Cooper. He was supposed to have been fighting Carlos De Leon for a world title, but he’d pulled out. The aggressiveness of Cooper coupled with two knockdowns sealed a close decision win for Cooper. The first world title challenge of the group came in July. Holyfield took on Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA Title in a bout that many suspected came too soon, but was a classic. Holyfield took a split decision while being cheered on by teammates.
The following weekend saw the second title shot. An impatient McCrory demanded Steward find him a title bout despite protestations it was too early, but a bout with Jeff Fenech was set up. Fenech dominated before dropping McCrory in the thirteenth. In the fourteenth, Fenech would pin him on the ropes and unloaded a barrage of punches forcing the referee to step in. Taylor would take on ‘76 Val Barker Trophy winner Howard Davis, drawing a close bout. Gonzales got off the canvas to defeat future world champion Orlando Canizares. Another reversal would come for the team when Shannon took on Greg Richardson for the NABF Title, losing a majority decision to the future world champion. McCrory also took his second loss when trying to rebound against Jose Sanabria.
Whitaker begun 1987 winning the NABF Title with a victory over Roger Mayweather. Weeks later Breland stopped Harold Volbrecht to win the vacant WBA Title. A week later, two members of the dream team clashed as Holyfield would defend his title against Tillman. Holyfield looked in constant control and finally stopped Tillman in the seventh. Breland was upset by Marlon Starling who wore him out with body punches, stopping him in the eleventh. Hill would stop Leslie Stewart, becoming the third World Champion. Tate was a heavy underdog taking on Michael Olajide for the IBF Championship vacated by Sugar Ray Leonard. Olajide was considered a future star, but Tate gave Olijade fits with his power and accuracy winning a wide decision. Biggs was matched with Mike Tyson. His trash talking before the fight led to Tyson punishing him, stopping him in seven. Another loss came for Tillman, against journeyman Dwain Bonds. Holyfield impressed with three comfortable defences. The record of the team at the end of ‘87 was 187-9-4.
Whitaker was next to get a title shot against Jose Luis Ramirez, who edged a split decision despite most people believing Whitaker had won. Tillman would rematch DeWitt who he had beat in the Olympic final, losing by unanimous decision. Breland would also take part in a rematch, against Starling. Most onlookers believed Starling won, but the judges scored it a draw. Holyfield continued his dominance, unifying by stopping Carlos De Leon, in the eighth before a move up to heavyweight. Page’s unbeaten streak came to an end against Terrence Alli, after Vinny Paziena pulled out injured. He claimed, “I had nothing left after making weight.”
Gonzales, still riddled with self-inflicted injuries including a broken ankle when stepping over the door of his Corvette, was handed his first defeat against Ray Medel. Mort Sharnik would described him as complacent. Tate would lose his title to Michael Nunn after being stopped in the ninth. Taylor stopped Buddy McGirt for the IBF Title. Another Olympic rematch saw Biggs fight Damiani. A cut on Biggs’ right eye led to the referee stopping the bout.
1989 was a quieter year. Breland won the WBA title with a stoppage against Seung-Soon Lee. Shannon, Biggs and Page would suffer more losses. The star though was Whitaker, winning the IBF title off Greg Haugen before unifying the division by avenging his defeat to Ramirez. 1990 would mark the end of two careers.
Shannon would finish with an 18-6-2 record. Page would also retire with a record of 11-4. In retirement he would work some corners before going on to work for the Department of Corrections at a nearby prison, his gold medal in a draw. In the ring, Taylor famously led Julio Cesar Chavez going into the final round. As the Mexican poured on the pressure, referee Richard Steele waved it off in the final seconds. Holyfield became the unified, undisputed heavyweight champion dominating a sluggish, overweight Buster Douglas. Breland would lose his title to 6-1 underdog Aaron Davis, knocked out by an overhand right. Tate lost a world title attempt against Lindell Holmes. Tillman would go full circle with Tyson, being stopped in the first round. Another rematch came, as Gonzales had a world title shot against previously vanquished, Orlando Canizales. The form was reversed as Canizales dished out a beating, stopping Gonzales in the second round on cuts.
1991 saw Gonzales retire, finishing on a 16-4 record. He was back living with his Mother and since then worked for the Los Angeles County Department with mentoring young boxers. Recently his story took a nasty turn as he was arrested for committing lewd acts on a child. McCrory would also retire that year finishing with a 30-5-1 record. He died in 2000 following a prolonged battle with illness. Breland would have his first retirement, brought on by a defeat to Jorge Vaca, who Steward claimed “shouldn’t be Breland’s sparring partner.” Biggs begun gate-keep, losing to Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis. Hill lost his world title against Thomas Hearns. He entered the fight as favourite, earning over $1 million, but struggled to get past the jab. Taylor defeated Aaron Davis, to win the WBA title with a comfortable decision victory.
Taylor moved up to light middleweight to fight Terry Norris, his Philly instincts costing him. He took the fight to the stronger Norris, Norris finishing him in the fourth with big right hands. A return to Welterweight saw him pummelled by Crisanto Espana. The second matchup between two Dream Team members took place as Tate clashed with Hill for the vacant WBA Title. Hill won by unanimous decision. The final unbeaten member of the team, saw his first loss as Holyfield was defeated by Riddick Bowe. Whitaker moved up in weight and won the IBF title off Rafael Pineda. A loss to Terry Davis, saw the end of Tillman finishing with a record of 25-6. Following boxing, he volunteered at Rebuild L.A, working with youngsters. Unfortunately, an addiction to gambling followed and he served time for manslaughter. He has returned to the public eye, training Charles Martin.
Five of the Dream Team had retired at the end of 1992, but others on the team were also on their the way out. Biggs eventually retired with a 30-10 record. Tate would get one more world title shot, a rematch with Hill, but he would again lose, ending with a 41-5 record. Taylor got one more world title shot, a rematch with Chavez, but was stopped in eighth. His final record was 38-8-1. He has since gone on to suffer from dementia. Breland returned in 1996, going unbeaten for five fights, against low level opposition and retiring with a record of 35-3-1.
Hill would unify the titles with a split decision victory over Henry Maske. He attempted to add another world title against Dariusz Michalczewski. Hill was hampered by a leg injury and lost a close decision. He returned to take on Roy Jones Jr, becoming another victim on the Jones’ highlight reel, going down to a vicious body shot. He returned at Cruiserweight, winning the WBA title by stopping Fabrice Tiozzo in the first round. He lost the title against Jean Marc Mormeck and failed in a rematch. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, but returned to the ring for a farewell fight in North Dakota, 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.
Whitaker was the first ‘84 Olympian inducted into the Hall of Fame. Wins over McGirt and Julio Cesar Vasquez made him a four-weight world champion. A draw against Chavez which many believed he won robbed him of a signature win. He lost his last four, headlined by Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad. He battled drug addiction after his retirement. He is regarded as 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 biggest name of the group is Holyfield. He would win back the Heavyweight titles four times, defeating old rival Bowe and Tyson twice, losing to Lewis and Bowe after. 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.
The Dream Team goes down as the most successful team ever, with six members becoming world champions and four others fighting 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 in 1984. Every Olympics seems to bring through a special talent, but the impressiveness of the whole team diminishes. It has not only seen the decline of American dominance, but their historical rival Cuba has also lost some of its strength.