Top Iconic Sporting Events of the 80s

There are several iconic moments that make up the 80s decade overall. However, the sporting moments of that time period are really something to remember. 

We know that in every sport, there’s at least one figure that breaks out and makes a name for themselves. Such events and more are what make 80s sporting events so fascinating. Even non-sports fans would be interesting in the iconic events that changed the sporting world in the 80s. 

Below are some of the events in question:

The Performance of Mary Lou Retton

Mary Lou Retton is a known name for those growing up in the 80s, regardless of whether they were interested in sports or not. She recently appeared in ‘Dancing With the Stars’, but her star factor was actually decided back in 1984. 

In that year, Mary Lou Retton was actually lagging behind Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo in the All-Around finals for Women. She was also competing with knee surgeries, so it was unlikely that she’d win the gold. However, Retton managed to get a perfect score in the last two routines—the vault and the floor exercise. She finally defeated Szabo by one-fifth of a pint, an unbelievable margin.

In this manner, Retton actually became the first female American to take home the all-around gold medal. She was undefeated in this record for a further two decades. Her resultant fame extended beyond the sports industry, as she was also featured with Wheaties cereal and portrayed the character ‘Tiny Tim’ in ‘Scrooged’.

Rose Banned in Baseball

Iconic sporting events cannot be discussed without also touching upon the controversies. In 1989, Pete Rose was banned from playing baseball. He was commonly dubbed ‘Charlie Hustle’ when he was a player.

The ban was mostly due to accusations against him regarding bets on baseball games—both as a manager and player. While he actively played for three years, he agreed to this permanent ban. The ban on his playing and his presence in the Baseball Hall of Fame remains solid to this day.

Muhammad Ali’s Fight Against Larry Holmes

The 1980s was the time when the renowned boxer Mohammed Ali was facing a downturn in his career. He was weakened by thyroid medication according to some sources, which he had taken in order to lose some weight. However, he had previously retired and was called back to fight with Holmes after only a short respite. 

The fight between Ali and Holmes was scheduled in Las Vegas during October 1980. In spite of Ali’s hands tingling and voice stuttering, he still came to the boxing ring. Doctors had cleared him for fighting, but it was clear he wasn’t up for it. Even the actor Sylvester Stallone, another iconic figure of the 80s and a live observer, commented that the match was like watching ‘an autopsy on a man while he was still alive’. 

The fight would later be known as ‘The Last Hurrah’—while there wasn’t a knockdown, this was the first fight that Ali lost by stoppage. His trainer Angelo Dundee put a stop to the fight following the tenth round. Needless to say, this was the last match of Ali’s career and perhaps one that eventually contributed to his Parkinson’s syndrome.

If you’d like to learn about the full story of this fight, you can read our article, The Last Hurrah: Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes.

Mike Tyson’s Rapid Destroying

Boxing was a huge sport in the 1980s, especially with the Sylvester Stallone ‘Rocky’ series ruling the box office. However, names like Mohammad Ali and Mike Tyson also made sure of some legendary events taking place. 

In the case of Mike Tyson, the year 1988 saw him become the champion of the world in a lineal fashion. He did so by defeating Michael Spinks in no less than 91 seconds. As Spinks was running undefeated for 31 fights before this match, the feat is truly amazing. 

In fact, Tyson served such a heavy left uppercut that Spink sank to his knees. Seconds later, Spinks was paralyzed due to another heavy hit from Mike Tyson. In this manner, boxing and sporting history was changed forever. 

However, it wasn’t as if Tyson was a beginner boxer at this point. By 1988, he has a record of 34 undefeated matches and had the title of unified heavyweight champion of the world. He was seemingly unstoppable, though Spinks was hailed to be the better boxer in a technical fashion. Almost everyone expected Spinks to stop Tyson, but it was not to be. The fight ended up being one of the shortest in boxing history. If you’d like to read the full story about this game, you can read our article, Once and for All: Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks.

A Miracle Win

While matches of any kind are usually unpredictable, there are some that make a whole nation weep in joy (or sorrow). One of these was the performance of the US Men’s Olympic hockey team in 1980. AT that time, the Cold War was in full force and the Iranian hostage crisis was a black mark against America. 

The hockey team itself didn’t present very high hopes; it was made up mostly of college players and amateurs. The Russian team, on the other hand, has a legendary and undefeatable status. The play began, and eventually, the underdog defeated the giants. 

The win was actually so surprising that announcer Al Michaels couldn’t contain himself near the end. He shouted ‘Do you believe in miracles? Yes!’ and thereby symbolized the joy of the whole country.

If you want to learn more about this game, check out our lost of the Unforgettable Facts About the ‘Miracle on Ice’.

The First Live League Game

With the television subscriptions and streaming services that we have now, it’s hard to imagine a time when watching league football was a challenge. It was only in October 1983 that the first ever live league football game was broadcast through BBC. 

The teams playing were Tottenham and Manchester United, with the latter winning by two goals. Of course, the clarity has improved multifold since that day, but it was a milestone for sports fans in any case.

The 1980 NBA Finals

In 1980, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers squared off for the National Basketball Association title. In the series, Julius “Dr. J” Erving showcased his athleticism, which includes one memorable play where he swooped under the basket with the ball in one hand and laid it in. However, it was the Lakers, which was led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who won the game. Johnson was awarded as the Finals Most Valuable Player. 

George Brett Goes Wild

George Brett in a baseball game

A regular game of baseball between the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals was supposed to happen on July 24, 1983. However, it became one of the most iconic events in sports history as one athlete had an outrageous outburst. George Brett hit a go-ahead home run. However, the umpires of the game ruled him out due to his bat having an excessive amount of pine tar, which was illegal. With this, Brett responded by rushing onto the field to yell in the face of the umpires. Their team protested and later on won, and the game was continued in August. You can learn more about this iconic event by reading our article, George Brett and the Pine Tar Incident.

The Death of Len Bias

Another iconic sporting event that occurred in the 1980s is when Len Bias died. Leonard Kevin Bias was a college star basketball player from the University of Maryland. On June 17, 1986, he was drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics. However, after two days, he died from a cocaine overdose. His death led to the anti-drug legislation. His story also became a cautionary tale to young athletes everywhere. 

Greg LeMond’s Victory in Tour de France

Greg LeMond in the 1989 Tour de France

Tour de France has been around since 1903. However, competitors from outside of Europe rarely do well in this cycling marathon. But Greg LeMond changed all of that when he became the first American to win the Tour de France in 1986. In addition to that, he also won the event two more times, including the 1989 competition after recovering from a shooting incident. For the full story, check out our post, Remembering Greg LeMond’s Tour de France Victory.

Michael Jordan Shocks Cleveland

Michael Jordan playing basketball

During Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoff series between Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan hit a game-winner over Craig Ehlo, which sent Chicago Bulls to the conference semifinals. This play was called “The Shot” and was the start of Michael Jordan’s heritage as a postseason hero. After this, he leads the Bulls to six NBA titles over the next decade. 


While sports might not be pop culture, the two industries definitely cross over at times. The events above are just a few examples; we’re sure you can find many more if you just look!