The 1984 Olympic Games that caused heartache and anger for Mike Tyson, who failed to qualify and Evander Holyfield, who was robbed of gold medal

The Olympics has proven to be a great gateway for boxers to make their name before heading for fame in the professional ranks.

Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk, Katie Taylor, Wladimir Klistchko, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Andre Ward, Muhammad Ali, Vasyl Lomachenko, Oscar De Le Hoya – the list goes on – have all won gold medals before enjoying world titles as a pro.

Joshua represented Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics

For some, it’s a case of so close, but so far. Whether it’s Floyd Mayweather earning a bronze medal in Atlanta or Amir Khan taking silver in Athens, there are plenty of famous boxing names who have starred at the Olympics.

Mike Tyson, one of the most famous and dangerous boxers who ever lived, wanted to be among those illustrious athletes, but failed to even make America’s 1984 squad.

As an amateur, Tyson won gold medals at the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympics, defeating Joe Cortez in 1981 and beating Kelton Brown in 1982.

By the time he attempted to secure his place at the Los Angeles Games, he had Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whittaker attempting to make the same team. Competition was rife.

Tyson garnered a fearsome reputation in his amateur career which was guided by Cus D’Amato and Teddy Atlas
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Tyson lost to Henry Tillman at the U.S. Olympic trials in Texas. Iron Mike was then deemed Tillman’s ‘most worthy opponent’ for that performance and was given a second chance to make the team at Caesars Palace a month later.

Unfortunately, he was beaten again leaving father figure and trainer Cus D’Amato to console a sobbing Tyson. Tillman went on to win the gold medal, but his professional career never reached the heights of Tyson’s.

Tillman retired with a record of 25-6. He met Tyson in the professional ranks in 1990 in his comeback fight after his shock defeat to Buster Douglas. Tyson knocked him out in the first round to exact a measure of revenge.

Tyson emphatically exacted revenge on Tillman in the pro ranks

Holyfield, meanwhile, actually made the 1984 team, competing as a light-heavyweight. He became a household name in America by the end of that summer, but was robbed of the eternal glory he should have had.

Nobody knew anything about ‘The Real Deal’ before the Olympic qualifiers, but defeated amateur world champion Ricky Womack twice in consecutive days to make people take notice.

Holyfield captured America’s imagination in 1984
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Holyfield blitzed his way through the Olympic competition. He earned two referee stopped contests – essentially TKOs, typically awarded awarded when one participant has been knocked down three times in a round – before decimating Kenyan Sylvanus Okello with a first round knockout in his third fight.

America was fully behind their new hero heading into his semi-final matchup with New Zealand’s Kevin Barry.

Then it all went wrong.

Many felt Holyfield was robbed at the Olympics
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Holyfield dominated the first two rounds and in the third, he landed a body shot and then left hook to Barry’s chin that had the Kiwi drop to the canvas. He was done.

Somewhere in middle of this combo, Yugoslavian referee Gligorije Novičić called for a break. Because Holyfield struck Barry after the break – which must have been literal milliseconds – Novičić disqualified Holyfield and awarded the fight to Barry.

The plot thickened when everyone realised Novičić’s compatriot, Anton Josipovic, was already in the gold medal fight awaiting the winner.

Holyfield took the situation in his stride and it made America fall in love with him
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However, Barry was knocked out cold with a headshot, which by Olympic rules, meant he was medically suspended for 28 days and thus, could not even compete for the gold medal he had lucked his way into.

Josipovic picked up gold, Barry was awarded silver and Holyfield had to settle for bronze without any final ever taking place.


The U.S. filed an appeal but it did no good. They also reasoned that, in all, Barry was given six cautions and warnings, typically plenty to disqualify an amateur boxer.

Young Holyfield defeated names like George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Henry Tillman coming out of the Olympics
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The Olympic committee, although they wouldn’t overturn the decision, did allow Holyfield to receive his bronze medal despite the fact, traditionally, a competitor would not after being disqualified.

Despite all that, though, the Olympic spirit was on display. When Barry’s hand was raised, he made sure to raise Holyfield’s hand in the ring – he knew who the better man was.

Then, at the medal ceremony as boos echoed around the arena, Josipovic made sure Holyfield joined him on the gold podium.

Although Tyson and Holyfield didn’t get the Olympic glory they wanted and/or deserved, they had legendary professional careers that will surely give them solace.

Referee Lane Mills (L) steps in as Evander Holyfield (R) reacts after Mike Tyson bit his ear
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Tyson became one of the biggest box office attractions boxing has ever seen and a former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

He is also still the youngest man to ever win a world heavyweight title at 20 years and four months, to this very day.

Holyfield is the only boxer in history to have reigned as undisputed champion in two weight classes after he achieved that feat at cruiserweight and then heavyweight. He’s also the only man to have ever won the world heavyweight title four times.

He and Tyson actually fought twice in the late 1990s. We’re sure you’ve heard about it. Holyfield upset the odds in the first and then gave Tyson an earful in the second…