|Mark Breland: From Olympic Gold to WBA World Title!
By Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (April 11, 2009)
With an amateur record of 104-1 a lot was expected of Mark Breland at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He did not disappoint Team USA or the many Americans rooting him on. At 6’2” and weighing 147 he was head and shoulders over his 6 opponents that he would have to defeat to capture the Gold Medal.
Since President Carter announced there would be no Americans participating in the 1980 Olympics in Russia, the
Russians and Cubans returned the favor in Los Angeles by not competing. Breland had defeated the Russian Serik Konakbayev to win the Gold Medal in the 1982 World Championships in Munich, West Germany.
Breland defeated Wayne Gordon (CAN), stopped Carlos Reyes (PUR), defeated Rudel Obreja (ROM), stopped Genaro Leon (MEX), defeated Luciano Bruno (IT) and defeated Yong-Su Ahn (KOR) for the Gold Medal. “I felt good and relieved at the same time,” said Breland. He finished up his amateur career at with an amazing record of 110-1 losing only to Darryl Anthony. “I thought I beat Darryl Anthony,” said Breland. “It felt weird losing for the first time,” he added. He would get his rematch in his 11th professional fight.
I asked Breland to say a little something about each of his eleven teammates. Tyrell Biggs: good heavyweight with a good jab and a funny guy. Henry Tillman: Nice guy and a real hard worker. Evander Holyfield: Strong, relentless, just never gives up. Virgil Hill: Good, and came out of nowhere to win a spot. Frank Tate: Good boxer and slick. Jerry Page: Hard worker and hilarious. Pernell Whitaker: Funny, kept you laughing and a slick boxer. Meldrick Taylor: Philly fighter who came at you, relentless. Robert Shannon: Nice guy, good boxer who felt he had to be more of a puncher. Steve McCrory: Slick, Detroit fighter. Paul Gonzales: Tall, good boxer. The team won eleven medals including nine gold, one silver and one bronze. Some team members got together in Charlotte earlier this year and hope to have another being it’s their 25th anniversary year possibly in New York.
Shelly Finkel signed Breland and teammates Tyrell Biggs, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Meldrick Taylor to managerial contracts. Main Events would be the promotional group having the five of them along with teammate Virgil Hill on the same card winning their debut’s in Madison Square Garden November 15, 1984.
Breland was not fed a bunch of soft opposition. He started off his career with Dwight Williams (7-1) and Marlon Palmer (4-0-3). Lou Duva had asked this writer for a list of 100 names for his Olympians and Palmer was one of them. Next would be future WBA super middleweight champion Steve Little (10-2) while Vince Dunfee (6-1) became Breland’s first knockout victim.
Dunfee would be the first of 4 straight knockouts including Don Shiver (19-0) who would retire with a (22-1) record after being stopped in the 1st round by Breland. Posting 7 wins in 1985 Breland would end up defeating Hedgemon Robertson (21-5-1) who had just won 3 straight knockouts including Pat Jefferson (20-2). “He was a tough opponent,” said Breland. Next would be back to back unbeaten fighters in Troy Wortham (24-0) and Richard Aguirre (13-0) with Wortham being Breland’s first ten in his ninth bout.
The stage was set for the “rematch’ with Darryl Anthony (21-1-2) in April of 1986 at ice World, in Totowa, New Jersey. Anthony was unbeaten in his last 14 fights with 1 draw. Breland stopped Anthony at 2:14 of the 3rd round. Anthony would never be the same.
Two fights later they brought in John Munduga (24-0) of Uganda who was about the same height as Breland and with 18 knockouts fighting out of Germany. “He was a big puncher,” said Breland. Mundaga was stopped in the 6th round in Atlantic City.
While on a 7 knockout win streak Breland was matched with South African champion and southpaw Harold Volbrecht (39-4-2) who was on an 8 fight streak of his own. Breland would win the vacant WBA welterweight title at the Trump Plaza Hotel, in Atlantic City on February 6th, 1987 stopping his opponent in the 7th round. “I felt good, but the Olympic title is something you can’t take away,” said Breland.
Five months later Breland would win a 10 round decision in Italy over Juan Rondon (20-4-2) of Venezuela which amounted to a warm up match for his first title defense just six weeks later. On top in this card was an Italian welterweight title bout with the winner possibly a future opponent down the road.
Marlon “Majic Man” Starling (41-4) was chosen for Breland at the Township Auditorium, in Columbia, South Carolina in August of 1987. Going into the 11th round Breland was ahead by 10, 8 and 5 points on the cards. Only a knockout would prevent him from winning his first defense. The roof fell in the 11th for Breland after taking a couple of borderline punches to the body he was hurt with a combination of punches before finally collapsing. Though Breland was able to beat the count, the referee halted the match at 1:38 of the 11th round in a scheduled 15 round bout. In Breland’s defense, the referee Tony Perez allowed Starling to ram his head into Breland’s midsection throughout the fight with rare warnings. This took its toll on Breland.
It would be 8 months before the two fighters would have their rematch. Starling made a title defense and Breland won two fights in between. This time the setting would be the Hilton Hotel, in Las Vegas in April of 1988 and the title bouts were now reduced to 12 rounds. In the 4th round Breland knocked Starling’s mouthpiece out, but Starling came back to rock Breland with a minute left in the round. Starling would keep his hands high and bull his way in while Breland did most of his punching to the head. This fight went down to the wire. It seemed Breland may have pulled it out but all three judges ruled differently. Each fighter got a vote while the third judge called it even. “I thought I won the fight,” said Breland. When asked why there was not a third fight he had no answers. “I don’t know why,” he added.
Breland came back with a pair of knockouts then was put into another vacant title bout since Starling moved up a weight class. Seung-Soon Lee (31-2) was the opponent brought in and he had no chance with Breland who had him down within half a minute of the fight. The referee waved it off at 0:54 of the 1st round awarding Breland the welterweight title once more on February 4th, 1989 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Three title defenses followed starting with Colombian Rafael Pineda who quit in the 5th round claiming to have gotten thumbed. Oddly enough Pineda then dropped in weight winning eight straight before challenging then junior welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker from the 1984 team, this time losing a decision. That’ll teach him to mess with the 1984 team.
Mauro Martelli (33-1) the European champion from Switzerland challenged Breland in Geneva. Martelli in his previous fight lost a decision to the IBF champion Simon Brown. Breland destroyed Martelli in 1:15 of the 2nd round. Then off to Japan stopping Fujio Ozaki (25-5) the OPBF champion in the 4th round. Ozaki had gone the distance with Starling prior to Breland’s draw with the champion.
In March of 1990 Breland again was out of the country defending against Lloyd Honeyghan (34-2), the former WBC, WBA and IBF champion whom he took out in the 3rd round in London. This set the stage for an all New York title defense with Aaron Davis (29-0) that ended up in Reno for some reason. Though Breland was behind on two of the three scorecards he had the right eye of Davis completely shut going into the 9th round when while inside a right hand from Davis felled Breland for the count. This would be the last time Breland would fight as a welterweight. Davis would lose the title to Meldrick Taylor from the 1984 team six months later by decision.
In April of 1991 Breland would win three times in three months before stepping it up with Jorge Vacca (48-8-1), the former WBC welterweight champion who stopped him in the 6th round. “I didn’t think the referee should have stopped the fight, but I was burnt out by this time in my career,” said Breland.
It would be almost five years before he would come back in January of 1996 winning 5 straight inside of fourteen months over ordinary opposition. In March of 1997 Breland would have his last fight retiring at the age of 33.
Breland appeared in several movies like Lords of Discipline (1983) and with Evander Holyfield in Summer of Sam (1999). He is back in boxing today training one of Finkel’s boxers the USA’s only 2008 Olympic medalist Deontay Wilder. At 6’7” he has moved into the heavyweight division adding 15 pounds to his slim frame. “I outpointed guys with a jab,” said Breland. “Wilder has shown remarkable improvement in a short time,” he added. Can you imagine Mark Breland as a heavyweight? Can’t miss!
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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