Trevor Berbick: a tribute
By Richard Fletcher
There is irony in the passing of Trevor Berbick, the former heavyweight champion who was found dead in Jamaica early last Saturday. On November 22, it will be 20 years since Berbick's bit-part role in the emergence of Mike Tyson, who knocked him down and out in the second round to become the youngest heavyweight champ ever at the age of 20.
Tyson must surely have felt a twinge of sadness when learned of the fate of his 28th opponent, the man against whom he launched what was to become one of the most compelling and controversial careers in boxing history.
By contrast Berbick was a dour, unremarkable character, although a tough, uncompromising adversary in the ring, first representing Jamaica at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada, where he turned professional later that year.
His struggle for recognition was captured perfectly when he shed tears of joy the night he won the world title by outpointing Pinklon Thomas in Las Vegas on March 22, 1986.
Eight months later it was different story in the same city as Tyson hammered him in just 5min 35sec in front of a star-studded audience and live on the HBO cable network in America.
An HBO segment before the fight focused on Berbick's work as a preacher at the Moments of Miracles Pentecostal church in Vegas, but there was to be no miracle for him in the ring that night. Berbick tried to outmuscle Tyson and soon paid the price, memorably going down three times from the challenger's final left hook as he tried desperately to regain his senses and save his title.
It was a mark of Berbick resilience, and Tyson's extraordinary power, that the ex-champ was never stopped again in his 62-fight career, although he didn't fight at the championship level again.
Before winning the title, 1981 had been Berbick's biggest year. On April 11 he took Larry Holmes the full 15 rounds in his first championship fight, hurting Holmes early before falling away to lose a unanimous decision.
Eight months later Berbick outpointed a 39-year-old Muhammad Ali over 10 rounds in what proved to be the legend's last fight, in the Bahamas, on December 11.
But Berbick fought a raft of other names in his 24 years as a professional, including former and future champs John Tate, Greg Page and Buster Douglas, who went on to end Tyson's first reign in 1990.
Berbick also won seven Canadian title fights spread over 21 years, the last at the age of 46 against the much-younger Shane Sutcliffe in what turned out to be Berbick's last fight in Vancouver on May 26, 2000.
Like many boxers Berbick encountered problems outside the ring, including a parole violation that reportedly led to him being banned from the U.S. But Berbick gave everything in the ring and there are few boxing people who will not feel some sadness over how his life ended, and for the family he has left behind.