By: Ste Rowen
The Story of Andrew Golota The ‘Foul Pole’ Who Caused a Riot & Almost Changed New York Boxing Forever Andrew Golota on a rare occasion of resilience.
He stares down at the changing room floor, towel over his head, tears in his eyes. It had happened again. “You can be champion of the world.” Lou Duva, boxing’s most famous manager screams at his fighter. ”The only person stopping you is you. Nobody but you.” Andrew Golota had been offered the opportunity of redemption five months on from the night he almost completely destroyed his reputation. Now against the very same opponent, a man who won bronze at the 1988 Olympics was repeating the same mistakes and displaying the lack of fight he had shown earlier in the year, which for any boxer is a baseline requirement.
But here in this Atlantic City changing room the future looked truly bleak, and it was all down to one man and the events that led him to become one of the most famous names in the sport.
Boxing is a pretty easy sport to find the men you love to see lose, and maybe that’s what turned an almost childlike giant into a fan favourite in that sense. Andrzej Jan Golota was born in 1968’s Wroclaw, Poland to an alcoholic father and a mother he learned very early on couldn’t cope with him on her own. His father committed suicide when Andrzej was just five years old, and a year later the small boy still reeling from the most horrific circumstances was given up to an orphanage by his one remaining parent.
Fortunately, he was reunited with his extended family when his aunt gained custody of her nephew, but the tragedy of having been given away never left the future heavyweight contender. His aunt however was unable to control the temper of an ever-growing menace. Both literally and figuratively.
Fights, expulsions and trouble with the law led the authorities to send Andrzej to a military training centre in Legia, where Golota’s boxing story began. “My family was against my boxing. They did not think I should do such a brutal sport,” Andrew reflected back in 1996. “They were scared I would get a flat nose.” However much of a discipline boxing is famed to be when it comes to helping troubled children, some boys just can’t be completely saved, and trouble follows them around like a bad smell. “I just wanted to make him look silly.”
‘Silly’ wasn’t exactly how Piotr Bialostocki viewed it when he faced the wrath of Golota, by now already a bronze medallist Olympian when the infamous event occurred in 1990. As the story goes, full of Dutch courage, Bialostocki challenged the 200lb+ boxer to a fight and a short time later he awoke in a bin, treated to a pair of black eyes and his clothes removed. Presumably so that he would sleep easier without them, you know, or not.
The incident was brought to the attention of the police and once again put the now 22-year-old back in the sights of the authorities. Forced to make arguably the most significant decision of his life, he prepared to leave the country that had moulded him and mere months later touched down in Chicago.
Golota always finds it amusing to imagine the faces of the police hunting him down on an armed robbery charge only to see the ‘fugitive’ six years later, on HBO PPV, potentially one win away from fighting for a heavyweight world title.
“In Poland today I am a hero AND a wanted man.”
Speaking barely any English and having very limited contacts in America, Golota not only began to establish a professional boxing career but linked up with one of the sport’s great figures, Lou Duva, former soldier, businessman, boxer, trainer, manager and owner of promotional company, Main Events.
It was all in the Pole’s hands, not only the resources to work with, but a heavyweight division stacked with supreme boxers willing to fight all comers. Although it wasn’t without some almost major hiccups that could’ve derailed Golota’s momentum. At 23-0, the unbeaten man was accused of biting his 24th professional opponent, Samson Po’uha.
In a sign of things to come, Andrew was cruising through the early rounds but after taking a powerful right hand that shook him up, the Pole began to panic. Held the Samoan in a clinch and in Po’uha’s version of events, Golota bit his foe. Photo’s seen after the fight proved that Po’uha wasn’t lying and despite being stopped in the 5th round, the result stood.
Golota’s first strike.
He was a supposed bogeyman before he really stepped up. Chicago resident, via Poland, Andrew headed into his July 1996 bout, his most important fight to date vs. Riddick Bowe with a 28-0 (25KOs) record, but it was from that bout that fans became accustomed to the crazy personality that would expose the Eastern European fighter on the world stage. “How do you train for a bum?” Golota’s next opponent, former world champion, Riddick Bowe proclaimed to the media.
It was an interesting turn of phrase even for boxing’s standards, but at a time when it was mainly American’s dominating the glamour division it’s not surprising that Bowe was so confident. However, despite Riddick taking the win, it wasn’t Riddick that won it, more that Andrew lost it. “Don’t throw anything below the shoulder!” Duva, once again in Golota’s face in the corner, yelled at his man. “Just hit him in the head.” But the vulnerable child from years ago was coming out once again in Andrew. The need to run, which to this day seems ridiculous as anyone who watches the fight back can see that the crazy Pole is well on top, but he couldn’t resist the urge to fire shots below the belt. By the 7th the referee had, had enough and unfortunately for the rest of Madison Square Garden, so had Bowe’s team.
Once the referee waved off the fight and disqualified Andrew for continuous low blows, Riddick’s corner rushed into the ring charging and pushing at Golota and chaos ensued. Punches flying in every direction, Lou Duva dropped to the floor on his back, and then the crowd turned on each other. Media reports from journalists ringside likened it to a fight between black and white because of the large attendance of Polish New Yorker’s in attendance and Bowe being from Brooklyn.
The MSG had some kind of ‘The Warriors-esque’ haze dropped over where you either tried to get out or fight a stranger. The New York Times labelled him the ‘Foul Pole’. The MSG banned any boxing events from taking place at their venue for three years. Golota was public enemy number one, something you really don’t want to be, especially in America.
And yet the boxing world was ready to do it all over again within the same year. The question was, can a leopard change its spots? No.
Rinse and repeat for the rematch five months later, only this time the fight lasted three rounds longer and there was no riot in the Convention Centre, only the riot happening in Golota’s head. Andrew seemed firmly on top once again, a jab wasted in the annals of boxing, but he just could not get out of the mental block of sabotaging himself, earning a second straight disqualification.
In most sports that would usually be the end of someone playing in the big leagues, at least for a little while, but boxing isn’t like that. Ten months after the shame that came with losing to Bowe by DQ again, the Pole was awarded with a shot at WBC champion, Lennox Lewis – it sure pays to be in business with Duva. But Golota was knocked out in a single round and despite having three more shots at a world title, fell short on each occasion.
A draw, a decision loss, and another 1st round KO. The ‘Foul Pole’ can’t help himself from losing control. His legacy.
Accusing Golota of never trying would be going too far, but in those moments when he was on the brink of legacy-defining performances, he quit, he fell way short of his talent, but then again, he’s still had a career 95% of professional boxers train for.