The period from February 15, 1978 to June 27, 1988 produced what we know as the Lost Generation, a period in which many potential heavyweight faces fell short of their potential and promises. It all started when seven (7) fights against rookie “Neon” Leon Spinks defeated the faded “Big” Muhammad Ali to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world (ruling, WBC, WBA).
Ali had already pushed the limits of her health and fitness after “The Thrilla in Manila” and had finally bitten off a bit more than she could chew…at least for that night. The Greatest would regain his lost title in a rematch later that same year. Speaking of said rematch, prior to said fight, a policy was developed that would result in Leon Spinks ending up as the last undisputed champion in a decade… a very long and tiring decade.
When Spinks defeated Ali, he was set to face his WBC mandatory Ken Norton, but Spinks would choose to fight Ali again. In response, the World Boxing Council stripped him of his version of the title, splintering the crown for the first time since Muhammad Ali’s forced exile in 1967 (which covered a WBA tournament whose history would also repeat itself). a paragraph or so from this point). Ken Norton would receive the vacant WBC title based on retrospective recognition dating back to his late 1977 win over Jimmy Young (an underrated ’70s gem some believe Young won). Norton would later defend his coveted crown against the “Great Black Cloud” Larry Holmes. In one of the biggest high-profile fights of the 1970s, Holmes emerged from a closed deal, making Norton the only heavyweight champion to never win a heavyweight title fight.
Ali would retire after becoming the first three (3) time heavyweight champion (after sitting on the belt for a while) and the World Boxing Association would host a four-man tournament to crown their new king. The “great” John Tate would emerge champion (over Leon Spinks, Gerrie Coetzee and Kallie Knoetze) and lose his first title defense in a fifteenth-round knockout to Mike Weaver.
Tate’s loss in his first defense was merely a continuation of the curse (whatever?) that “Neon” Leon cast upon losing his first title defense. Unfortunately, he would continue well into the era (the WBA’s “hot potato,” as it has been said) until the titles finally came together in 1987. More on this particular event later.
The era would indeed find shame in its inability to find a successor to the sole Ambassador of Ambassadors, Muhammad Ali. The man who later acted as the only kind of stability the era could claim, the “Easton killer” Larry Holmes, never quite got along with the people (and they with him) for many reasons, most notably Ali’s shadow. (and later Rocky Marciano and Mike Tyson) for many reasons, there was no escape. It didn’t help that Larry had beaten all the heroes as well. [Ali] before the world in an embarrassing fight in 1980.
Larry later traded the WBC title (he refused to fight Greg Page because the money wasn’t right) for the new version of the IBF heavyweight belt. In the fight that he could have made it impossible to deny Holmes, he dropped a decision against light heavyweight Michael “Jinx” Spinks. The fight also became historic for many more reasons, since it was the first time that the light heavyweight champion had managed to beat the heavyweight champion and it was exactly 30 years since Archie Moore did not do it against Rocky Marciano.
This docuseries super-cut into a documentary covers all of the above and much more (I could go on, honestly, but who has time to read when you can watch?). The eight (8) part series is as follows:
1. The Greatest Shadow: Covers the unsatisfying reign of Larry Holmes and how he never got what he deserved (although time was kinder to the legend)
2. The rise of the IBF and WBO: the birth of “alphabet soup” and how it stains the sport to this day
3. Don King’s title monopoly: How the “mastermind” stacked the cards with the splinters of the heavyweight crown that permanently eroded interest in the sport
4. The death of the price war: the fallout from the Mancini-Kim affair and how reviews of the sport since then may also prove to be its death.
5. The Fab Five Kings Rivalries: How the Lower Weight Classes, Led by “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez, Thomas Hearns, and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Led the Sport While the Main Class Didn’t Live Until the golden age the 1970s
6. HBO World Heavyweight Series: The long-overdue tournament to crown the first undisputed champion since “Neon” Leon Spinks (and usher in the reign of Muhammad Ali’s inevitable successor in “Iron” Mike Tyson)
7. Fate of the Fallen: A Praise to Good Names That Could Have Been Great, The Lost Generation List
8. The Coming Silver Age of the 1990s: How the Lost Generation might not have been as bad as they make it out to be and opened the door to (arguably) the second-greatest era of heavyweight boxing, led by Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield. and others in their quest to escape the eclipse imposed by the Baddest Man on the Planet [Tyson]
Much more awaits you in The Lost Generation of Heavyweight Boxing, written, produced and narrated by TheCharlesJackson for The Boxing Encyclopedia; from my heart to yours
Oh yeah, a timeline of the 1980s heavyweight boxing division is currently in production. In other words, the more conventional timeline (covering every major fight in the span of 10 years) common to BoxingPedia still appears in the 1980s to adequately fill in the gap between the closed 1970s and 1990s timelines. Stay cool and God bless you.