Last week in this space I wrote about the U.S. 1976 Olympic boxing team, hailing them as the greatest of all time. But there is definitely an argument to be made on behalf of the 1984 squad for that distinction.
My major reason for favoring the team that went to Montreal is that the entire Soviet Bloc boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles games, in retaliation for the U.S. boycott of the 1980 games in Moscow. And, especially during the Cold War era, the Soviet Bloc countries produced some of the greatest amateur boxers on the planet. So the team in Los Angles was competing against a very depleted field.
But they were loaded with talent and would have dominated regardless. As it went down, they accumulated an astonishing nine gold medals, along with a silver and a bronze, giving them a place on the podium in 11 of the 12 weight classes.
Fighting at 106 pounds, Paul Gonzalez took gold and captured the Val Barker Trophy, as the tournament’s outstanding Fighter. Future world-title challenger Steve McCrory took gold at 112.
Meldrick Taylor won gold at 125 pounds, as did Pernell Whitaker at 132. Both men would become world champions and top pound-for-pound stars in the professional ranks. Only a last second TKO prevented Taylor from becoming the first man to defeat the great Julio Cesar Chavez. Whitaker was the first man to defeat Chavez, although inept judges gave him only a draw. “Sweet Pea” has gone down in history with Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche and Floyd Mayweather Jr. as one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time.
Jerry Page and Henry Tillman would never develop into much as professionals, but in Los Angeles, they added gold at 139 pounds and heavyweight respectively. Super heavyweight gold medalist Tyrell Biggs would become a contender as a professional, but never a champion.
While Mark Breland never became the star many expected him to become as a professional, the 147-pound gold medalist would go on to win world titles as a professional. So would 157-pound gold medalist Frank Tate.
Virgil Hill won a silver medal at 165 pounds. As a professional, he would be a long-reigning world champion at light heavyweight and an eventual member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The member of the 1984 team who would become the biggest star was Evander Holyfield, who took bronze in Los Angeles at 178 pounds. As a professional, he would become the greatest cruiserweight champion who ever lived, before moving up and capturing the undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World from Buster Douglas in 1990. Fighting in one of the best decades for the heavyweight division, Holyfield hammered out a resume as one of the top 10 heavyweight fighters of all time.