In 1983, I was a rookie reporter at the time and in-between jobs after another local newspaper in New York had their share of cutbacks, so it was to move on. In the old days there were no internet job postings. Word of mouth, looking at that daily newspaper employment guide, or using your connections, were the ways to go when looking for work.
I was fortunate to have a connection or two. With an early passion for boxing, representatives of the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Organizing Committee were in New York City to recruit writers and publicity associates to work at various venues.
We met, spoke, and the rest is history. Months later the final preparations continued for the Summer Games in Los Angeles with opening and closing ceremonies at the LA Coliseum, and at more than 26 venues that would play host to the events and athletes.
Now, 37 years later, and with the postponed 2020 games taking place in Tokyo, I can reflect back about landing a temporary job of a lifetime. Working at the Memorial Sports Venue with a USA boxing team that won 11 medals that included nine gold, one silver, and one bronze.
Since then, other USA boxing teams won their share of medals at the games but never close to surpassing the accomplishments of a 1984 team that saw many, if not all, develop into established pro fighters and world champions in various weight classes.
It is difficult to comprehend what happened after 1984 and why the domination did not continue. There have been reports of scandals and changes within the USA Boxing Amateur Federation and their base in Colorado Springs with a restructure of their operations.
Regardless, and many years later, the 1984 team has been the subject of books and documentaries. They came from all parts of the country with ambitions to fight for the gold and eventually had a platform as a main event fighter for the prominent promoters that were few in 1984.
The names: Paul Gonzalez (Gold), Steve McCrory (Gold), Meldrick Taylor (Gold), Pernell Whitaker (Gold), Jerry Page (Gold), Brooklyn born Mark Breland (Gold), Frank Tate (Gold), Henry Tillman (Gold), Tyrell Biggs (Gold), Virgil Hill (Silver), Evander Holyfield (Bronze), and Robert Shannon, who fell short in the third round to Korean Moon Sung-Kil.
The prominent promoter was Main Events. Six figure contracts were awarded to gold medalists Breland, Taylor, Whitaker and Biggs. Holyfield, the Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, did not earn as much but later got his due as the prominent cruiserweight and heavyweight champion. The Night of Champions professional debuts televised on ABC Sports on Thursday night November 15, 1984 at Madison Square Garden.
Young and a few months from their coronation as Olympic champions, they were quickly national icons. The medals were proudly worn as they entered the ring before a capacity crowd.
But for a moment a look at that 1984 boxing venue. The Cuban national team was the predominant favorite as always. Banners from every nation adorned the old and vintage Memorial venue that was renovated for the two weeks of boxing competition.
There were the managers and promoters all getting a view. The late Lou Duva, who would eventually win the prize and put their names on contracts for Main Events. Duva would align with music manager Shelly Finkel, who quickly became a name associated with boxing champions and represented Deontay Wilder, the heavyweight fighting to regain the WBC title in a trilogy with Tyson Fury come October.
My responsibility was to interview the USA team before and after their round robin bouts, and write the recap story that would be distributed to credentialed media and news outlets. There was limited or no access to the fighters who were secluded in back rooms with Olympic coaches and escorted to and from the Olympic village in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
But the issue was keeping Finkel and Butch Lewis away from the fighters. Lewis, an upcoming promoter who recently passed, eventually would promote Leon and Michael Spinks who won gold at the 1976 games in Montreal.
Lewis and Finkel did everything they could to offer a bribe of employment and put money in my pocket to get up and close and talk with Holyfield, Breland, Whitaker and Taylor. Of course, I refused and observed the protocols.
Years later, Lewis apologized and he hired me to do a few freelance gigs as a publicist for his promotion. Finkel, though, never forgot my threats of getting him evicted from the venue and that remains many years later. But that was not the story here. This is about that historic USA Boxing team and their never ending pursuit to get the gold.
It was a historic time for USA boxing. I will always recall tears of joy as Holyfield had the bronze placed on his neck. Afterwards, he said to me there was no disappointment in not getting the gold because of a disqualification in the semifinals.
Virgil Hill, years later, and despite not winning the gold in a span of 58 professional fights, defended a WBA light heavyweight title 11 times. Though his career was in the shadows of Holyfield, Taylor, Whitaker, and Breland he went about his business.
“To be there and represent the USA was just as important as winning the gold,” Hill said to me after one of his successful WBA title defenses.
They were a team, a family, and it showed as one rooted for the other in secluded areas of the arena. Though the eyes were on Mark Breland, a kid from Brooklyn with special hands and foot work. Breland took a first-round knockout in the quarterfinals over Mexico’s Genaro Leon before taking two unanimous decision victories in the semifinals and finals against Italian Luciano Bruno and Korean An Young-Su, respectively.
Taylor went on to become a two time champion as welterweight and jr. welterweight. His brother from Philadelphia, Whitaker, a four division champion, passed away in 2019 and was regarded as the best defensive fighter of his time.
In 1997, Breland retired and defended his WBA welterweight title three times with a professional record of 35–3–1 (25 KOs). His record blemishes were a draw with Marlon Starling and losses to Jorge Vaca, Aaron Davis of the Bronx, and Marlon Starling.
Breland was the trainer for Deontay Wilder. But after his WBC title loss to Fury, it was Wilder with the excuses and blaming Breland for throwing in the towel. That bothered and hurt Breland more than the numerous punches to his head that have slowed him down over the years.
“One thing you can’t take away is the gold and standing there as a champ for the USA,” Breland said to me recently.
That, in a nutshell, is what it’s all about. That entire 1984 USA boxing team will always have gold even if it wasn’t a clean sweep. They were special and Los Angeles will get an opportunity to host the games again in the modern era for a third time in 2028.
The cost will exceed the $546 million the city spent on the 1984 games. I guarantee the memories of that 1984 team will live again because they were one of a kind.
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