I think it is very little to no debate that the two greatest boxing teams in the history of the United States were the 1976 and 1984 teams. Today we are going to look division by division and compare them. Now both teams faced less competition because of boycott, a lot of people forget in 1976 28 African countries boycotted the Montreal Olympics because New Zealand allowed a South African Rugby team to play in New Zealand at a time when South Africa supported apartheid. Everybody remembers the Soviet bloc countries boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles games in retaliation to the United States boycotting the 1980 Moscow games. The 1984 Boycott, of course, took away the Russian and Cuban teams that all had guys that could have medaled. The 1976 boycott meant a lot less as there were only a couple of the African countries that had fighters that were threats. So let’s look at each division one by one.
106lbs (1976) Louis Curtis vs. (1984) Paul Gonzales
Louis Curtis was the first American fighter eliminated off of the 1976 team. Curtis was knocked down for the first time in his career by Poland’s Henryk Srednicki with 20 seconds left in a close fight, sealing Curtis’s fate as he would go on to lose a 5-0 decision. After the Olympics Curtis didn’t turn pro until 1984. Curtis fought for a title six times, winning the USBA flyweight title in 1988, over Reginald Brown. He lost his other five title fights. They are as follows: 1987 against Kelvin Seabrooks for the USBA bantamweight title, 1987 against Gaby Canizales for the USBA bantamweight title, 1988 against Orlando Canizales for the USBA super-flyweight title, 1990 against Dave McAuley for the IBF flyweight title, and 1990 against Pedro José Feliciano for the USBA flyweight title.
Paul Gonzales was the winner of the Val Barker Trophy for Outstanding Boxer at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. He defeated Kwang-Sun Kim (South Korea) 5-0, which was probably his toughest fight of those Olympics. As a pro Gonzales beat Bantamweight legend Orlando Canizales in 1986 but lost the rematch in 1990.
Verdict – 1984 gets the nod here, as Gonzales won the Val Barker award plus owns a win in the pros over the legendary Orlando Canizales.
112lbs (1976) Leo Randolph vs. Steve McCrory (1984) Leo Randolph won Gold in Montreal by beating the tough Cuban Ramón Duvalón by a slim 3-2 verdict. Randolph was out of the Tacoma Boys Club, which in the 1970s produced multiple champions. As a pro Randolph had a brief but very successful career. Randolph turned pro in 1978, and by 1980, he was challenging World Champion Ricardo Cardona for the WBA Super Bantamweight Title, which he won via TKO in the 15th round. In his next fight, he lost his title to Sergio Víctor Palma via 5th round stoppage. Randolph retired after that bout and never fought again.
Steve McCrory in most circles is better known as former World Champion Milton Mccrory’s little brother, but in 1984 he was an Olympic Gold Medalist. McCrory defeated the tough Redzep Redzepovski from Yugoslavia by a 4-1 decision to win the Gold Medal. McCrory’s pro career was highlighted by a shot at World Champion Jeff Fenech who knocked McCrory out in the 14th round. McCrory sadly passed away in 2000.
Verdict – 1976 takes it here. Randolph beat a tough Cuban to win Gold and as a pro became a World Champion.
119lbs (1976) Charles Mooney vs. Robert Shannon (1984)
Charles Mooney won the silver medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Mooney lost by decision in the final to North Korea’s Gu Yong-Ju. Mooney went on to be a three-time All-Army champion, three-time inter-service champion, won a silver medal in Pan Am trials, and took bronze and silver medals at the AAU nationals. He made the Army his career and never turned pro.
Robert Shannon qualified for the 1980 Olympic Games as a 17-year-old at 106 pounds. He was not allowed to compete because of the United States boycott of those Olympics. Shannon qualified for the Olympics again in 1984 at 119 pounds but was defeated in his second fight of the competition when he was stopped in the third round by Sung-Kil Moon of Korea. Shannon started out his pro career with 15 straight wins until he ran into future Champion Greg Richardson and lost a close 15-round decision.
Verdict – 1976 Mooney medaled at the Olympics and was an excellent fighter, and he deserves the nod here in my opinion.
125lbs (1976) Davey Lee Armstrong vs. Meldrick Taylor (1984)
Davey Lee Armstrong came from the same Tacoma Boys Club as Gold Medalist Leo Randolph. Armstrong placed 5th in the 1976 Olympics; his professional career never lived up to the expectations that were set for him. Armstrong had also been a member of the 1972 Olympic team.
Meldrick Taylor was beaten at the American Olympic trials. Taylor lost to Andrew Minsker, who then went on to win the trials. However, Taylor came back to beat Minsker twice back-to-back to earn the spot in the Olympic box-offs. In the Olympics Taylor was flawless winning the Gold Medal handily. Taylor had an exceptional career, winning a World Title by beating the always tough Buddy McGirt. Taylor was never quite the same after losing controversially to Julio Cesar Chavez in 1990.
Verdict – 1984 Taylor takes this handily.
132lbs (1976) Howard Davis vs. Pernell Whitaker
Howard Davis was named the outstanding boxer of the 1976 Olympic games. Davis’ toughest Olympic competition probably came in the Olympic Trials where he beat future legend Aaron Pryor to just make the Olympic team. From there Davis dominated his Olympic competition. As a Pro Davis never became a World Champion losing to Jim Watt and then later losing a close decision to Edwin Rosario.
Pernell Whitaker had an extensive amateur career of over 200 fights, winning over 90 percent of those fights. His toughest competition of the ’80s came from two-time Olympic Gold medalist Ángel Herrera Vera of Cuba. Whitaker lost the final of the World Championships 1982 to Herrera. Whitaker came back to beat him four other times, notably in the final of the Pan American Games. So even though Herrera didn’t compete in the Olympics, I think it is safe to assume Whitaker would have beaten him. As a pro Whitaker was one of the greatest fighters in boxing history.
Verdict – 1984, Both were legends in the amateurs, but you have to go with Whitaker here.
139lbs (1976) Ray Leonard vs. Jerry Page (1984)
Ray Leonard, this is one I do not think I have to give people a long story about. All boxing fans know the story of Ray Leonard and everything he accomplished. Leonard won all of his fights by a 5-0 decision and was head and shoulders above the competition in Montreal. In the final, Leonard faced the great Cuban knockout artist Andrés Aldama, who had won his first five fights all by knockout. Leonard won the first round, but took control of the fight in the second round when he dropped Aldama with a left to the chin and then late in the final round, he again hurt Aldama, which brought a standing eight count from the referee. With only a few seconds left in the final round, a Leonard combination forced another standing eight count. Leonard was awarded a 5–0 decision. I think everybody already knows what a great pro-Leonard was; he beat Duran, Hearns, and Hagler, just to names a few.
Jerry Page won one of the greatest amateur fights I have ever seen and what made it even more impressive was that it delivered him a Gold Medal. Page went to war with Dhawee Umponmaha of Thailand and in an exciting fight came away with the victory on points, 5-0. Page’s professional career was very short as he only fought 15 times, finishing with a record of 11-4.
Verdict – 1976 No doubt this goes to Leonard, but if you have never seen Jerry Page’s Gold Medal-winning the match, you need to. Anybody who saw it would never forget him. I know I won’t!
147lbs (1976) Clint Jackson vs. Mark Breland (1984)
Clint Jackson lost his third Olympic fight to Pedro Gamarro of Venezuela. Jackson’s pro career never lived up to his amateur pedigree. His most significant win as a pro was over Marvin Hagler’s half brother Robbie Simms. He lost a decision to Frank “The Animal” Fletcher in an all-out war.
Mark Breland won Gold in 1984 and will go down as one of the greatest amateur boxers that the United States has ever produced. Like a pro, he twice won the WBA version of the Welterweight title. Following his stellar amateur career, his pro career would have to be considered a letdown. In his defense, his amateur career set expectations at a height very few fighters have had to deal with.
Verdict – 1984 and it shouldn’t need any explanation!
156lbs (1976) Charles Walker Jr vs. Frank Tate (1984)
Charles Walker Jr.’s Olympic journey came to an abrupt end in his first fight of the 1976 Olympics when he lost a disputed decision to a Polish boxer who would go on to win the Gold medal. Walker made his pro début in November 1977, in Mesa, Arizona, and fought through most of 1980. He came back after an almost five-year layoff and fought from 1984-86. He ended his pro career with a record of 11 wins, one loss, and one draw.
Frank Tate pulled an upset beating favored Shawn O’Sullivan on a highly controversial 5-0 decision in the Gold Medal match in 1984. Remember the fights were held in the United States and the crowd booed the decision. Tate as a pro went on to win the vacant IBF middleweight title by beating Michael “The Silk” Olajide over fifteen rounds at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas in October 1987. Tate successfully defended his title on tough Tony Sibson’s home turf winning by a 10th-round stoppage in Staffordshire, England, before losing his belt to undefeated phenom Michael Nunn in nine rounds at Caesars Palace in July 1988.
Verdict – 1984 Tate won the Gold and went on to have a solid career.
165lbs (1976) Michael Spinks vs. Virgil Hill (1984)
Michael Spinks won two of his four fights at the Olympics by forfeit. He won the Gold by stopping a very dangerous Russian Rufat Riskiyev by TKO in the third round. Spinks turned pro and would go undefeated as a Light Heavyweight and is on everybody’s all-time top 10 Light Heavyweight lists. He then went on to become one of the few Light Heavyweights to win the Heavyweight title when he upset an aging Larry Holmes.
Virgil Hill had to settle for a Silver medal in the 84 Olympics when he lost a close 3-2 decision to the tough Shin Joon-Sup. Hill would go on to have a Hall of Fame professional career, winning the Light Heavyweight and Cruiserweight championships.
Verdict – 1976 Spinks will go down as an all-time legend, and while Hill was a Hall of Famer, he was just not on Spinks level, and more importantly, Hill won silver while Spinks won gold.
178lbs (1976) Leon Spinks vs. Evander Holyfield (1984)
Leon Spinks stopped Sixto Soria from Cuba in round 3, winning the Gold Medal in 1976. Spinks was an aggressive in-your-face fighter who in his prime was a constant whirlwind. As a pro, he pulled one of the greatest upsets in boxing history when he took down an aging Muhammad Ali by unanimous decision in 1978. Six months later he lost it back to Ali and never achieved anything else of note in his career. Even though his pro career didn’t turn out the way he would have wanted, you have to remember this he won an Olympic Gold Medal and beat Muhammad Ali, that’s a lot more than most do in a 20-year career.
Evander Holyfield should have won the Gold but on the way to winning that Gold he fouled Kevin Barry in the Olympic semi-final and ended up winning the bronze medal. His professional career saw him beat Dwight Muhammad Qawi in only his 12th fight, winning him his first World title. After cleaning out the Cruiserweight division, Holyfield made the jump to Heavyweight and the rest, as they say, is history.
Verdict – 1984 Hard to argue with Holyfield’s resume even though he did not win gold.
178+lbs (1976) John Tate vs. Tyrell Biggs (1984)
John Tate earned a Silver Medal after losing by first-round K.O. to Cuban legend Teofilo Stevenson in the 1976 Olympics. No shame in that as Stevenson was the most dominating Heavyweight amateur in boxing history. Tate won a portion of the Heavyweight title when he beat South African Gerrie Coetzee in Coetzee’s homeland. In his first defense, he dominated Mike Weaver for almost the entire fight. I say almost the entire fight because Weaver caught Tate with time running out and knocked him out at the end of the 15th round. Tate was never the same.
Tyrell Biggs won the Gold Medal in 1984 by beating future legend Lennox Lewis in the quarter-finals and Francesco Damiani in the final. The Boycott did leave his medal tarnished of course because the legendary Stevenson was not there. As a Pro, he got a shot at Mike Tyson’s title in 1987 and was brutally knocked out in the seventh round.
Pick – 1976 is a tough one. Biggs did win Gold while Tate won Bronze. Tate had to fight a prime Stevenson though and Biggs didn’t have to face Stevenson. Plus Tate did win a portion of the Heavyweight title.
Final Decision: 1984 was slightly better in my opinion. In the 11 divisions that both teams fought, 1984 had the edge 6-5. I do not want to leave out Henry Tillman from the 1984 team. Tillman wasn’t included because an extra weight class was added to the heavier divisions by 1984. This is so close that if you tell me 1976 was better I wouldn’t even argue with you (And I LOVE to argue). I wrote this article because of guys like Charles Mooney, Frank Tate, Davey Lee Armstrong, etc…, who are largely ignored when these teams are brought up. At the end of the day, every man on these two teams did their country proud and that is what the Olympics is supposed to be about. Well, that’s what it used to be about and I miss those days.