The Gold Team (Part 3): The Aftermath

By Cain Bradley on October 25, 2018
The Gold Team (Part 3): The Aftermath
Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker was the first ‘84 Olympian inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The Dream Team goes down as the most successful team ever, with six members becoming world champions. Four others fought for world titles…

After the Olympics, the country was riding a feel good wave of momentum. ABC had shown the Olympics to 180 million and boxing was one of the sports for which the intervening four years saw a maintained interest in the sport. The boxers were all aware of the commercial success of the ‘76 Olympians and wanted to cash in. The race was on to sign the prospects. It was won by Lou Duva and Shelly Finkel, signaling Main Events’ arrival as a true player in the boxing world, aiming to rival Don King and Bob Arum. The Main Events team had only chosen to sign five men though; Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield and Tyrell Biggs. Paul Gonzales missed the rest of 1984, owing to the injuries suffered at the Olympics. Jerry Page would also take a year, he wanted to remain in Columbus and another knee operation would hamper his progress. Frank Tate who had been with the Kronk Gym chose to instead sign with the Houston Boxing Association despite offers of a house and a car. Tillman was not signed by HBA but made his debut on the same card. Steve McCrory, desperate to follow in the footsteps of his brother, would fight with the Kronk stable. Robert Shannon, the only non medalist, saw a lack of interest and would turn professional also in September, to little fanfare. Finally, Virgil Hill would also find himself without much interest.

Like the five starlets though, he would make his debut on ‘The Night of Gold,’ as part of a one fight deal with Duva. Held in Madison Square Garden, it was attended by almost 20,000. Tickets were free, something pushed by Mark Breland who felt he owed the fans something. To obtain tickets, written requests had to be made to the New York Daily News. There was a limit of four tickets per request. He also got “goldbusters” t-shirts printed up for the fighters. The card was shown on ABC on prime time Thursday night.  Duva called it “a breath of fresh air for boxing.” This was despite struggles in the ratings, only receiving a 15% share of televisions used at that time, trailing Magnum PI and the Bill Cosby Show. Hill did not even manage to get a place on the televised card. Even yesterday as the chosen five weighed in wearing gold and orange sweatsuits emblazoned with ‘‘Night of Gold.’’ Hill was in simple blue sweats. As he later remarked “losing the final might possibly have cost me a great deal of money.’‘

That night, he was only paid $10,000 and fought in front of an almost empty MSG. His original opponent Pedro Monteiro failed his physical examination so Arthur Wright took the fight on short notice. Wright put up a fight early, landing a nasty left hook which only spurred Hill on. He would return the favor, going to the body and finishing him to the head at 2:05 in the second round. Taylor was next up and the most impressive that night. Along with the four television fighters, he entered to the Olympic theme. Taylor earned $55,000, not bad for an eighteen-year-old, but unfortunately his fight was not shown on television. His opponent Luke Lecce spotted an 11-2-1 record and had recently gone nine rounds with Charlie Brown, who went on to challenge for a world title at lightweight. Taylor wasted him in the first round. Right from the onset, he was too quick, his combinations landing at will. It was a fight that ending in him retiring from boxing. Evander Holyfield would take on Lionel Byarm, 9-1-2, known as the Brown Bomber because of an uncanny resemblance to Joe Louis. The pair decided to trade at close range, Holyfield winning a unanimous decision with scores of 60-54, 59-55 and 58-56. Byarm believed he hurt Holyfield when he went to the body and heard him grimace in the fourth. He stated Holyfield was not as big of a puncher as claimed but did predict someday he would become a champion.

Whitaker would be matched against the unbeaten Farrain Comeaux. Whitaker was merciless throughout the fight, smiling throughout the rounds as he landed vicious hooks almost at will. It was finally stopped at the end of the second round. An early version of CompuBox being trialed ringside, counted that Whitaker landed 94 punches in that time, 78 of them clean shots to the head, with Comeaux only landing ten punches. Tyrell Biggs was perhaps the disappointment of the night against Mike Evans, most famous for appearing in a Bud Light commercial. Biggs was unable to pry open a landing spot for his punches and the fight was a bore decision win for Biggs. Six weeks after his debut, Biggs could be found in a California hospital, being treated for “alcohol and drug abuse.” It was a cycle that had begun in high school and Biggs never really got out of until much later. Biggs, Holyfield and Whitaker all earned $75,000. Breland was set to be the star of the night, earning $100,000, part of the richest contract ever signed by an amateur. Breland would take on 7-1 Dwight Williams. Breland described it as “the toughest fight I ever had.” Williams looked to come forward early throwing wild punches. Breland remained composed, mainly punching behind the jab which reduced Williams to a punchbag, intent on survival. He managed to survive, with the Breland performance a bit disappointing despite winning a decision. Tillman was sitting ringside that day, a day after it was announced his debut would come the following month alongside Jerry Tate. He summed up the likely feelings of all the other Olympians stating “I’d have liked to be out there with my teammates. It would have been like it was in L.A. I guess [the promoters] had their five guys, and that was it. I don’t know why.”

Tate and Tillman would mark their debuts with wins, although both overcame adversity. For Tate it was a nasty bout of chicken pox about a month prior to the bout which left him weak. Tillman’s adversity came in the bout when he was knocked down in the first round. Tillman would get up and finish future world champion Uriah Grant off with an uppercut/right hand combination. McCrory would debut on the undercard of the Hagler vs. Hamsho title bout and stop Jeff Hanna in the fourth round. 1984 ended with all the team either unbeaten, ranging from 1-0 to 3-0, or still not turned professional. The final two would turn over in 1985. Page had received numerous offers, reaching $60,000, but the operation saw many see him as damaged goods. He ended up making his debut for $10,000 in 1985. Gonzales would cash in comparatively, giving $40,000 for his debut, the same amount that Sugar Ray Leonard received for his debut. That was from CBS TV and Gonzales was described by Mort Shannon as “handsome, a great smile and the most stylish fighter.” The only problem—making America fall in love with a smaller fighter. His opponent for the debut was Jose Torres, coming off a loss to Charlie Magri. Gonzales dominated every round on his way to a decision win.

By the end of 1985, all twelve remained unbeaten with a combined record of 82-0-1. That draw came as Steve McCrory took on the man who would become EBU Champion, Louis Gomis. 1986 would be the year where many would sink or swim. The challenges would come as early as February. Paul Gonzales would have his first twelve-round fight, overcoming Alonzo Gonzalez. A broken knuckle would mean he never really capitalized on the momentum from the win. Robert Shannon would find himself drawing with Daniel Garcia and then Karry Allen in March. That would also be the month where Tyrell Biggs would break his collarbone when taking on Jeff Sims, keeping him out of the ring for awhile. Mark Breland was enjoying his time in the professional ring, still touted by many as a mega prospect and would get a chance to take on the only man to have ever beaten him, Darryl Anthony. Anthony had out-jabbed him in the amateurs and Breland was determined it would not happen again. He got his own jab off first and landed punishing blows until the doctor stopped the fight in the third round.

That summer would see the first defeat for the Dream Team as professionals. Henry Tillman would take on Bert Cooper for the NABF Title that Tillman had won by impressively stopping Bash Ali. He was supposed to have been fighting Carlos De Leon for a world title but the Puerto Rican pulled out. Instead Tillman and Cooper would throw bombs at each other, Tillman dropped twice in the second round, but boxing beautifully against the aggressive Cooper.  The aggressiveness of Cooper coupled with the two knockdowns were enough to seal a close decision win for Cooper. The first world title challenge of the group would come in July. Evander Holyfield would take on the tough Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA Title in a bout that many suspected came too soon. It would be an all-time classic, The Ring magazine called it the 46th greatest title fight of all time in 1996. Holyfield wore a t-shirt on Friday that simply stated “I’m going to win.” Many weren’t so sure, believing his gas tank was poor and if Qawi survived the early rounds he would go on to take the victory. Holyfield would take the early rounds but Qawi would survive and in round four it seemed as though Holyfield had hit the wall. Holyfield would get his second win though and soon they were taking turns stunning each other with big shots and barely a break to be seen. Holyfield was the slightly busier of the pair, throwing 1290 and landing 629. His stiff jab and swift does to the side probably earned him the win. He took a split decision (147-138, 144-140 and 141-143) while being cheered on by teammates Breland, Biggs, Whitaker and Taylor. He earned $100,000 for the win.

The following weekend would see the second man challenge for a world title. The impatient Steve McCrory demanded Emanuel Steward find him a title bout. Steward would protest it was too early but a bout with Jeff Fenech was set up anyway. Fenech dominated a dirty fight as the two men looked to fight inside the pocket. The judges had it scored so only the sixth and seventh rounds went unanimously to McCrory. McCrory was dropped in the thirteenth and did not recover heading into the next round. Fenech would pin him on the ropes and unloaded a barrage of punches forcing the referee to step in. Meldrick Taylor would take on ‘76 Val Barker Trophy winner Howard Davis. It was a draw, that could have gone either way. Paul Gonzales got himself a huge win in only his fourth fight, getting off the canvas to defeat future world champion Orlando Canizales. Another reversal would come for the team when Robert Shannon took on Greg Richardson for the NABF Super Bantamweight Title. He lost a majority decision to the future world champion. McCrory also took his second loss when trying to rebound against Jose Sanabria. 1986 ended with one world champion and a combined record of 140-4-4.

Whitaker begun 1987 winning the NABF Title with a victory over Roger Mayweather. The second world champion would come a few weeks later with Mark Breland stopping Harold Volbrecht to win the vacant WBA Title. The awkward South African made him work hard but Breland would corner him and finish him with the right. A week later, two members of the dream team would clash for the first time. Evander Holyfield would defend his title against Henry Tillman. Holyfield looked in constant control and when he begun to land vicious uppercuts it was only a matter of time, finally stopping Tillman in the seventh. Robert Shannon would have another loss against Jose Sanabria before the most shocking loss yet occurred. Mark Breland defended against Marlon Starling and although he took a lead, Starling would tire him with body punches before finishing him with three hard rights and a left hook in the eleventh.

His spot as a Dream Team World Champion would be replaced by Virgil Hill. He would take on Leslie Stewart is his 19th fight, who won the title off Marvin Johnson. Hill would stop Stewart in the fourth round, becoming the third Dream Team World Champion. Number four was just around the corner. Frank Tate was a heavy underdog taking on Michael Olajide for the IBF Championship vacated by Sugar Ray Leonard. Olajide was seen as a future star whilst Tate was a lesser respected Olympian. Tate came in and gave Olijade fits with his power and accuracy winning a wide decision. Also in October would be arguably the most anticipated bout for any Olympian up to that point as Tyrell Biggs would take on Mike Tyson. Tyson was beginning to show his cracks but the 21-year-old was still an undefeated terror at that point. Biggs was seen as a challenge for Tyson and his trash talking before the fight meant Tyson wanted to punish him. After a tight opening round that was exactly what happened. Tyson consistently landed strong punches and in the seventh round it was finally stopped. Another loss came for Henry Tillman, as he lost to journeyman Dwain Bonds. Evander Holyfield had carried on looking impressive, defending his title twice before a rematch with Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Holyfield would dominate this time, stopping Qawi in the fourth round. By the end of 1987 there was three world champions, with another four who had lost their title shots. Mark Breland had won a title at the start of the year before losing it. The record of the team was 187-9-4.

The eighth member to receive a world title shot would be Pernell Whitaker, coming in March. It came against the highly rated Jose Luis Ramirez, who would win a split decision despite the majority of people believing Whitaker had won. Henry Tillman would take on Willie DeWitt who he had beaten in the Olympic final. This time he lost by unanimous decision. Mark Breland would also take part in a rematch, for him, it came against Marlon Starling. Most onlookers believe Starling was comfortable, Breland struggling to put together punches, but the judges scored it a draw. Evander Holyfield would continue his dominance in a unification bout with Carlos De Leon, stopping the tough Puerto Rican in the eighth before a move up to heavyweight. Jerry Page had won eight bouts before a fight against Vinnie Pazienza for $25,000 was scheduled but an injury got the fight called off, Page chose to move up and take on arguably a tougher opponent in Terence Ali for only $12,500.  He regretted his decision, claiming “I had nothing left after making weight,” and losing a clear decision to the former world title challenger. Paul Gonzales, still riddled with self inflicted injuries including a broken ankle and knee damage when stepping over the door of his red corvette, was handed his first defeat against Ray Medel. Mort Sharnik would describe him as “becoming too absorbed in himself, not concentrating on the fight life.” Frank Tate would lose his title to Michael Nunn after fading late and being stopped in the ninth. Meldrick Taylor would win a world title, stopping Buddy McGirt for the IBF Title. Another Olympic rematch would take place as Biggs fought Francesco Damiani. The Italian would open a cut up over Biggs’ right eye which led to the referee stopping the bout. That year members of the team went 25-7-1.

1989 was a quieter year. Mark Breland won the WBA Title with a first round stoppage against Seung-Soon Lee. Robert Shannon, Tyrell Biggs and Jerry Page would also suffer more losses while Paul Gonzales’ coach turned up drunk and wrapped his hands so badly it cut off the circulation. The star though was Pernell Whitaker. He won the IBF Title off Greg Haugen before unifying the decision by avenging his defeat to Jose Luis Ramirez. 1990 would mark the end of two careers. Robert Shannon would finish with an 18-6-2 record and go on to become a professional barber in Washington; his biggest purse, only $10,000. Jerry Page would also retire with a record of 11-4. In retirement he would work the corners of fighters such as Manny Galloway and Darrin Allen before going on to work full time for the Department of Corrections at a nearby prison, with his gold medal in a drawer. The action in the ring would continue with two of the best remembered fights for the team. Meldrick Taylor famously led Julio Cesar Chavez going into the final round. As the Mexican poured on the pressure, referee Richard Steele would wave it off in the final moments of the fight. Evander Holyfield would take on Buster Douglas, coming off his shock over Mike Tyson. Holyfield dominated a sluggish, overweight Douglas to become the unified, undisputed heavyweight champion. Mark Breland would lose his title to 6-1 underdog Aaron Davis, knocked out by a picturesque overhand right. Frank Tate lost a world title attempt against Lindell Holmes. Tillman would go full circle with Tyson, taking him on as a professional. Tyson was dominant this time, his power obvious, as he stopped Tillman in the first round. Another rematch came, as Paul Gonzales was granted a world title shot against a man he had previously defeated, Orlando Canizales. Once again, the form would be reversed as Canizales dished out a beating, stopping Gonzales in the second round on cuts.

1991 would see Paul Gonzales retire, finishing on a 16-4 record. He fought three times that year earning $10,500 and back living with his Mother. He would give back to young people, working for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and mentors young boxers. This year though, his story took a nasty turn as he was arrested for committing lewd acts on a child. Steve McCrory would also retire that year after losses to Jesse James Leija and Stephane Haccoun finishing with a 30-5-1 record. He died in 2000 following a prolonged battle with illness with there being suggestions he battled with alcohol and drugs. Mark Breland would also retire, only to return a few years later. The retirement was rough on by a defeat to Jorge Vaca, Emanuel Steward claiming he “shouldn’t be Breland’s sparring partner.” Elsewhere it was a bad year for other members of the team. Tyrell Biggs was starting to be positioned as a gatekeeper, losing to young contenders Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis. Virgil Hill lost his world title against Thomas Hearns. He entered the fight as favorite, earning over $1 million but struggled to get past the sensational jab of Hearns. Meldrick Taylor made up for his teammates by getting revenge over Aaron Davis, winning the WBA Title. The aggressive Philly fighter stayed on top of Davis, but learned from his Chavez defeat, getting on his bike with the fight sealed to win a comfortable decision.

Taylor would move up to Light Middleweight to take on Terry Norris the following year. Once again the Philly instincts to fight would cost Taylor. He would look to work inside against the stronger Norris, Norris finishing him in the fourth with some great right hands. A return to Welterweight seems a good idea to get Taylor back to his best but he was pummeled by Crisanto Espana. The second matchup between two Dream Team members took place as Frank Tate clashed Virgil Hill for the vacant WBA Title. Hill would win the title by unanimous decision. The final unbeaten member of the team, also saw his first loss as Evander Holyfield was defeated by Riddick Bowe. With that loss, Pernell Whitaker took over the mantle as the number one, moving up to Light Welterweight and taking the IBF Title off Rafael Pineda. It would also be the final time we saw Henry Tillman in the ring, as he lost to Terry Davis finishing with a record of 25-6. His turnaround had seen him volunteering at Rebuild L.A. and working with youngsters. Unfortunately a gambling addiction brought him down, and he served a sentence for attempted murder and manslaughter. As of late, though, he is back in the public eye, training heavyweight contender Charles Martin.

Five men had retired at the end of 1992 but others on the team were also on their way out. Tyrell Biggs would never get back to the same heights, eventually retiring in 1998 with a 30-10 record. Frank Tate would get one more world title shot, a rematch with Virgil Hill but he would again lose a decision, ending with a 41-5 record. Meldrick Taylor was also on the decline. He got one more world title shot, a rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, but this time was dominated and stopped in eight. His final record was 38-8-1. He has since gone on to suffer from dementia. Breland did eventually return in 1996, going unbeaten for five fights. The opponents he took on were not at a high level though and he retired with a record of 35-3-1. The other three men were all still champion or championship level fighters.

Virgil Hill would unify the titles with a split decision victory over Henry Maske. He attempted to add another world title to his collection against Dariusz Michalczewski. Hill was hampered by a leg injury and would lose a close decision. On his return things would not get any easier as he took on Roy Jones Jr. He became another victim on the Jones’ highlight reel, going down to a vicious body shot. He would return at Cruiserweight, winning the WBA Title by stopping Fabrice Tiozzo in the first round. He lost the title against Jean Marc Mormeck, failing in a rematch when attempting to win back the title. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 but returned to the ring for a farewell fight in Bismarck, North Dakota which he won, leaving him with a 51-7 record. Since his retirement he has been working as a coach and is also a spokesperson for the USABAA.

Pernell Whitaker was the first ‘84 Olympian inducted into the Hall of Fame. He became a three-weight world champion by defeating Buddy McGirt and then the fourth when beating Julio Cesar Vasquez. A draw against Julio Cesar Chavez which many believed he won perhaps robbed him of a signature win. He ended his career with four negative results. Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad both got decision victories over him with a victory against Andrey Pestryaev overturned for drug use. His final fight came in 2001, stopped on the doctor’s advice by Carlos Bojorquez. He battled drug addiction after his retirement and according to some during his career. His legacy will probably see the majority of people rate him as the greatest boxer from the dream team. He is one of the best defensive boxers of all time and held the number one spot on most pound for pound rankings to begin the nineties.

The member of the Dream Team held with the most reverence of the fans was actually Evander Holyfield. He would win back the Heavyweight Title four times, defeating old rival Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson twice. He would have defeats to Chris Byrd, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe and James Toney in his prime. He eventually retired in 2011 after a win over Brian Nielsen, finishing with a record of 44-10-2. The Ring rated him as the 22nd greatest fighter of the past 80 years in 2002. Like Whitaker, he squandered most of his money and was also accused of using drugs. He has recently turned his hand to promoting and according to marketing technology company Amobee, in 2017, he was the sixth most famous boxer alive. He is the one of the most recognizable faces and names in boxing.

The Dream Team goes down as the most successful team ever, with six members becoming world champions. Four other members fought for world titles. The combined record was 377-71-8. Given the changing landscape of boxing, it could be the final time that such a team comes together in one place. Since the ‘84 Olympics, America has not managed to win as many total boxing gold medals as they managed that year. Every Olympics seems to bring through a special talent, but the impressiveness of the team diminishes. In ‘88 it was Roy Jones Jr., Oscar De La Hoya in ‘92, Floyd Mayweather in ‘96. Jermain Taylor, Andre Ward, Deontay Wilder and Errol Spence were the following four Games whilst it is too soon to assess the 2016 Games. It has not only seen the decline of American dominance, but their historical rival Cuba has also lost some of its might. More countries than ever are competitive in boxing and winning medals. America has also begun to have less people on the pound for pound lists and dominating boxing. It has become a universal sport which makes the likelihood of another Dream Team, very low.

(This is the third of three installments.)

The Gold Team (Part 1): The Buildup
The Gold Team (Part 2): The Games
The Gold Team (Part 3): The Aftermath

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  1. Ho Lee Chit 06:22am, 10/26/2018

    EXCELLENT SERIES !!  Dwight Williams was indeed one tough hombre. He came right out and charged the much taller Breland at the opening bell. The guy took some shots and kept coming. I do remember the audience booing a few times, especially during and after the Biggs fight. A free event where people can see multiple future boxing champs for free and you boo? Only in New York. haha. Only kidding New Yorkers. Actually I was in NYC at the time and watching the fight down the road on Governors Island. Chavez Sr. in all reality is 1-2 against the “Dream Team.” The first Taylor fight was robbery, and the Chavez vs Whitaker fight was one of the worst decisions that I have ever seen. It has been years since I watched the first Qawi vs. Holyfield fight, but I don’t know what fight the knucklehead who scored it 147-138 for Holyfield was watching. Holyfield squeaked out a victory here, great fight by both Qawi and Holyfield. The rematch was disappointing of course, Holyfield had improved while Qawi had aged while battling a drug and alcohol problem along with depression. Both men were two fierce warriors.

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