|Two Time Olympian Robert Shannon Remembered!
Interview by Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (April 29, 2009)
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Robert Shannon who was a member of the 1980 Olympic team that was cheated out of going to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Russia. “The funny part about that was we were in Russia and Kiev (Ukraine) boxing at the time President Carter made the announcement of a boycott,” said Shannon.
During that time period Shannon had won the 1980 US National Championships at 106. Though he was from Edmonds, Washington he was a member of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Club in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. After about an hour I found out his wife Claudia, who happens to be an attorney, and him met in 1986 and married in 1989 and celebrating their 20th anniversary this year while having 2 daughters. Since he didn’t know his wife while at Ali’s I said “is it true Veronica (Ali’s 3rd wife) was a little sweet on you?” You should have heard the laughter! “Leo Randolph must have told you that,” he added. Randolph, also from the state of Washington was a 1976 Gold Medalist and WBA super bantamweight champion.
“I was only 17 and it was late one night when she came back to the camp and knocked on my cabin door. We were just talking no longer than two minutes when Ali and his bodyguard came storming in. Ali took her to another room and they were getting loud. The bodyguard told me not to be there when Ali comes out and to go to Eddie Mustafa’s (Muhammad) cabin,” said Shannon. “The next day I was told Ali wanted to talk to me. He wouldn’t take my phone calls so I had to meet him in person. When I did go to see him he apologized and started taking care of me and taking me to many places,” said Shannon. “I remember getting in an accident with one of Ali’s expensive cars and Veronica telling me its okay it needed a paint job anyway,” added Shannon.
Future professional world champions on that 1980 team were Leroy Murphy (IBF cruiser), Donald Curry (WBA/IBF welter & WBC light middle), Johnny Bumphus (WBA light welter) and Richard Sandoval (WBA bantam). “We were not together very long. We had about 2 weeks at the Abercrombie Camp in Houston,” said Shannon. “We still get a Christmas card from Charles Carter (#165) of Yakima, Washington of the team every year. Johnny Bumphus (#139) comes to town every once in awhile,” said added Shannon. In 1980 an airplane crash that rocked the world when 12 Olympic team members died in Poland going to a meet. “I had several team tournaments to pick from in Europe and almost picked that one,” he added.
Shannon stuck around in the amateurs hoping to earn a spot on the 1984 team and he did qualifying by capturing the 1984 Golden Gloves title at #119. At the Olympics in Los Angeles Shannon defeated Sammy Mwangi of Kenya in the 2nd round 5-0. In the 3rd round he met Moon Sung-Kil of Korea who had stopped his British opponent previously. “I out boxed him easily in the 1st round but when I got back to my corner my coach Pat Nappi was upset with me. He told me I have to knock him out. I knocked him down in the 2nd round and got caught coming in and got dropped. In the 3rd round I got dropped again and didn’t remember anything after the second knockdown or even being interviewed by Howard Cosell,” added Shannon.
Shannon finished his amateur career with a 126-26 record. 1980 US National champion (106) and 1984 GG champion (119). I asked him about his fellow 1984 team members.
Tyrell Biggs: Liked him Henry Tillman: Really liked him Evander Holyfield: Nice Virgil Hill: Nice and roommate at times Tate: Nice guy Breland: NY marathon runner Page: Really nice Taylor: Quiet. Lost to him in 1982. Whitaker: Cocky. Thought he lost to Joe Belnic in box-off. (Whitaker def Belnic 2x 1982 and 2 of 3 in 1984 with final bout booed by many at box-off) McCrory: Beat him. A sharp, fun guy. Gonzales: Sweetheart of a guy and really good boxer.
Former teammate Mark Breland said “nice guy, good boxer who felt he had to be more of a puncher.” Other teammate Tyrell Biggs said “tough as nails.”
Shannon turned pro in September of 1984 under his amateur trainer Troy Summers. He won his first 10 bouts, 5 by knockout. In his 11th fight he defeated Sonny Long, 8-5-1, snapping his 3 fight winning streak. Long had gone the distance with future world champions Wilfredo Vazquez and Greg Richardson along with Steve McCrory from the 1984 USA team.
Then Shannon had back to back draws with Daniel Garcia, 2-0, and Karry Allen, 5-1-1. “I dropped Garcia in that fight and should have finished him,” said Shannon. In August of 1986 Shannon stopped Allen in a rematch in the 7th round bringing his record to 13-0-2. “I was in camp at times with (Leo) Randolph from 1986-89, “added Shannon. Then he was matched up with Richardson for the USBA title in Tacoma. He lost a majority decision to the future world champion over 12 rounds.
After winning his next fight he took a short notice fight for Angelo Dundee and lost a majority decision to Jose Sanabria, 11-2-1, in Las Vegas. Getting dropped in the 2nd round cost him the fight. The tough Venezuelan had stopped McCrory the year before.
Shannon came back with a knockout win and scored the biggest win of his career over title challenger Irving Mitchell, 31-5-1, stopping him in the 8th round of a Stroh’s Super Bantamweight Tournament in Inglewood, California in a quarterfinal bout.
In the semifinal bout Shannon would lose a decision to future WBC super bantamweight champion Paul Banke, 13-3, over 10 rounds. “I thought it was a robbery,” said Shannon. He would lose his next fight closing out 1988 to Argentine champ Pedro Ruben Decima, 19-2, retiring in his corner after 4 rounds. Decima would later defeat Banke for his title.
Next up almost 11 months later would be Jemal Hinton, in November of 1989. “This was another one of those short notice fights and was supposed to be scheduled for 10 rounds,” said Shannon. It turned out to be a WBC Coninental Americas super bantamweight bout over 12 rounds. “I was stopped in the 11th round on a cut,” said Shannon. Hinton would later retire with a 22-0record.
In 1990 Shannon scored back to back wins. The latter was over Vinnel Ponzio, 7-1-1 by split decision. In the rematch Ponzio would take a split decision. This in November of 1980 would be Shannon’s final fight. “It was just a club fight by then,” said Shannon. His final record would be 18-6-2 with 8 knockouts.
I asked what if any involvement Shannon had in boxing today and who his favorite fighter was. “Today I coach a class once a week which I’ve done for five years,” said Shannon. “My favorite fighter was Robert Duran at #135,” he added.
There have only been a handful of American’s in the history of the Olympics who have been on two teams. The first was Davey Armstrong as a member of the 1972 and 1976 teams. Shannon was the second on the 1980 and 1984 teams and Rau’shee Warren the third on the 2004 and 2008 teams. Shannon may be best known for this accomplishment or the night he won over Muhammad Ali’s trust!
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