Timber: The Fall of Big John Tate
He was to be the heir apparent to the retired Muhammad Ali. He was a big strong heavyweight who could box. Yes Larry Holmes was the holder of the World Boxing Council’s version of the heavyweight title. Larry had been embarrassed though in the amateurs by Duane Bobick. Yes as a pro he was undefeated. He beat an aging, slow and ponderous Earnie Shavers to qualify for a shot at the WBC title. Larry then defeated Ken Norton to win the vacant WBC championship. Still many thought of Larry as nothing more the Ali’s sparring partner who was in the right place at the right time.
Enter Big John Tate… John was born in 1955 and he had a very successful amateur career although he was stopped in the Olympics by the great Teofilo Stevenson. He had a good pro style and he quickly began to move up in the ratings after turning professional in 1977. In his fourth bout he outscored rugged Walter Santemore who would meet world champions Tony Tucker, Bonecrusher Smith, Trevor Berbick and Frank Bruno during his career. He would also take a decision over the ever dangerous Earnie Shavers. John would then win a close decision over Eddie “The Animal” Lopez. John was surely not being spoon fed opposition.
John made his move in 1978 with knockouts over Raul Gorosito, Bernardo Mercado and Santemore in a rematch.He then won a close decision over Johnny Boudreaux earning himself a rating. In 1979 Tate met the still highly regarded Duane Bobick and blasted him out in less then a round. John was then matched with power punching South African Kallie Knoetze in an eliminator by the World Boxing Association to determine a successor to the retired Muhammad Ali. The winner of Tate-Knoetzee would meet the winner of a bout between another South African Gerrie Coetzee and former champion Leon Spinks. Big John proved to be too much for Knoetze winning in eight rounds. Coetzee sent Leon to the showers in a single round. In front of over 80,000 South African fans, John boxed and punched his way to a comfortable fifteen round decision over Coetzee and was now proclaimed the new champion.
There was now talk of Ali retuning to fight Tate in a quest to win the championship for a fourth time. All John had to do was defeat Mike Weaver in a defense in front a fan friendly crowd in Knoxville, Tennessee. Weaver had given WBC champion Larry Holmes a very tough fight at Madison Square Garden the year before. He would be considered a good measuring opponent to determine the difference between Holmes and Tate. After fourteen rounds John had a comfortable lead. All he had to do was last the fifteenth and final round. John was still there two minutes into the round. Just one more minute… one more minute. Then it happened, a punch for the ages. Upon its impact John fell face first to the canvas. Out cold!
John was now an ex-champion. The possible Ali fight was gone. A unification bout with Holmes or a Coetzee rematch went up in smoke. Tate would take on Canadian Trevor Berbick in an attempt to resurrect his career. Berbick did not read the scriptas he sent John to the mat in round nine. In a span of less then three months John had found himself helpless on the canvas, his career in shambles.
Eight months later John returned with a decision over Harvey Steichen. He scored a few meaningless knockouts and then he had to travel the distance to defeat veterans Leroy Caldwell and Leroy Boone. A decision over Donnie Long led to a KO over Marty Capasso. John would not box again for almost three years.
When John reappeared he weighed a whopping 274 pounds as he blitzed Steve Eisenbarth in a round. Tate scaled 293 when he won a decision over Calvin Jones. In 1988 John took his fourteen bout win streak to England to meet Noel Quarless. John trimmed down to 281 but Quarless won a ten round verdict. That was all for Tate’s tenure as an active boxer.
John retired with a respectable 34-3 record with 23 knockouts but I’ll always think of him with the question, “What if?” Where would his career have gone if he could have just survived that final round against Weaver. Just one more minute…
Next entry: Cotto vs Judah: Just Another War…
Previous entry: Diego Corrales Killed in Motorcycle Accident