Which Boxer From The 1984 U.S Olympic Team Had The Greatest Pro Career?

08.08.07 – By James Slater: As hard as it may be to realize, it is twenty-three years since the superb team of amateur boxers from The United States of America dominated the Olympic games in Los Angeles. The team was chock-full of talent and many medals - mostly gold - were won. Many of the boxing 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? Of course, no-one could ever profess to having the definitive answer - such a thing comes down to opinion only. And in this article I give mine.

Let’s start with some of the lesser known members of the boxing 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 boxing champion Orlando Canizales. Unfortunately, he was stopped by the champ in just two rounds, on cuts. So Paul cannot be my choice for having had the finest pro career of his team of Olympians. 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 boxing 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. Therefore Steve is ruled out as my choice for the number one spot. McCrory retired in 1991 also.

Jerry Page, who won a gold medal, but never got as far as boxing for a world title and Robert Shannon, who failed to win a medal or fight for a world title, are thus eliminated from contention as the finest of the team to box as a pro. So, without any disrespect intended, the lesser known names from the team were, in my opinion, also the least talented fighters as professionals.

Now to the more familiar names from 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 boxing champ (and, as he‘s still active in his mid-forties, the possibility exists that Evander could even become a five-time heavyweight champ!). An astonishing accomplishment and one very hard to top - even by the next six boxers, all of whom captured gold medals.

What of Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker? One of the most defensively gifted boxers of all-time, Pernell 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” is well and truly in the running for first place.

Meldrick Taylor was only a mere two seconds from producing a win that may very well have put him in a position to have been able to surpass the achievements of all his team mates. If he had danced and stayed away from Chavez in the final round of their majestic super fight held in 1990 Meldrick would have won a 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. Meldrick must be given consideration in this article, though.

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. I cannot rank him up there with the aforementioned three big names. Tyrell Biggs must also be eliminated. For although he was at first reckoned to be in with a chance at winning a world heavyweight title he 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. And 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 we have silver medallist Virgil Hill. Hill won the light heavyweight championship and, officially, broke the record for successful title defenses at 175 pounds - a record previously held by the legendary Bob Foster. And while this looks extremely good on paper, in reality Virgil’s accomplishment 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.

Still, as with Holyfield, Hill was able to achieve some success while boxing as a veteran. Indeed, Virgil did very well at cruiserweight while boxing in his late thirties and early forties. He captured the WBA title at cruiser, on two occasions - the second of which when he was forty-two years old. This proven ability, even when an “old” man, must give “Quicksilver” yet more points in this article.

So there you have it, it comes down to just three boxers. Either Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, or Meldrick Taylor. Who then, do I choose? For me, though I detest sitting on the fence, it has to be a tie - between Holyfield and Whitaker for first place, with Taylor coming a close second and Virgil Hill given an honourable mention.

For what it’s worth, that is my opinion when it comes to answering the question posed by the title of this article. Let the debate begin!

(Article first published on Inside Boxing website)

Article posted on 08.08.2007

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