DOCUMENTARY: A Timeline of the 1980s Heavyweight Boxing Division

02/19/2023 - By Charles Jackson - Comments

Perhaps it is the…well it was an era of its own. The 1980s, wedged right between the Golden (70s) and Silver (90s) ages of boxing, found itself with the impossible task of following up the 1970s. The “rock/paper/scissors” of heavyweight boxing’s Golden age (Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman) were gone and left to carry the division in their places were the remnants of the 70s, the rising stars of the 80s, and the head of the table, the Big Black Cloud, the Easton Assassin, Larry Holmes.

The middle child is often the overlooked one; the firstborn is the heir, and the baby is the spoiled brat. The 1980s heavyweight scene, in hindsight, yielded a very entertaining decade filled with history.

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Hosted by an even deeper roster than that of the 70s or 90s, it makes it all the more painful that so many of them fell between the cracks. These would-be-greats were covered in extensive detail already in this timeline’s premium companion piece “The Lost Generation of Heavyweight Boxing”, my docuseries covering the ins-and-outs of the period between February 15, 1978 (when “Neon” Leon Spinks dethroned Muhammad Ali) and June 27, 1988 (when “Iron” Mike Tyson stamped himself as the lone heavyweight champion). Warriors like John Tate, Michael Dokes, Greg Page, Tony Tubbs, and many more had much expected of them, but only 3 heavyweights wound up delivering in the era. The aforementioned Holmes, Michael Spinks, and Mike Tyson.

Larry Holmes was the super-shadow champion. A 7-year reign consisting of 20 title defenses before his “jinx” Michael Spinks ascended from light heavyweight and snatched history from Larry’s grasp in “A SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER”. Of course, Spinks would hold on for a while before meeting his [unfortunate] legacy-sealing-end (in the minds of casuals at least) in “ONCE AND FOR ALL” against the long-awaited successor to Muhammad Ali, “Iron” Mike Tyson.

Featured in this documentary are such classics as:

THE LAST HURRAH – Larry Holmes vs. Muhammad Ali
THE PRIDE & THE GLORY – Larry Holmes vs Gerry Cooney
THE CROWN AFFAIR – Michael Dokes vs Mike Weaver 2/Larry Holmes vs Tim Witherspoon
A SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER – Larry Holmes vs. Michael Spinks 1
JUDGMENT DAY – Mike Tyson vs. Trevor Berbick
THE ULTIMATE – Mike Tyson vs Tony Tucker
HEAVYWEIGHT HISTORY – Mike Tyson vs. Larry Holmes
ONCE AND FOR ALL – Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks
A DATE WITH DESTINY – Evander Holyfield vs Michael Dokes

Among these wars are every other notable fight of the decade from its inception to its end. As usual, the Olympics are also touched on, featuring Teófilo Stevenson’s three-peat, the spectacular class of the 1984 Olympics (and the chip on Mike Tyson’s shoulder), and the spawning of some of the greats who would make the 90s the Silver Age (specifically, the birth of the biggest lost chapter in heavyweight history: Lennox Lewis vs. Riddick Bowe). As you can imagine (if you’re familiar with me), the third and fourth Rocky sequels are covered with a bonus this time around in another of boxing’s greatest films: Raging Bull.

Larry Holmes, in many ways, is the personification of the 1980s heavyweight scene. Impossible to precede and succeed Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, respectively. In the shadows of Ali, Tyson, and Rocky Marciano (remember the “jock strap” line?). Never unified the division (let’s be real, he didn’t need to, but it’s a point his detractors use regardless), while Mike Tyson walked into the perfect situation and unified the alphabet titles in only 3 years as a professional. He didn’t help his own image with his lashing out and “so what” attitude either, but can you blame him? One thing is for certain, however, Larry’s legacy as a heavyweight champion is concrete, and no one can take it from him. He is forever latched to boxing history as one of the greatest champions ever.

Mike Tyson, on the other hand, has had his legacy boosted by many of his followers despite the reality of how his career turned out (perhaps, also a personification of the 80s?). He appeared invincible in the 1980s and brought the belts together the hard way in a 6-year stretch that was Hall of Fame-worthy already. Had he continued his greatness in the 1990s, it would’ve been the icing and put him in GOAT talk. Many now, however, feel as if “prime” Tyson “would’ve beaten em all”. I’m not here to rant on this but long story short: I very much disagree. Still, it’s frustrating to see how many refuse to venture into the sport and learn the truth and stick to the lie that Mike Tyson is the mythical, unbeatable GOAT. Partially to blame are the cherry-picking of his 1980s exploits.

I’ve gone on enough, nothing left need be said. This is a timeline of the 1980s heavyweight boxing division, the story of TWO great heavyweight champions. From my heart to yours; this has been TheCharlesJackson, author of the Boxing Encyclopedia. Stay frosty, and God bless.