John “Big John” Tate

Year Honored:
WBA Boxing


We usually read and write about the triumphs in sports – the victories and championships, titles and honors. But we must always remember that at the end of every contest, there is both elation and sadness. This simple yet profound fact of athletic competition is no more dramatic than in the case of the great Tennessee boxer, “Big John” Tate. He and Knoxville trainer Ace Miller set one goal – to become the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Miraculously, that is exactly what Tate would become. He earned national recognition first as an amateur. He was a two-time Golden Gloves runner-up and made it to the finals in the 1976 Olympics before turning professional in 1977. His crowning bout came in 1979, when he defeated Gerrie Coetzee to win the World Boxing Association Heavyweight Championship. He held the belt for only five months before being knocked out in the final round of a fight versus Mike Weaver. Tate lost his next fight to Trevor Berbick, and even though he won his following ten bouts, he never recovered from those two losses. Over the next few years, he spent time in jail for various offenses. The $1.7 million he had earned as a boxer was all lost. Finally it seemed as though Tate was heading toward a healthier life when he was killed in a car crash in 1998. “Big John” Tate will always be remembered as a world champion whose story is testimony to the fragility of the human condition.

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