The 1984 Summer Olympics came during a time when America was at a crossroads. Ronald Reagan had won a landslide re-election for the GOP to his second term in a victory over former Vice President Walter Mondale from Minnesota.
After the Cold War, the implementation of Reaganomics and an attempted assassination, America was ready for some good news and, of course, sport is always here to unite a country so divided.
The Olympics finally made its first U.S. stop in 1984 to Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Only a few days before the July 29th start of the games, the McDonald Murders happened in San Ysidro, California on July 18th, only a mere two-hour drive from the games. 21 people were shot dead and 19 injured by James Oliver Huberty, who said he was “hunting humans”. The killings only ended when he was fatally shot by a SWAT team sniper.
So the country looked towards the games as a healing point and pugilism became the salve to an open wound of racial despair and human depravity.
Of the 12 boxing weight classes in the games, USA Boxing would keep nine Gold medals in the country and bring in a Silver and Bronze, placing the entire team on the medal podium. The boxing display berthed future professional fighters that would make millions. Some would become pop culture icons.
The names read like a whos-who of eighties boxing folklore comprised of Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Virgil Hunter, Evander Holyfield and Mark Breland, to name a few.
It must be noted that the games were boycotted by some countries that excel in the sport like Cuba and the now-defunct East Bloc countries for their stance against U.S. imperialism.
Still, Team USAs accomplishments cannot be minimized.
When Paul Gonzales, a Mexican-American in the light flyweight (106 lbs.) division brought home the gold and proudly waved an American and a Mexican flag at his medal ceremony, he displayed the duality of living in America.
Detroit boxer Steve McCrory, younger brother of former welterweight champion Milton McCrory, took home the gold in flyweight division. He wasn’t offered millions to turn pro and while his Olympic contemporaries were cashing in by 1985, his career was in a permanent downslide after losing his undefeated status under Kronk Gym trainer Emmanuel Steward in a bantamweight title fight in Australia to Jeff Fenech.
Philadelphia featherweight Meldrick Taylor also brought home the gold and eventually became a two-division world champion, until he met Julio Cesar Chavez who took his IBF and WBC World light welterweight titles in 1990 with a 12th round TKO and 8th round TKO in 1994. Taylor was never the same.
Tidewater, Virginia native Pernell Sweet Pea Whitaker took his gold medal at lightweight straight into the pros and dominated the sport at lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight, and light middleweight for 13 years before meeting Oscar De La Hoya, the 1992 Barcelona gold medalist. That unanimous decision defeat set off a finale of losses and a no-decision ruling after testing positive for cocaine in a fight with Andrey Pestryaev in 1997.
But the most successful member of the medal collecting team wasnt even one of its gold medalists. Evander Real Deal Holyfield is known less for the bronze medal he brought home from Los Angeles and more for this ear being detached from his head by Mike Tysons enraged mouth.
Still the future multiple time heavyweight champion soared the highest, making millions of dollars in boxing pay-per-views against the best in the sports’ most revered division. Holyfield stayed in the game until 2011 and went out with a 10th round TKO over Brian Nielsen. He made over $513 million in his career but was financially broken by 2008, having to sell his 109-room Atlanta estate and more.
Boxing gave the country a bit of solace during a time of tumult. During similar times in this country today, we can only hope that the pugilistic wiles of Shakur Stevenson, Nico Hernandez and Gary Antuanne Russell can too give us some peace, if only for a few weeks.