There were actually two world heavyweight title fights taking place on the evening of March 31, 1980. WBC heavyweight boss Larry Holmes met and defeated a game but over-matched Leroy Jones in eight rounds in Las Vegas, while WBA champ “Big” John Tate made (or tried to make) the first defence of his belt in his home town of Knoxville, Tennessee – this against a certain Mike Weaver, AKA Hercules.
But when it comes to which of these two world heavyweight encounters is best remembered, there is absolutely no contest.
Certain knockouts send an odd kind of a chill down the spine; they can both electrify and disturb in equal measure. The KO big underdog Weaver scored in the fading seconds of a fight that had seen the challenger outboxed, out-fought and outmanoeuvred for pretty much the whole night (save for a strong 12th round, where Weaver temporarily awoke from his apparent slumber and wobbled Tate with a left hook to the head – this a foreshadowing of what was to come) – is one such knockout.
To say the ending to the Weaver-Tate fight was stunning/shocking/out of the blue, is to massively water things down. Tate, promoted by Bob Arum and with potential stardom in his future (there was talk of Tate next facing the soon to return Ali), was about a week ahead of Weaver, yet he was soon to be knocked clean into yesterday. Weaver, tired but desperate, was driven on – in fact, he was ordered on by his angry and exasperated team: “If you don’t knock him out in this last round, don’t f*****g bother coming back to this corner,” Weaver’s main man bellowed – and the former Marine dug down deep.
With a mere :45 clicks left on the clock in that fateful 15th round, Weaver did it – he got in close and he uncorked a sweet and short left hook to Tate’s head, the blow being perfectly, indeed majestically placed. Tate was out the split-second the punch landed, and his huge body fell, almost in slow-motion, down to the mat, never to rise. Tate wore an odd grimace on his face, his mouth twisted, his eyes closed. The third man in the ring could have counted to 100.
Weaver, with his late late show KO, had become one of the most unlikely heavyweight champions in history. It was 42 years ago when Weaver hit the big time (and Tate’s career and ultimately his life fell into a savage tailspin) but Mike will never forget his sizzling coronation.
“I can remember the fight like it was yesterday,” Weaver, now 70 years of age but looking far younger, said to this writer. “That was the best punch I ever threw in my career, yes. My corner had told me, ordered me, to go out there and get the KO. I prayed for strength from the Lord as I was in the corner and then I went out and I did it. I was so tired, but I believe he was more tired than me. I knew if I could hit him clean, he would go. If I’d lost that fight, If I had not got that knockout, I don’t know what would have happened. I might have quit fighting.”
But there was no quit in Weaver, as he showed after losing almost 45-minutes of his fight with Tate.
Weaver KO15 Tate was The KO of the Decade.