Mike Weaver Vs John Tate
March 31, 1980
Venue: Stokely Athletic Center
Coming into his first defense of his WBA heavyweight title, John Tate was on top of the world. He secured the title vacated by Muhammad Ali when he thoroughly defeated Gerrie Coetzee by 15-round decision in Coetzee’s homeland of South Africa the previous October. Tate was a crowd pleasing, aggressive heavyweight who combined punishing body punching with surprising speed for his 6’4, 230 pound plus frame. Negotiations had already begun for Tate to defend against Ali in a comeback fight for “The Greatest.” Standing in Tate’s way for this huge payday was journeyman heavyweight Mike Weaver.
Weaver was a 28-year-old marine veteran of the Vietnam War who came into his fight with Tate with a very pedestrian 21-9 record. Weaver had shocked my father and me the previous June by giving the WBC champion Larry Holmes hell before getting hit with an uppercut in the 11th round that almost knocked him out. Eventually, Holmes would finish Weaver off in the 12th. Because of his great performance against Holmes, my father predicted Weaver would knock out Tate and wagered three bets of 100 dollars. I begged my father not to make these bets as he was out of work and we were barely making it on his unemployment. I just knew my mother would have to go back on welfare after this latest debacle by my father.
Just as I expected, it was all Tate for the first 10 rounds. He attacked Weaver to the body and head at will. Weaver was practically a statute as he did little except for holding and an occasional left jab. Tate had his hometown Knoxville fans on their feet as when each round ended, they exploded in applause and cheers. I was fighting back tears as I knew the lights and heat would soon be turned off in our apartment. My father was already completely intoxicated and screaming at our small black and white television for Weaver to do something. At the beginning of the 11th round, my father took his drunk ass out the apartment and left me to watch this one-sided fight by myself. I was 11 years old at the time and despite my want, I didn’t change the channel.
Rounds 11 through 14 saw Tate still dominating Weaver but at a much slower pace and with less pop in his punches. After 14 rounds, I had Tate winning all but one round. My head was spinning and I was fiercely holding back tears. I just knew the kids in my Bronx neighborhood and school would be relentless in roasting me as everyone knew about my father’s insane bets on the fight. Then came the unbelievable 15th round.
Both men were physically spent going into the last round. Tate, knowing that he had the fight all but wrapped up, stayed close to Weaver while holding and trying to run the clock out. Weaver was landing but looked to have no snap on his punches. Then, with about a minute left in the fight, Weaver landed a short left hook that totally incapacitated Tate. Tate fell face first like a tree being chopped down in the woods. I started jumping up and down while screaming tears of joy. Weaver collapsed in sheer joy as Tate laid motionless on the canvas. At that precise moment, my father walked in and saw both men laying on the canvas. He thought they had knocked each other out! When I explained to him what really happened, we both started laughing loudly. My mom cursed us out as we woke up all three of my younger siblings as it was a school night. We made more noise in our small apartment than the Knoxville crowd who were in stunned disbelief.
Tate’s life and career spiraled out of control after this devastating loss. He would once again get knocked out and concussed in his next fight three months late at the hands of Trevor Berbick. Tate battled cocaine and alcohol addiction and eventually became homeless before dying of a stroke at the age of 43 in 1998. It’s a perfect example of how one fight can change someone’s life.
Weaver would hold the WBA title for over two-and-a-half years before losing it via controversial first round knockout to Michael Dokes. After settling for a draw in the rematch, Weaver became a gatekeeper of the heavyweight division before finally retiring in 2000 at the age of 48. As for Pops, he collected his 300 dollars and gave it immediately to my mother as she threatened to throw him out if he didn’t. Meanwhile, for the next few weeks, the kids in my neighborhood were roasted by me bragging about how my father won his impossible wagers.