Lee Groves

10: Notable Olympic boxing controversies

3. August 9, 1984 – Kevin Barry (New Zealand) DQ 2 Evander Holyfield (USA)

Because of the Soviet boycott – a retaliation for Jimmy Carter’s decision to not send an American team to the 1980 Moscow games – the path was cleared for America to dominate the Los Angeles games. And dominate they did, winning nine of 12 available golds.

In most people’s minds, the U.S. should have gotten the chance to compete for a 10th. Light heavyweight Evander Holyfield, who earned his way onto the team courtesy of back-to-back wins over the favored world champion Ricky Womack in the trials, bulldozed his way to the semifinal, stopping Ghana’s Taji Akay in three, Iraq’s Ismail Khalil Salman in two and Kenya’s Syivaus Okello in one. The kid once nicknamed “Chubby” was a sculpted beast that look poised to become an Olympic champion.

But first he had to get past New Zealand’s Kevin Barry, who decisioned Trinidad’s Don Smith (5-0), Uganda’s Jonathan Kirisa (3-2) and Cameroon’s Jean-Paul Nanga (4-1) to earn his way into the medal round. Naturally, the “Real Deal” was a heavy favorite to move to the gold medal match against Yugoslavia’s Anton Josipovic, who shut out Algeria’s Mustafa Moussa earlier in the day.

Yugoslavian referee Gligorije Novicic officiated the Holyfield-Barry match, a questionable move in retrospect given his countryman would face the winner of this bout for the gold. His actions confirmed the concerns surrounding potential conflict of interest.

Holyfield dominated a rough, grueling fight in which both men were warned for various infractions. With only six seconds remaining in round two Holyfield landed a right to the ribs and a vicious short hook to the jaw that knocked Barry to the canvas. During the brief space between those two massive blows, Novicic had called for the fighters to break. Holyfield looked to be a clear knockout winner but Novicic ruled that Holyfield had improperly struck Barry on the break. Therefore, Holyfield was disqualified.

Because Barry had been knocked out, he was suspended for 28 days. Thus, Novicic’s countryman Josipovic was awarded the gold medal courtesy of a walkover. The U.S. delegation filed a protest but their efforts to reverse the injustice were unsuccessful.

Both men handled the situation with grace. After Novicic raised Barry’s hand, Barry then raised Holyfield’s arm to signify who he — and everyone else — felt was the real victor. Holyfield became a cause celebre for the dignified way he handled his setback, which lifted him to equal standing with his gold medal winning teammates in terms of notoriety and money when they all turned pro a few months later. The magnanimous mood extended to Josipovic, who lifted Holyfield to the top step during the medal ceremony.

It was a most gracious end to a most ungracious episode. 

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