by Cain Bradley
The Games opened with a thrilling ceremony. The boxing took place next to the Coliseum, at the LA Memorial Sports Arena. Breland would be the only American competing on day one, the hype summed up by the commentator describing him as having had more publicity than Sugar Ray at the same point in his career. His first opponent was Wayne Gordon (Canada) who believed Breland could be beat.
Boxing behind his long jab and quick reflexes, he was very hard to hit. However Breland would often throw single punches and could be pinned on the ropes. The aggressive Canadian even gave Breland a standing count, an overhand right wobbling him. Despite this though. Breland would get the decision victory and promised to be better.
Day two would see two Americans enter the fray. Gonzales was drawn against the number one ranked boxer; Kim Kwang-Sun (South Korea), who went on to win gold at the 1988 Olympics. Gonzales made that ranking look silly. He knocked down Kim in the first round and then gave him a standing count in the same round. Gonzales would use his speed and range to land blistering straight punches. 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 he would've beaten him, but in the 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 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 “our professional franchise.” Only two of three schedule Americans fought on day three. McCrory was scheduled to take on Tad Joseph (Grenda), but Joseph, enjoying the American treats would miss weight.
Fellow Kronk boxer Tate got the win, however many disagreed with unanimous decision over Lofti Ayed (Sweden). Tate boxed behind his jab while Ayed used his aggression. When the decision was announced, the American fans booed. 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.
Breland looked more comfortable in his second bout. He was dominant against Carlos Reyes (Puerto Rico), dropping him twice and handing him two standing eight counts finally stopping in the third round. Page made his debut that day beating Helmut Gertel (West Germany) winning a close, but unanimous decision. Taylor eventually got past the southpaw jab of Nicolae Talpos (Romania) 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.” Shannon took the fight to his opponent in Sammy Mwangi (Kenya), winning a decision that included a knockdown.
Whitaker, prompted by his teammates discussing how no one had shocked the crowd, showed his ability against Omar Adolfo Mendez (Nicaragua). In the third round of the bout, while standing in the middle of the ring, he flashed a crossover back-step and then blind-sided Mendez with a left to the head. The punch landed cleanly, but also surprised referee Roman Szramkowski, who cautioned Whitaker for turning his back on his opponent – which Whitaker never did. Whitaker smiled at the referee, shrugged his shoulders and then finished pummelling Mendez. Into the third round and Hill got a comfortable win over Brain Schumacher (Great Britain). 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 crowd, who begun to boo during the bout. Barrientos stated after the bout that “I don’t think he will win the gold easily.”
The following day, McCrory would stop Fausto Garcia (Mexico), dropping him twice with right hands before the referee called an end to the bout. Holyfield was also impressive against Ismail Salman (Iraq), finishing him with a left hook. 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 the bout of the tournament. Shannon took on Moon Sung Kil (South Korea). Moon was behind on four of the five scorecards, struggling with the aggression of Shannon. The two went to war, with the crowd on their feet. Shannon ended the second-round giving Moon a standing count. 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, in the final round. Shannon would find himself in tears on Pat Naggi’s shoulders in the ring.
Page said the defeat gave him new resolve. 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, winning a comfortable unanimous decision. Taylor beat his teammate Francisco Camacho (Mexico), with a strong body attack on his way to a unanimous victory. 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 Breland got a victory over Rudel Obreja (Romania). Breland boxed comfortably behind the jab, but hardly ever stretched himself. He was booed by the fans. 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 also moved through with a unanimous victory over Romolo Casamonica (Italy).
Eleven Americans made the quarter finals. McCrory was first up against Peter Ayesu (Malawi), outclassing him on his way to a wide unanimous victory. 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 once again booed the decision.
Hill followed with victory a over Damir Skaro (Yugoslavia), in a lacklustre bout where some saw him as lucky to win a split decision. The two best performances came from Breland and Holyfield. Breland dropped the aggressive Genaro Leon (Mexico) early and finished him at the end of the round. Holyfield stopped Syivaus Okello (Kenya) in the first round. Gonzales took on John Lyon (Great Britain) in the final bout of the evening. He overcame a sluggish first round to bloody Lyon, winning a split decision, promising better in the following rounds.
Biggs came up against young Lennox Lewis (Canada), who would go on to win gold at the following Olympics. He was forced to fight at close range, but worked the body of Lewis successfully on his way to a unanimous decision victory. Taylor also had a tough bout, struggle at times to penetrate the defence of John Wanjau (Kenya). He managed 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. Tate also got a first round stoppage beating Christopher Kapopo (Zambia). Tillman took on Tevita Taufoou (Tonga). Tillman would finish Taufoou, with a straight hand with only three seconds left in the second round. Although, he managed to get back to his feet the referee waved it off, despite protestations.
In the semis, Gonzales got the victory against Marcelino Bolivar (Venezuela) in a close, but clear fashion. McCrory was a level above Eyup Can (Turkey) and got another unanimous decision after giving him a standing count. Taylor showed his immense ability against Omar Catari (Venezuela). He dropped Catari with a brilliant lean followed by a right hand on his way to a decision victory. 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. This time, he handed out another boxing lesson barely being touched.
Page was the winner of another clear decision, when beating World Championship bronze medallist Mirko Puzovic (Yugoslavia). Breland was dominant against Luciano Bruno (Italy) but bruised the tendons in the back of his right hand. Tate got the easiest path of all, receiving a walkover against Manfred Zielonka (West Germany) because of a broken right hand. Hill cruised to another decision victory over Mohamed Zaoui (Algeria). 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.’ Hill and Biggs cruised to decision wins over Mohamed Zaoui (Algeria) and Azis Salihu (Yugoslavia).
The final semi-final was between Holyfield and Kevin Barry (New Zealand). Holyfield had been one of the most impressive boxers of the tournament. He scored a standing eight count in the first round and hurting him several times. Barry 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 disqualified Holyfield with Barry unable to continue. Holyfield was stunned but nothing compared to 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.
The first finalist was 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 the muscles in his right arm had been injured in his second fight. He 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 for the kids like me who are always told, "You're nothing"." He attempted 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. Gonzales was awarded the Val Barker Trophy for the Outstanding Boxer at the Games, voted on by the IABF members.
McCrory would come up against Redzep Redzepovski (Yugoslavia), who had controversially defeated Jeff Fenech, earlier in the tournament. McCrory guaranteed a gold medal heading into the final and got it with a 4-1 split decision victory. It was also a hard-fought victory for Taylor against Peter Konyegwachie (Nigeria). Whitaker was again incredibly impressive, beating Luiz Ortiz (Puerto Rico). He used his counter punching to dominate, with the corner retiring Ortiz with three seconds left in the second round. Page, who many believed was lucky to 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 was robbed.
Breland would take on an aggressive An Young Su (South Korea). Breland grew into the contest, landing big straight punches in the second round, eventually dropping Su with a left hook. 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. Even Emmanuel Steward, coach of Tate, admitted that O’Sullivan may have won. Hill was on the other side of a disputed decision against Joon Sup Shin (South Korea). The first and third rounds were incredibly close, 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.
The only action in the Light Heavyweight division came when the medals were handed out. 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 Tillman given he had twice defeated him. This time though, it was Tillman who got the victory, in another close bout. The Olympics were also the place where Tillman met his future wife, Gina Hemphill who was the granddaughter of Jesse Owens and a torchbearer. It was another workmanlike victory in the Super Heavyweight division as Biggs got a split decision victory over Francisco Damiani. America had won nine golds, a silver and a bronze.