|The return of Mike "Hercules" Weaver
By John J. Raspanti, Doghouse Boxing (June 21, 2013)
Special Thanks To Boxing Channel for Mike Weaver Photo
“When I got serious, I won the heavyweight title”
Mike Weaver scored one of the most dramatic knockouts in heavyweight history 33-years ago. Weaver’s rise to the top of the heavyweight mountain was a difficult one, beset by hometown decisions, deception and corruption.
Born in Gatesville, TX in 1951, Weaver and his family moved to Compton, CA in the 1960s. Weaver enlisted in the U.S Marine Corps at seventeen. His duty included a stint in Vietnam.
It was during his service while in the Marines Weaver discovered boxing.
“I was in the Marine Corps in North Carolina,” said Weaver during a telephone interview a few weeks ago. “I went to a club one night. I walked over to the jukebox to play a song. This guy shoved me out of the way. I pushed him back – he swung at me and missed.
“I swung back and knocked him out. A couple days later, they came and asked me if I would be interested in joining the boxing team. They told me the guy I knocked out was the heavyweight champion of the Marine Corps.”
Deciding to give boxing a try, Weaver won titles in both the All-Marine and All-Services competitions before going on to the National Golden Gloves and AAU tournaments. He also boxed at the Pan Am Trials.
Weaver turned professional in 1972. After eight fights, his record stood at a mediocre 4-4.
Was there a reason for his slow start?
“I loved boxing, but I didn’t like to train,” Weaver said. “I didn’t take fighting seriously. I’d take fights on short and notice. I thought I could knock everybody out. As an amateur, I knocked out a lot of people. It was different in the pros.”
A year later, Weaver worked out with Muhammad Ali.
“I sparred with Ali when he was getting ready to fight Ken Norton,” Weaver recalled. “It’s something I’ll never forget. We went four rounds. I had prayed about sparring with him for years.
“He hit me and I hit him, but he was talking like crazy,” said Weaver, laughing.
Weaver’s career took off in 1975 when he reeled off eight straight victories over an assortment of undefeated prospects and established professionals.
But, in 1978, Weaver lost back-to-back to decisions to Stan Ward and Leroy Jones. The loss to Jones was for the NABF heavyweight title, vacated a few months before by George Foreman. The consensus at the time was that Weaver had been robbed.
“I won those fights,” said Weaver. “I fought Stan Ward in his hometown of Sacramento, California. The fight went 12-rounds and they gave it to him. I fought Leroy Jones in Las Vegas. He was the more known fighter. Those things happen in boxing.”
Undeterred, Weaver started another winning streak, which led to a rematch with Ward. This time he took the scoring out of the judges’ hands by starching Ward in the ninth round. The victory put him in line for a shot at the heavyweight championship.
Two factors had changed Weaver. Don Manuel was now his manger. Manuel believed in Weaver, as did former heavyweight champion Ken Norton.
“Ken Norton told me after sparring one day, “recalled Weaver. ‘He said, ‘Man, Mike, if you took fighting seriously you could really do something, but you don’t train.’
“I listened to what he said,” added Weaver.
Weaver fought Larry Holmes for the world heavyweight championship on June 6, 1979 at legendary Madison Square Garden. Promoter Don King told Weaver boxing fans didn’t know him.
“He offered me seventy five thousand dollars,” Weaver said. “A few days later he changed it to fifty thousand.
“I told him I’d take fifty dollars for the opportunity to fight Larry Holmes,” Weaver added.
Unappreciated, but filled with the desire to prove his worth, Weaver gave Holmes fits before running out of gas and being stopped in round twelve. His performance drew raves.
“I told everyone going into the fight that I might not beat Larry Holmes, but he’ll know he was in a fight,” said Weaver.
Holmes gave Weaver his due.
“Mike Weaver proved a lot of you wrong like I did two years ago,” said Holmes to the media. “He knocked the hell out of me in the first round and I still hear bells ringing. I couldn't see for the next two rounds.”
Weaver earned a second shot at the heavyweight crown nine months later. He traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to face defending champion John Tate. Through 14 rounds, Tate controlled the fight. Weaver recognized what he needed to do.
“I knew I was behind in the fight,” said Weaver. “My manager also told me I was way behind and the only way I was going to win was to knock him out.
“I told him, “Ok, I’m gonna do it.”
Weaver delivered by knocking Tate cold with 45 seconds left in the bout.
The victory stunned the vast majority of Tate fans. Weaver had entered the bout a prohibitive 2-1 underdog.
Later in 1980, Weaver ventured to North-West, South Africa, to face number one contender Gerrie Coetzee. In some respects the matchup was reminiscent of the 1938 rematch between African American heavyweight champion Joe Louis, and German born challenger Max Schmeling.
Apartheid ruled in South Africa at that time. Coetzee was called the “Great White Hope” (a title he loathed) by many South Africans.
“A lot of people, like Jessie Jackson, told me not to go over there,” said Weaver.
“I told him that there’s racism over here too. ‘I’m not a politician, I’m an athlete.
“I told him I was going to knock Coetzee out,” he added.
In a brutal fight, Weaver, behind on the scorecards after eight rounds, stopped Coetzee in the 13th round.
As gratifying as the Coetzee victory was, Weaver will always consider his victory over Tate the highlight of his career.
“Defeating Tate to win the heavyweight championship was my greatest victory,” said Weaver. “I was considered a stepping stone for Tate. He had signed a contract to fight Ali.
“Tate looked past me.”
Weaver held the heavyweight title for two years. His boxing career was a successful one, but, as in most cases, there are regrets.
“I didn’t take fighting seriously like most fighters do,” Weaver said. “I loved the ladies. “
Weaver engaged in a total of 60 fights. He doesn’t hesitate in naming the most talented fighter he ever fought.
“Oh, Larry Holmes, easily” Weaver said. “I rank him in the top five as one of the best fighters ever. He was truly great.”
Today, Mike Weaver is a happy and soulful man.
“I have a very good life,” said Weaver.
John J. Raspanti responds to all his emails. Please send all questions and comments to John at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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