The Warsaw-born Golota had 111 wins in an amateur career that culminated in his winning a bronze medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Golota won other international amateur tournaments as well.
In 1990, he got into a fight with Piotr Białostocki in a bar in Poland. Facing charges of assault and battery, he fled rather than risk five years in prison. Later that year, he married an American citizen of Polish descent and settled in Chicago. Gołota's Olympic results were as follows:1st round bye
Defeated Svilen Rusinov (Bulgaria) 5-0
Defeated Harold Obunga (Kenya) 5-0
Lost to Baik Hyun-Man (South Korea) RSC 2
In 1992, he turned professional, knocking out Roosevelt Shuler in three rounds. He had three more knockouts and then went the distance for the first time, defeating Robert Smith in six rounds. He won his next 16 fights by knockout. His wins included Bobby Crabtree and Jeff Lampkin. Following his KO of Crabtree he was featured in Ring Magazine's new faces section. Soon after, he faced a respected contender, Maron Wilson. Golota won a ten-round decision. He won his next five bouts by knockout. His opponents included Samson Po'hua and Darnell Nicholson, both of whom were considered fringe contenders at the time. The win over Po'hua was memorable for the moment in which Gołota bit Po'hua on the shoulder, two years before the infamous bite-filled rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson.
Golota's first high-profile fight came against former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. Bowe hadn't fought in nearly a year since his third and final fight with Evander Holyfield, which he won by technical knockout in the eighth round, and had said regarding his opponent, "how do you train for a bum?", paying no attention to his opponent's win-loss record. The fight was held at Madison Square Garden on 11 July 1996, and was televised by HBO as part of its World Championship Boxing series.
Early in the fight it appeared that Bowe had underestimated his opponent's skills. However, Golota's penchant for not following the rules was also showcased in this fight as he had trouble keeping his punches above Bowe's belt line. After being repeatedly warned, referee Wayne Kelly began deducting points from Golota and had done so twice prior to the seventh round. Early in that round Kelly took a third point from Golota and warned him that if he did it again, he was going to lose the fight. Golota continued to fight and with less than a minute left in the round landed several hard shots that appeared to have Bowe staggered. However, with 37 seconds remaining in the round Golota dropped Bowe with another blatant low punch, directly to the genitals, and Kelly disqualified him. What ensued was a dramatic riot that left a large number of civilians and policemen injured, including Gołota himself, who was hit by a member of Bowe's entourage with a two-way radio and required eleven stitches to close a cut on his head. The riot, which has been named "Riot at the Garden", was called Event of the Year by Ring Magazine.
The controversy of Golota vs. Bowe I created interest in a rematch. Golota vs. Bowe II was on Pay Per View and Gołota once again led Bowe on the scorecards only to be disqualified in the ninth round by referee Eddie Cotton, again for multiple low blows. This fight also proved to be controversial, and a protest was filed by Gołota's camp to try to overturn the fight's result. Michael Katz, a sportswriter, coined the term Foul Pole for Gołota. Both fights are featured on HBO's documentary Legendary Nights The Tale of Bowe Golota.
Despite two losses in a row, Gołota became the WBC number one contender. On 4 October 1997, he received a shot at the world's Heavyweight championship against Lennox Lewis in Atlantic City, NJ. Gołota was knocked out in the first round.
Gołota subsequently claimed that an injection of lidocaine for tendonitis in his right knee given to him by his physician shortly before the fight made him woozy and impaired his vision. The adverse effects of lidocaine include dizziness, blurred vision, seizures. As a result, he filed a medical malpractice suit against his physician, claiming that the injection had cost him the fight and a deal with HBO for $21 million to broadcast his next four to five fights.
Gołota's boxing career continued with him beating former 2-time world champion Tim Witherspoon by decision. In his next match, he lost to Michael Grant by a knockout in the tenth round in one of The Ring's 1999 fights of the year. Gołota scored two knockdowns of Grant in the first round. He was ahead on all three judges' scorecards in the tenth round when he himself was knocked down. When asked by referee Randy Neuman whether he wanted to continue, he shook his head twice and then haltingly answered "No".
In 2000, Gołota fought in China beating Marcus Rhodes with a third-round knockout. Later in 2000, he faced former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. Tyson knocked Golota down in the first round, and in between rounds Golota told his corner to stop the fight but his corner talked him into continuing. In the third round, as he had done in the Grant match, Gołota told the referee he did not want to continue. The result of the fight was later changed to no contest when Tyson failed a post fight drug test, testing positive for marijuana. Following the Tyson fight, Gołota was inactive for nearly three years before returning to the ring on 14 August 2003. He scored a technical knockout of journeyman Brian Nix in the seventh round. On November 15, Golota knocked out Terrence Lewis in the sixth round at Verona, New York. Gołota then received a second world title shot, fighting IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd at New York City's Madison Square Garden on 17 April 2004. The fight resulted in a draw.
On 13 November 2004, Gołota received his second world title shot in a row. Despite knocking down WBA champion John Ruiz twice within the bout, he lost by unanimous decision.
Golota received his third world title try in a row on 21 May 2005 against WBO champion Lamon Brewster. Though heavily favored to win, Gołota lost when Brewster knocked him down three times inside the first round, prompting the referee to stop the bout. On 9 June 2007, he beat Jeremy Bates in the 2nd round by technical knockout. Gołota fought Kevin McBride on October 6, 2007 in Madison Square Garden and won by TKO in the 6th round, winning the IBF North American Heavyweight championship.
On 19 January 2008, Gołota defeated Mike Mollo by unanimous decision in 12 rounds to win the World Boxing Association Fedelatin heavyweight championship belt. In January, 2009, Gołota lost by first-round TKO to Ray Austin. On 24 October 2009 in Łódź, Gołota fought Tomasz Adamek and lost by TKO in the 5th round. The event was hosted on Polsat TV, it was also broadcast live online on ipla.tv platform. It was the largest live internet transmission in Poland.
Golota took part in Census 2010 commercials, recorded in Polish and English. In 2010, he appeared in the Polish edition of Dancing with the Stars (Taniec z Gwiazdami) with partner Magdalena Soszyńska-Michno. In his first appearance he danced waltz. He fell out on 7 November 2010, in 1/8 final. He reached 5th place.