SUGAR RAY LEONARD’S stunning and contentious victory over Marvin Hagler in April 1987 resulted in middleweight chaos. Prior to that showdown Hagler held all three major belts but only the WBC title was at stake on that eventful night. And following Leonard’s victory, and his (short-lived) decision to head back into retirement, all three titles were suddenly vacant. The first of the governing bodies to fill a hole was the IBF, when they matched leading contenders Michael Olajide and Frank Tate together for their 160lb belt on October 10 1987.
BORN in Liverpool and raised in Vancouver, Olajide was seen by many as the next dominant force in the historic division. Handsome with greased curls, the slick and shiny starlet looked a little like the 1987 version of Michael Jackson, suited his ‘Silk’ nickname perfectly, and he was unbeaten in 23 outings.
TATE was also defeat-free in 20 contests. Curiously, though, he lacked the buzz that surrounded his opponent despite emerging from the 1984 Olympics with a gold medal as a souvenir.
BUT Tate was not the IBF’s first choice. Thomas Hearns was originally scheduled to meet Olajide for the vacant title but pulled out, opting to take on Juan Roldan for the empty WBC throne on October 29 instead.
THE underdog was determined to spring a surprise at Ceasars Palace in Las Vegas. “I’ll make Olajide fight my fight,” he declared. Tate’s trainer, Jesse Reid, opined that Olajide relied too much on his impressive left hook and promised, “We will have a counter for him.”
BOXING NEWS expected the favourite to win, though. “I expect Olajide to forge ahead after cut-and-thrust boxing in the early rounds and proceed to overpower Tate with well-judged pressure and solid punching to stop him around the 11th,” wrote Graham Houston.
WE were wrong. The 23-year-old Olajide – who boxed out of New York – was thoroughly beaten over 15 rounds in the fight that was billed “Glitter v Gold”. Olajide had his moments, but Reid’s prophecies rang true, as Tate responded to any good work coming his way with hurtful punches in bunches that were accurate and clean.
IT became clear an upset was brewing in round five. Tate clocked his man with a huge right hand that “rocked Olajide right down to the tassels on his white ring boots.” Referee Richard Steele had to work hard to unravel Olajide from Tate, as he clung on desperately.
OLAJIDE was staggered again in the ninth by a left hook, and floored heavily in the 11th by a huge right. Somehow he dragged himself upright at the count of ‘five’, and survived the round by desperately ducking and rolling beneath the subsequent onslaught. In the next session, he was floored again, but Tate once more failed to finish the job, as his wild, over-zealous blasts were avoided.
NO matter. At the end of the 15rounds there was no doubt about the winner. The crowd chanted ‘Tate! Tate!’ as they awaited the scores and they were not disappointed by the lopsided tallies that followed. Tate had done it, via totals of 146-135, 148-134, and 147-136.