Some think Andrew Golota redeemed himself when he fought Chris Byrd for the IBF title last April in the Garden. Some think Golota is a joke.
He was no joke when he won a bronze medal for Poland in the 1988 Olympics. He was no joke when he fled Warsaw one step ahead of the law. He was no joke when he turned pro on February 7, 1992 with a third round TKO in Milwaukee. He was no joke when he won his next twenty-seven fights, twenty-four by early stoppage, without a loss.
At 6'4″ and 225-pounds, Golota was big enough, and athletic enough, to compete with anyone in the division. He could box. He could punch. He could hurt a man with either hand. And Golota had a simmering malevolence which seemed as pathological as it seemed marketable.
Hurricane Andrew hit Atlantic City on May 16, 1995. It was his twenty-third fight, against a man named Samson Po’uha. Po’uha was a big, tough, resilient, free-swinging pug from the Kingdom of Tonga. He put a little hurt on the Pole in round one, but Golota fired back. The ref gave Po’uha two standing eight-counts in the second. In round three Golota blindsided Po’uha and bit him on the shoulder. Po’uha got spooked by the teeth marks on his flesh. Golota shrugged it off. The Pole pounded Po’uha and dropped him three times in the fifth round. A Golota win by TKO.
On March 15, 1996, Golota fought Danell Nicholson. Nicholson looked like he might give the Pole some trouble, but Golota was too strong, too scary, his fists too busy, his head too hard for Danell Nicholson. After eight rounds of battering, he was chopped meat.
That bout set up the fight between Golota and Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe. They met in Madison Square Garden on July 11, 1996 and it was a war while it lasted. Golota dropped Bowe in the second. Bowe dropped Golota in the fourth. Golota put Bowe down in round five. Then Golota lost it. He earned his ring monikers “Foul Pole” and “South Pole” the only way he knew how: by hitting Big Daddy below the belt. With Bowe writhing on the canvas, the ref disqualified Golota in the seventh. There was a race riot after the fight in the Garden.
Everyone thought that was the low point of Golota’s career. Fans stopped analyzing his power. Now they dissected his superego. But because a good fight had been shanghaied by his roughhouse tactics, a rematch was deemed a natural.
Bowe-Golota 2 was held in Atlantic City on December 14, 1996. Unlike the first fight, when Bowe was under-trained and overweight, this time he was over-trained and underweight. Golota, by contrast, pretty much looked the same, and pretty much fought the same, low blows and all. Bowe grew old in the ring that night and it was not a pretty sight. Golota was DQed in the ninth.
Golota had all the potential in the world, what it took to be the champ, but there was a chemical imbalance, an unhappy childhood, a thug ethos, a loose screw, which caused him to meltdown under pressure. But with boxing being boxing, the quintessential game of second chances, Golota was absolved and given a pass.
Golota met Lennox Lewis on October 4, 1997 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. With the decline of Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis was the man to beat. Many thought the Pole might give Rasta a run for his money, but Lewis landed hard and landed early and knocked Golota down. He struggled to his feet and Lennox finished him off in the first. Golota’s decline was now official.
Golota went from fighting Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis to fighting Eli Dixon and Jack Basting. Then Golota beat Corey Sanders, Tim Witherspoon, Jesse Ferguson and Quinn Navarre. Golota was punching his way back into contention.
The fight with Michael Grant on November 20, 1999 at the Trump Taj in Atlantic City gave Golota another chance to make his mark. Near the end of the first round, Golota nailed Grant with a solid overhand right. Grant’s legs buckled and he crumbled to the canvas. Using the ring ropes, he pulled himself upright, but was wobbling when the bell sounded. Golota chased Grant for several more rounds. Golota tired and Grant came on and dropped the Pole in the tenth. Golota got to his feet, apparently unhurt, but refused to continue fighting.
Golota chalked up wins against Marcus Rhode and Orlin Norris, setting up a big fight with Mike Tyson on October 20, 2000 at The Palace in Auburn Hills. That bout was ballyhooed from sea to shining sea as the greatest thing since the Second Coming and expectations were higher than they should have been under the circumstances. Tyson glared and Golota cowered at the opening bell. After landing some bombs and drawing first blood, Mike decked Andrew at the end of round one. Golota endured more punishment in the second, then quit in his corner between rounds.
Golota retired for two years. He returned to active duty in 2003 and won two bouts. Golota approached Don King and begged the promoter to take him on. King knows a thing or two about second chances and embraced Andrew like a long lost son, which led to the draw with Chris Byrd at the Garden. Because of that performance, because he broke no rules, Golota earned another shot at another crown.
This Saturday in New York City he meets WBA champion John Ruiz. Unlike Byrd, Ruiz rumbles, he doesn’t box, and he has made saner men than Golota blow their cool. We will see how the Pole contends, if the Pole contends, with the idiosyncrasies of the Quiet Man.