|Tyrell Biggs: Gold Medalist, Contender and World Title Challenger!
By Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (Mar 19, 2009)
Cus D’Amato once told me “if I had to take an athlete from another sport and teach him how to box it would be a basketball player.” So when Tyrell Biggs played for West Philly H.S. “Speedboys” who were the city basketball champs it was an easy transition when at 18 he walked into Joe Frazier’s gym in 1978. At 6:05 he certainly had the right height and slender build as Mr. Hayes started him and was eventually turned over to famed trainer George Benton.
I got the chance to sit down with Biggs at a Shepard’s Recreations amateur show in West Philly. I told him how I met his dad, Jim, back in 1981 or 82 and took his name to Jim Jacobs who was the guiding light for Mike Tyson. I was informed, “we have a fighter named Mike Tyson,” said Jacobs. I told him I never heard of him. A year later I would meet Cus D’Amato in Scranton and shortly thereafter Tyson at the age of 16. I wonder what would have happened if Jacobs had both Tyson and Biggs in the gym in Catskill?
Just 3 years after walking into the gym Biggs would win the US National Boxing Championship in 1981 and again in 1982 after only one year of competition in the amateurs. He would also win the World Amateur super heavyweight championship in Munich in May of 1982 over future WBO world champion Francesco Damiani from Italy. Damiani had earlier defeated 3 time Olympic gold medalist Teofilio Stevenson of Cuba in the competition. In a US-Cuba match that year Biggs defeated Angel Milan avoiding a Cuban shutout. The following year he would win a bronze at the Pan American Games in Caracas losing to Jorge Luis Gonzalez of Cuba. In 1984 Biggs would defeat future world champion Lennox Lewis and Damiani at the Olympics in Los Angeles on his way to a gold medal. Stevenson who had defeated Biggs twice did not participate due to a Cuban boycott. “Stevenson hurt my ribs in beating me in our first match in a dual meet in Reno, but I thought I won our second match in February of 1984 in Reno,” said Biggs. He finished his amateur career with a 108-6 record.
I spent time in the gym sparring with pro’s Marvin Stinson (also former amateur champ) and Jimmy Young at Frazier’s,” said Biggs. “Shelly Finkel would become my manager and Duva my promoter. They also signed Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker from the 1984 team,” he added. Pat Nappi and Roosevelt Sanders were our coaches in the Olympics.
I asked Biggs before we discussed his professional career to say a little something about his 1984 Olympic teammates. Henry Tillman(hw) Very difficult to beat do to his style. Evander Holyfield (178) Blue collar and the hardest worker. Virgil Hill (165) Very smart boxer. Frank Tate (156) Detroit flair, good right hand. Mark Breland (147) Quiet assassin. Jerry Page (139) Tough to beat. Busy. Pernell Whitaker (132) Awkward southpaw. One of the best. Meldrick Taylor (125) Epitemy of an amateur boxer. Robert Shannon (119) Tough as nails. Steve McCrory (112) Detroit, good hands and flair. Paul Gonzales (106) Tall, good boxer. Biggs brother Xavier runs the Decatur Boxing Club in Atlanta and got some of the team together on January 20th.
It would take Biggs 3 years and 15 fights to get to the title bout with none other than Mike Tyson whom he had a win over in the amateurs. The team turned pro together in 6 round bouts in November of 1984 at Madison Square Garden. Biggs would decision Chigago’s Mike Evans, 3-1-1, who would win his next 14 fights after this defeat. In his 4th fight he stopped 6:06 Texan Eddie Richardson, 9-1, in Atlantic City. Knockouts over southpaw Danny Sutton, 24-9, and Tony Anthony, 17-4, would follow making it 6 straight knockouts since his debut decision win. In Anthony’s previous fight he had lost in the ESPN tourney final.
Next up in January of 1986 was James “Quick” Tillis, 31-7, whom he decisioned in 8 rounds at Americana Host Farm, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Tillis would follow up this bout going the limit stopping Mike Tyson’s 18 straight knockouts. This bout would be the only professional fight for Philly’s Biggs in Pennsylvania during his entire career.
I asked Biggs who his toughest opponent was. “It might surprise you but Jeff Sims was the toughest,” said Biggs. That would be his next opponent in his 9th fight in Reno. Sims, 22-3, broke Bigg’s collarbone in the 2nd round with a punch. He was still able to go on and win the decision in his first 10 rounder. It snapped Sims 10 bout win streak.
Biggs would post 3 more wins including a visit to the United Kingdom. He would return to Madison Square Garden defeating former title challenger Renaldo “Mr.” Snipes, 26-5-1, over 10 rounds. Biggs had Snipes on the canvas in the 3rd round, but suffered a cut. Next he would fight fellow Philly fighter David Bey, 15-4, in Las Vegas. Biggs would be cut again in this fight and have to come back in what could have been his first defeat and stop Bey in 7. A knockout win over Lorenzo Boyd, 17-11, would follow before stepping into the biggest fight of his young career.
It was October of 1987 at Atlantic City’s Convention Hall Biggs would challenge his old amateur rival Mike Tyson, 31-0 (27), for his WBC, WBA and IBF title’s. In comparing the two fighters, though Biggs turned pro 4 months before Tyson he was only 15-0. Tyson not only had more than double the fights but was defending his titles for the 4th time. For Tyson it was being put up against the super heavyweight Biggs who defeated Craig Payne (had an amateur win over Tyson) in the trials and was the first super heavyweight gold medalist in the Olympics. For Tyson he had lost to Tillman in the heavyweight division of the trials and would not be a member of the team of 1984. There was no love for the 6:05 Biggs by the 5:10 Tyson. To him it was like David against Goliath. Just how well prepared Biggs was by the Duva camp for this fight.
“I knew that some point in time whether in the amateurs or the professionals I would meet up with Mike Tyson,” said Biggs. Biggs boxed Tyson but had blood in his mouth as early as the 1st round. At the bell both fighters started talking trash to one another. Tyson rocked Biggs just prior to the bell ending the 2nd round. In the 3rd round Biggs old cut was opened on his eyebrow. By the 7th round it was a matter of time before Tyson dropped Biggs twice, both with left hooks. Upon hitting the deck the referee stopped it at 2:59 of the round. “Speed was his power,” said Biggs.
It would be a year before Biggs would fight again. His opponent was his old Olympic foe Damiani, who was unbeaten in 21 fights, 18 by knockout. It would take place in Milan, Italy, where the 6:03 Damiani, now the European champion, would have the crowd behind him. “It was a fight that I was winning until I got a cut over my right eye,” said Biggs. “It wasn’t bad, but the referee stopped the fight in the 5th round,” added Biggs. Damiani would become the first WBO champion some 6 months later. This is when Biggs and Duva parted ways.
It would be a year before Biggs would return to the ring against Jamaican born Gary Mason, 31-0, (30), in the United Kingdom in October of 1989. “I had the flu before the fight but didn’t want to cancel it,” said Biggs. “I was winning the fight, but ran out of gas,” he added. The fight was stopped in the 7th round. It was his 3rd straight loss.
“I signed with a woman from New England,” said Biggs. He would start a 4 fight win streak before meeting future champion Riddick Bowe, 21-0 (19), in Atlantic City in March of 1991. Biggs was stopped in the 8th round. “He was a decent fighter,” said Biggs. Before the year was out he was put in with future champion Lennox Lewis, 17-0 (15), the European champion, at Atlantic City. Biggs was down 3 times in the 3rd round before the referee stopped the fight. “He was a good fundamental fighter,” said Biggs.
“I got involved with a manager from Texas but didn’t realize he was an opponent’s manager,” said Biggs. He would arrange for half a dozen easy opponent fights in order to build the record back up. He had 5 straight knockouts before running into substitute Marion Wilson for Michael Dokes. Wilson, 6-4-2, had just fought 6 straight unbeaten boxers going 1-4-1 being stopped once on cuts. He had a granite chin. He ended his career with 57 fights and only that fight on cuts was he stopped. “That guy could take a punch,” said Biggs. He won the fight easily and would meet Mike “the Bounty” Hunter, 19-3-2, for the vacant USBA title in January of 1993. Hunter was replacing Tony Tubbs. Biggs would lose a 12 round decision.
Biggs would get his fight with Tubbs but it was in a 3 round tournament held in Casino Magic, in Mississippi. Tubbs would win the fight and 3 more fights winning this tournament. Biggs would fight 2 more times all in the same day of this tournament winning both fights. In 1994 Biggs would lose back to back fights. The first was again for the vacant USBA title this time with Buster Mathis, Jr., 12-0, and then in Tokyo to Ray Anis, 12-1. That was April of 1994 when he stopped fighting for almost 3 years. I asked him at what point of his career he knew he had lost it. “I never did,” said Biggs.
He returned to the ring in 1997 beating two mediocre opponents before being put in with Larry Donald, 27-1-1, at Foxwoods Resort and being stopped in the 2nd round. He was 36 years old. A year later he would close out his career a winner in Atlanta stopping Carlton Davis in the 2nd round. His final record was 30-10 (20).
Today Biggs works at the Shepard’s Recreation Center at 57th and Haverford in Philly. He is back where his roots are working with the kids who may be thinking, “if Mr. Biggs can win the gold medal, maybe I can.”
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