London 2012: Picking USA Boxing's Dream Team
"Sugar" Ray Leonard (Image courtesy of cnnsi.com).
In the Olympic preview issue of The Ring, Norm Frauenheim lists his choices for a dream team of American boxers, selecting the best U.S. Olympian in each weight class. Such a hypothetical team is the type of project that can fuel intense debate, and Frauenheim condenses his choices to a precise one-page list.
The slideshow that follows expands on Frauenheim’s project with a couple of notable differences. Expansion comes in the form of selecting an alternate for each weight class to extend the roster to a full-fledged Olympic squad. While several of the selections mirror those in The Ring, a detailed analysis attempts to further explicate each boxer’s selection.
The alternate selections could fuel some interesting debates, and certain weight classes had numerous viable candidates. This speaks to the incredible success and depth of the United States throughout the history of Olympic boxing, and the assembled dream team, in terms of both amateur and professional accomplishments, is remarkable.
A bit about the selection process: The 10 weight classes listed are the ones boxers will compete in at the upcoming London Olympics.
Also, the choices for first-team spots and alternates were based on a combination of amateur and professional success. Light flyweight alternate Paul Gonzales and light welterweight alternate Ray Seales are the only dream team members not to win a professional title, and, in tiebreaker situations, professional accomplishments were usually used as the barometer to make tough decisions.
So, is this the ultimate U.S. Olympic boxing dream team? Is it fair to consider professional credentials in compiling such a roster? Let the debate begin.
Light Flyweight (49kg/108lbs)
Holly Stein/Getty Images
Michael Carbajal: Light flyweight does not have the historical precedence of some of the more conventional, classic weight classes, but Michael Carbajal is one of the best ever at that weight, and he also happens to be The Ring’s dream team selection.
Carbajal won the silver medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and, according to the Olympic preview issue of The Ring, was the victim of a corrupt decision. Allegedly, Vladimir Gordienko, a member of Olympic boxing’s 1988 executive committee, had a heated argument with American officials and stated, “You will lose 5-0 to the Bulgarian.”
Unfortunately, these unprofessional antics directly affected Carbajal who lost 0-5 to Ivailo Marinov of Bulgaria.
Though he was forced to settle for silver, Carbajal went on to have a Hall of Fame professional career. Carbajal (49-4, 33 KO) compiled an outstanding professional record and captured the IBF, WBC and WBO light flyweight titles in a career that included a unified title reign.
Alternate—Paul Gonzales: Paul Gonzales won light flyweight gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and was awarded the Val Barker Trophy as the most outstanding boxer of the Games.
However, as a pro, Gonzales was fighting 12-round fights by his third career bout, and he was knocked out in the second round of his only title shot. Gonzales finished his disappointing professional career with a 16-4 record with only three stoppages, but he makes this squad as an alternate because of the lack of overall depth at light flyweight.
Louis Salica (Image courtesy of cyberboxingzone.com).
Louis Salica: The Ring also lists Salica as its top entry at flyweight, and it’s hard not to agree, despite the fact that Salica captured a bronze all the way back at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Salica was part of a U.S. team that won five medals (three bronze and two silver), but it was his professional success that gets him the nod on this hypothetical dream team.
Salica (62-17-12, 13 KO) had a remarkable professional career where he captured the World Bantamweight Title, NYSAC World Bantamweight Title and National Boxing Association Bantamweight Title when championships actually meant something.
Salica was undoubtedly skilled, but he was also durable; of his 17 losses, only one was via stoppage.
While the U.S. has not had its most high-profile success at flyweight, Salica used the momentum of Olympic bronze to reach the pinnacle of professional boxing.
Alternate—Tim Austin: The “Cincinnati Kid” had a reported amateur record of 113-9, and he won a bronze medal for the U.S. at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, losing to Cuban Raul Gonzalez in the semifinals.
As a professional, Austin (27-2-1, 24 KO) carried tremendous power and steamrolled his way to the IBF bantamweight title, which he defended nine times before losing to Rafael Marquez.
While he never participated in a unification fight, Austin’s record in title fights in undoubtedly impressive, and he won eight of his championship fights by stoppage.
Floyd Mayweather at the '96 Olympics in Atlanta.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
Floyd Mayweather Jr.: There is no featherweight division at the London Olympics, but it is conceivable to think that Floyd Mayweather Jr. could have made the Bantamweight limit of 56kg (in 1996, the featherweight limit was 57kg).
At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Mayweather lost a controversial semi-final bout to Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria 9-10. The U.S. formally protested the decision, but their appeal was unsuccessful. As if the decision against Mayweather wasn’t horrendous enough, the fight’s referee erroneously raised Mayweather’s arm after the fight, assuming the American had won. As it stands, this would be Mayweather’s last official defeat, and he closed his amateur career with an 84-6 record.
As a professional, Mayweather (43-0, 26 KO) needs little introduction. Mayweather has won multiple world titles in five weight divisions, and he has been a lineal champion three times. As the most technically sound and skilled fighter of his generation, Mayweather has established himself as the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer, and the fact that he didn’t win Olympic gold doesn’t affect his inclusion on this Dream Team.
Alternate—Meldrick Taylor: The Ring had Meldrick Taylor as its bantamweight entry for an Olympic dream team, and it’s easy to see why. Taylor was part of a stacked 1984 squad that captured nine gold medals and eleven overall.
Taylor won gold at featherweight, and while he didn’t have Mayweather’s professional success (who has?), he was a quality pro. Taylor (38-8-1, 20 KO) captured the IBF light welterweight title and WBA welterweight title. He also lost one of the most famous unification fights ever—a 12th-round, last-second TKO defeat to Julio Cesar Chavez in a fight Taylor was winning.
Oscar De La Hoya at the '92 Olympics in Barcelona.
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Oscar De La Hoya: The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona was where Oscar De La Hoya got his nickname of “The Golden Boy,” a moniker which has become synonymous with boxing and promotional royalty. By winning gold as a lightweight in 1992, De La Hoya launched an outstanding pro career that would see him become boxing’s most marketable star.
De La Hoya’s quest for gold was famously dedicated to his mother, Cecilia, who died of breast cancer a couple of years before the Barcelona Olympics. In his first Olympic bout, De La Hoya upset Cuban Julio Gonzalez in one of the shocks of the tournament. '
De La Hoya used this momentum to embark on an unforgettable gold-medal run, and it is nearly impossible to argue with his inclusion on The Ring’s Dream Team because of the iconic way he rose to the occasion.
As a professional, De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KO) won 10 world titles in six weight classes. De La Hoya was also a three-weight lineal champion, but more important than any of his titles is the way he became the face of boxing and carried the sport for the better part of his career.
If boxing is struggling now, imagine where it would be without De La Hoya.
Alternate—Pernell Whitaker: Choosing De La Hoya over Whitaker is not as simple as one might think, and the selection essentially boils down to how De La Hoya became a crossover star. Whitaker, while not as globally recognizable, was a transcendent boxer whose sublime defensive skills were as unique as they were remarkable.
Whitaker won gold as a lightweight at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and he compiled a professional record of 40-4-1 with 17 knockouts.
Along the way, Whitaker won titles in four weight classes, and was an all-time great lightweight and welterweight who should have been the man to hand Julio Cesar Chavez his first defeat.
Light Welterweight (64kg/141lbs)
Ray Leonard at the '76 Olympics in Montreal.
Ray Leonard: In the Olympic preview issue of The Ring, the justification for Ray Leonard’s inclusion on the U.S. boxing dream team reads as follows: “On a pound-for-pound list of Olympic boxers, the 1976 gold medalist would rank No. 1.”
This is hard to argue with, and Leonard was certainly one of the iconic stars—regardless of sport—of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Leonard was also the most popular and recognizable member of arguably the greatest boxing team the U.S. has ever fielded. While Leonard did not win the Val Barker Trophy—that honor went to Howard Davis Jr.—he did capture gold as a light welterweight, winning all of his Olympic fights by dominant 5-0 decisions.
Leonard famously declared he was finished with boxing after the Olympics, but a combination of endorsements not materializing as Leonard had hoped and his ill father further complicating an already unstable financial situation forced Leonard to turn professional.
As a professional, Leonard (36-3-1, 25 KO) help carry boxing throughout the 1980s, and he waged classic battles with the likes of Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, among others.
Along the way, Leonard captured world titles in five weight classes and effectively carried Muhammad Ali’s torch of being boxing's most marketable star.
Alternate—Ray Seales: While the U.S. has had a few other Olympic champions at light welterweight, 1972 gold medalist Ray Seales (57-8-3, 34 KO) gets the nod because he had better professional success than Charles Adkins or Jerry Page.
Seales was the only gold medalist for the U.S. at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and he was a credible middleweight contender who lost to the likes of Eugene Hart and Marvin Hagler.
Roy Jones Jr. at the '88 Seoul Olympics.
Russell Cheyne/Getty Images
Roy Jones Jr.: In the Olympic preview issue of The Ring, the justification for inserting Roy Jones Jr. into the boxing dream team at welterweight reads as follows: “Keeping Jones off this team would be just another rip-off. Jones, robbed of gold at light-middleweight in 1988, fought at 147.7 and 156.5 pounds in Seoul. The Olympic weight for welter in London is 152.1 pounds.”
Shifting weight classes make compiling a list such as this one intriguing, but Jones warrants a dream-team spot simply based on his sublime skills and Olympic notoriety—as the boxer who probably suffered the worst robbery in amateur boxing history.
Jones, who fought South Korean Park Si-Hun for gold, was a victim of home cooking as he lost a 2-3 decision despite out-landing his opponent 86-32. The Ring has a detailed piece on the pain Jones still feels from having had to settle for silver, and it seems pointless to delve much further into one of the worst moments in boxing history.
That said, Jones, despite not being a gold medalist, won the Val Barker Trophy as the most outstanding boxer of the 1988 Olympics.
While Jones did not technically reach the pinnacle of amateur boxing, he set the record straight as a professional where he was, for a remarkable stretch, the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
Jones (56-8, 40 KO) won titles in four weight classes and made the staggering leap from middleweight to heavyweight champion. In between, Jones had an extended run as the IBF super middleweight champion, and his lineal championship reign at light heavyweight is legendary.
Unfortunately, a badly faded Jones continues to fight, but even a recent string of poor performances cannot sully his reputation.
Alternate—Jose Torres: This is again a case of moving a fighter who fought in the abolished light middleweight division down a few pounds. Jose Torres (41-3-1, 29 KO) won a silver medal for the U.S. at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, losing to Hungarian legend and three-time gold medalist Laszlo Papp.
Torres can be forgiven for that setback, but, more importantly, he parlayed his silver medal into a Hall of Fame professional career. Torres was the unified WBC and WBA light heavyweight champion, and he became an author in retirement to boot.
Michael Spinks at the '76 Olympics in Montreal (Image courtesy of cnnsi.com).
Michael Spinks: This is a somewhat controversial choice as Floyd Patterson was both a great amateur middleweight and professional heavyweight. Still, Spinks was an elite fighter, and he is certainly a viable pick as first-choice middleweight for a U.S. boxing dream team.
Spinks won middleweight gold at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 alongside his brother Leon, as part of arguably the greatest U.S. boxing team ever assembled.
Spinks defeated Russia’s Rufat Riskiyev by third-round TKO to capture gold, and his reported amateur record was 93-7 with 35 knockouts. Spinks was also a national Golden Gloves champion in 1974 and 1976, and his presence on the 1976 Olympic team helped reestablish American amateur boxing dominance.
Given the criteria for this list, it is Spinks’ accomplishments as a professional that help push him over the top and onto this dream team.
Spinks (31-1, 21 KO) was one of the greatest light heavyweights of all time, in a ridiculously deep era for the division. During his undefeated run at light heavyweight, Spinks captured the WBA title and eventually became a unified, lineal champion in a reign that spanned 10 defenses.
Spinks then pulled off the unprecedented feat of becoming the first light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title when he defeated Larry Holmes for the IBF title in The Ring’s 1985 Upset of the Year.
Spinks would make two defenses before getting knocked out by Mike Tyson in the first round of a highly publicized unification fight.
While Spinks’ last fight was a loss, he walked away from boxing with his health and fortune intact, and his stake as one of the three greatest light heavyweights of all time is unquestioned.
Alternate—Floyd Patterson: The Ring picks Patterson as their middleweight entry, and it’s easy to understand why.
Patterson was an exceptional amateur who captured gold at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. The 1952 U.S. squad captured five gold medals and is considered one of the greatest American Olympic teams.
As a professional, Patterson (55-8-1, 40 KO) remarkably won the world heavyweight title despite being undersized and mild-mannered, and his trilogy with Ingemar Johansson is one of the best in heavyweight history.
Patterson defied all odds to achieve professional success, and his willingness to fight the absolute best made him a legendary champion.
Light Heavyweight (81kg/178lbs)
Cassius Clay at the '60 Olympics in Rome (Image courtesy of americanheritage1.com).
Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali: Light heavyweight is one of the deepest weight divisions in U.S. Olympic boxing history. That said, The Ring is unquestionably correct in selecting Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali as its light heavyweight entry for a boxing dream team.
Clay captured gold at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Overall, Clay was a decorated amateur, winning six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions (1959, 1960), the Intercity Golden Gloves (1959, 1960) and the National AAU Championship (1959-1960). Clay’s amateur record varies, but reports have included 100-5, 127-5, 134-7, 137-7 and 99-8 as possibilities.
As a professional, Clay became one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time, and he achieved worldwide fame and became a cultural icon as Muhammad Ali.
In a remarkable career that spanned the most competitive era of heavyweight boxing, Ali (56-5, 37 KO) was a three-time lineal heavyweight champion, and his remarkable trilogy with Joe Frazier is the greatest in boxing history.
Ali fought and defeated the best of his era, and his wins over Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Patterson and Liston, among others, make his claim of being the “Greatest” of all time a valid one.
More importantly, Ali was one of the key cultural symbols of a crucial and tumultuous era, and his principled resistance of the Vietnam War and subsequent time in prison was a defining event of the 1960s.
That Ali was able to again embark on a dominant heavyweight championship reign after losing three years of his prime only enhances his legend.
Alternate—Evander Holyfield: Other candidates for the alternate spot include Leon Spinks (his professional career was not good enough) and Andre Ward (let’s reassess in 5-10 years), but Holyfield gets the nod because of his combination of amateur and professional success.
The Olympic preview issue of The Ring acknowledges that Holyfield was robbed in his semifinal bout of the 1984 Olympics when he was disqualified for hitting on the break.
Holyfield had to settle for bronze, but his professional reigns at cruiserweight and heavyweight have been legendary. In compiling a professional record of 44-10-2 with 29 knockouts, Holyfield was both a lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion.
Holyfield is a four-time heavyweight champion, and he participated in some monumental bouts, including the infamous “bite fight” against Mike Tyson.
Joe Frazier with his gold medal from the '64 Olympics in Tokyo (Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk).
Joe Frazier: The Ring is spot-on in selecting Frazier as their heavyweight entry for a boxing dream team. Despite being undersized, Frazier packed a concussive punch, and his left hook is one of the best in boxing history.
Frazier won gold as a heavyweight at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Of course, Frazier was originally an alternate for the Tokyo team, having lost to Buster Mathis at the Olympic trials. However, Mathis had poor training habits, and a thumb injury allowed Frazier to supplant him on the squad.
Frazier steamrolled his early competition and won his first three bouts by knockout. Ironically, Frazier broke his own thumb in the semifinals and was unable to throw his patented left hook. Despite this hindrance, Frazier cruised to a decision to win gold.
Frazier went on to become one of the greatest professional heavyweight boxers of all time. Frazier captured the vacant NYAC heavyweight title by defeating the aforementioned Mathis while Muhammad Ali was in prison, and he defended the belt four times before adding the WBC and WBA straps to his haul.
Shortly after, Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali in “The Fight of the Century,” in what was the first bout of boxing’s greatest trilogy and rivalry in general.
Frazier helped define an entire era of boxing, and his numerous accomplishments speak for themselves.
Alternate—Ray Mercer: The list of conventional American amateur heavyweights to choose from is not particularly deep, though Ray Mercer is a viable choice as an alternate.
Mercer captured gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, winning all of his bouts by stoppage, which is particularly important given the controversial decisions awarded at the Games in South Korea.
As a pro, Mercer compiled a 36-7-1 record with 26 knockouts, and he did briefly hold the WBO heavyweight title. Perhaps more important in terms of the perpetual boxing vs. MMA debate is that Mercer knocked out Tim Sylvia in under 10 seconds in his only MMA fight.
Super Heavyweight (+91kg/+200lbs)
George Foreman at the '68 Olympics in Mexico City.
Getty Images/Getty Images
George Foreman: Even though George Foreman fought as an amateur when the super heavyweight division didn’t exist, “Big George” was a gargantuan heavyweight and is the unquestionable choice as the dream team entry for amateur boxing’s heaviest weight class. The Ring also chooses Foreman, and it is interesting to consider that the U.S., despite the credence it places on professional heavyweight boxing, has not won a medal at super heavyweight since 1988.
Foreman, of course, won gold in Mexico City in 1968. Incredibly, Foreman entered the Olympics with a 16-4 amateur record (he would finish his amateur career 22-4 after the ’68 Olympics), and despite this inexperience, he knocked out Russia’s Ionas Chepulis to win gold.
In fact, the only Olympic bout Foreman didn’t win by knockout was his opening-round contest. Consider this: At 19, Foreman stood 6’3" and weighed 218 pounds, and he was so physically impressive during his brief run in the unpaid ranks that he sparred with heavyweight champion Sonny Liston.
As a professional, Foreman compiled a record of 76-5 with 68 knockouts in what became a tale of two careers. In Act 1, Foreman demolished every heavyweight in his path with frightening power on the way to capturing the WBC and WBA titles—by destroying Joe Frazier via TKO in the second round of a fight where Foreman scored six knockdowns.
Two defenses would follow before Foreman lost the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” to Muhammad Ali, and Foreman would retire three years later for a decade.
In Act 2, Foreman reinvented himself and became a beloved sports figure and icon. At 45, he defeated Michael Moorer to win the WBC and IBF heavyweight titles with a one-punch, thudding right-hand knockout that snatched victory from the grave. Behind on all the scorecards, Foreman’s victory was indeed miraculous, though perhaps it was not as surprising as the fact that he’s made infinitely more money as a grill salesman than as a fighter.
Alternate—Riddick Bowe: As stated above, 1988 was the last time the U.S. won a conventional super heavyweight medal, and it was courtesy of the enigmatic Riddick Bowe, who captured silver at the Seoul Olympics.
Bowe’s TKO loss to Lennox Lewis in the Olympic finals can be forgiven, but the fact that they never fought at professionals is unsettling. Still, Bowe holds a 2-1 edge over all-time great Evander Holyfield, and he captured all four major titles in a career that included a unified title reign.
At 6’5" and weighing roughly 240 pounds during his championship years, Bowe was blessed with power and speed; he was good, but he could have been great.