Police: Former heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick found dead
By HOWARD CAMPBELL
KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Former heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick was found dead in a church courtyard Saturday with chop wounds to his head in a suspected homicide.
Police have arrested a man and were interrogating him at the Port Antonio police station in Portland, Constable Sheldon Francis said.
Berbick's body was discovered about 6:30 a.m. in his hometown parish of Portland, constable Beverly Howell said. The former fighter, believed to be 52, was pronounced dead by a doctor in the church courtyard.
Police did not have a motive and there was no word yet on what kind of weapon was used or how many people were involved in Berbick's death.
Berbick, beset by legal problems following his retirement from the ring, lost his heavyweight title to Mike Tyson and was the last boxer to fight Muhammad Ali.
After beating Ali in 1981 in a unanimous decision in the Bahamas, Berbick went on to win the WBC heavyweight title four years later in a decision over Pinklon Thomas. Berbick's reign was short, however, as a 20-year-old Tyson knocked Berbick out in the second round on Nov. 22, 1986, to become the youngest heavyweight champion.
In his loss to Tyson in Las Vegas, Berbick was knocked down twice in the second round. After trying to get up from the second knockdown he fell another two times.
Berbick fought from 1976 to 2000, finishing with a 50-11-1 record, including 33 knockouts. He also fought for Jamaica at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. He was a strong puncher who moved well and had the potential to be a lasting force in the heavyweight division before the emergence of Tyson.
In spanning the Ali and Tyson eras, Berbick beat such fighters as Iran Barkley, Greg Page and John Tate. Among his losses were those to Buster Douglas, Renaldo Snipes and Larry Holmes.
Lawrence Clay-Bey, the super heavyweight on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, remembered Berbick for his odd style in and out of the ring.
"He was a little strange, but no matter how weird someone might be, you don't wish anyone to die the way he did," Clay-Bey said at a fight in Saturday night in Uncasville, Conn. "He had an awkward style in the ring, but it was very effective. He was like John Ruiz. He had an awkward style, but he made it work."
Berbick's career soured following the loss to Tyson and he began to run into legal trouble.
"We have our challenges in life but Trevor seemed to handle his challenges very badly," said C. Lloyd Allen, former president of the Jamaica Boxing Board and a close friend. "Once he lost to Tyson he just went down a slippery slope."
In 1991, Berbick was convicted of misdemeanor assault for attacking his former business manager, who testified the boxer put a gun to her head and accused her of stealing money from him.
The following year, he was convicted in Florida of raping a family baby sitter and was sentenced to four years in prison. He also was convicted in 1992 of second-degree grand theft for forging his ex-wife's signature to get a mortgage on a home.
After serving 15 months in prison, Berbick was deported from the United States. He went to Canada, where he lived for a time following the 1976 Olympics. He eventually moved back to the U.S., but was deported a second time.
He had been living in Norwich district, a remote, farming community, in Portland parish, since 2002. Recently, he had been coaching boxing at clinics in Trinidad.
He also hoped to open a gym in Portland and to become a boxing promoter -- dreams that Allen said he felt were unrealistic because the sport was no longer popular in the island.
"He was a decent human being despite the hiccups in his life. He was a magnaminous person, always concerned about young boxers," said Allen, who first met Berbick in 1974, before he got into boxing, and last saw him two months ago in Kingston.
Though Berbick was believed to be 52, according to boxing records, other reports said he was as old as 56 or as young as 49.
"Legally, I'm a spirit," he once said. "I have no age."