By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Twenty-five years? Really?
While stumbling around the Internet for a few days looking for a coherent nugget upon which to build the week’s column, I instead tripped over yet more evidence of my advancing years.
In November 1986, I was 17 years old. I was a senior in high school. I was a couple months into a relationship with my first real girlfriend. And I hadn’t yet met many of the people – friends, mentors, nemeses – who’ve subsequently made the biggest tangible impacts on my life.
On one particular Saturday that month – the 22nd, to be specific – a big one arrived.
Twenty-five years ago last night.
That Saturday, rather than heading to Brenda’s house for a night of movie-watching or out to the Summit Park Mall for some holiday shopping, I decided to stay home and check out the first HBO spotlight show for a kid I’d read about in KO Magazine and seen a few times on “Wide World of Sports.”
Before he was “Iron,” he was “Kid Dynamite.”
And before there was Spinks or Bruno or Punch-Out on Nintendo, there was Trevor Berbick.
The sturdy Jamaican-turned-Canadian, best known for pushing Larry Holmes and finishing Muhammad Ali a few years earlier, was both the reigning WBC heavyweight kingpin a quarter-century ago and the man many thought capable of providing an unbeaten phenom more than cursory resistance.
In fact, no less an authority than Angelo Dundee – who’d worked against Berbick in Ali’s inglorious finale and was working for him in the defense against Tyson – predicted in Sports Illustrated that his man would use that guile and toughness to swim a largely unproven foe into deep water.
“Berbick has had terrific sparring,” Dundee said. “He's been working with cruiserweights Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Bernard Benton. He's licking his chops at the thought that for once he won't have to chase, that Tyson will be right there in his face. Trevor is a good body puncher and has 23 KOs to his credit. He's confident and so am I.
“I think he will stop Tyson in a late round.”
If it was good enough for Angelo, it was good enough for me. And while I wasn’t convinced the old man’s confidence would indeed result in a win, I did figure the qualities he cited would result in a more memorable fight than those put up by the likes of Jesse Ferguson, Marvis Frazier and Jose Ribalta.
While the action wasn’t Ali-Frazier or Gatti-Ward, the two rounds that unfolded that night at the Las Vegas Hilton have nonetheless stuck with me ever since, both for the tumult they specifically included and the long-range impact they ultimately had on the sport.
Anyone who saw the KO sequence will remember the way a single left hand resulted in three knockdowns. Anyone who paid attention in the subsequent three years will remember a champion whose violence became must-see TV for a generation of young fans.
And regardless of their viewpoint on where he ranks in the all-time heavyweight pantheon – I’ve got him only eighth-best since Cassius Clay emerged and I still insist Buster Douglas beats him 10 out of 10 – anyone born within range of my own birthday can appreciate Tyson as a spectacle to whom few better or worse have ever compared.
In an era where some fighters serve mainly as vehicles for carefully-concocted corporate brands, the nostalgic in me longs for another guy who’ll ditch the robe, eschew the socks and come to the ring with a purpose having zero to do with positioning for the another laptop commercial.
After all these years, that visceral Tyson aura is just as strong.
Who knows… a few more YouTube memories and I might even give ol’ Brenda a call.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO super middleweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Thomas Oosthuizen (champion) vs. Francisco Sierra (No. 24 contender)
Oosthuizen (16-0-1, 11 KO): Third title defense; Fourth fight of 2011 (3-0, 1 KO)
Sierra (24-4-1, 22 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight of 2011 (1-1-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “A small step forward for unbeaten 168-pound slugger.” Oosthuizen in 9
Vacant IBO junior welterweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Kaizer Mabuza (No. 18 contender) vs. Steven Wills (No. 22 contender)
Mabuza (23-8-3, 14 KO): Third title fight (0-2, 0 KO); Winless since February 2010 (0-2)
Wills (16-0-2, 9 KO): First title fight; One fight past six rounds (1-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Veteran makes it tough, but not tough enough.” Wills by decision
WBC super welterweight title – Mexico City, Mexico
Saul Alvarez (champion) vs. Kermit Cintron (No. 14 contender)
Alvarez (38-0-1, 28 KO): Third title defense; Five KOs at 154 since 2010 (6-0. 5 KO)
Cintron (33-4-1, 28 KO): Sixth title fight (3-2, 3 KO); Held IBF title at 147 (two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Former welter champ emerges from slump with upset win.” Cintron in 10
Vacant WBO junior lightweight title – Cincinnati, Ohio
Adrien Broner (No. 1 contender) vs. Vicente Rodriguez (No. 6 contender)
Broner (21-0, 17 KO): First title fight; Tenth fight in Cincinnati (9-0, 8 KO)
Rodriguez (34-2-1, 19 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since August 2008 (13-0-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Unbeaten slugger not going home for a title-fight loss.” Broner in 7
WBO bantamweight title – Mazatlan, Mexico
Jorge Arce (No. 1 contender) vs. Angky Angkotta (No. 6 contender)
Arce (58-6-2, 45 KO): Eighteenth title fight (13-4, 9 KO); Held titles at 108, 115 and 122
Angkotta (2-5, 14 KO): Second title fight (0-1, 0 KO); Lost on cuts to Arce in 2010 (TD 7)
Fitzbitz says: “Wily Mexican finishes bloody job started 22 months ago.” Arce by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 1-1
Overall picks record: 264-87 (75.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.