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Interview with Dave Tiberi: "We need to send a message!"

Feb 17, 2004 

Hard to believe it was twelve years ago that one of the worst decisions in boxing history was rendered. Hard to believe that James Toney, reigning IBF Middleweight Champion was allowed to keep his belt after being thoroughly outclassed and outfought by a fighter named Dave Tiberi. Harder still to believe that Tiberi never fought again after that fateful Saturday afternoon in 1992, money be damned.

Tiberi was a native of Atlantic City, New Jersey, so he should not have been a stranger to suspect scoring of fights, although it must have been a slap in the face for it to have happened in his own hometown. On February 8, 1992, Tiberi, a fighter with a 22-3-3, 7 KO’s record stepped into the ring with James Toney, who was making his fourth defense of the crown he lifted from the head of Michael Nunn. It was supposed to be a gimme defense for Toney, but it certainly did not turn out that way. All afternoon, Tiberi would force Toney to the ropes and pound away at every opening. Head, face, arms, body, it didn’t matter as long as it was there to be punched. Most unbiased observers watching the bout felt that Tiberi had clearly won, and indeed that is the way it should have been. This was not the case. When the judge’s scorecards were announced, two of them had the fight for Toney with scores of 115-111, with the third judge scoring the fight 117-111, for Tiberi. Toney literally "escaped" with a split decision "win" and his IBF title. The decision was so bad that it inspired Senator William Roth of Delaware to call for an investigation of the sport, and Tiberi to retire.

Tiberi is an enigma. Since the Toney fight, he has never so much as shown his face in a boxing ring. There are so many questions, but the main one would have to be ‘Why?’ Even if he felt that he got lucky, that the stories about Toney’s dehydration were true, and that he could never beat Toney in a rematch (which is totally against a true warrior’s intuition), why not come back, against Toney, or at least for another big fight which would represent a huge payday? Tiberi has not, to my knowledge, ever publicly answered these questions with the exception of the immediate aftermath of the Toney fight. Maybe he was a very good fighter who could have beaten Toney in a rematch, or even other top notch fighters. We’ll never know. Wouldn’t we all have liked to see more of Tiberi in the ring, though? I certainly would have.

Since the Toney fight, Tiberi built a youth center in the middle of Wilmington, Delaware’s biggest drug district, and has a video out, called "Dave Tiberi’s Basics of Self-Defense." In this interview, you will see that Tiberi has a lot to say about the corruption and politics that still plague the sport of boxing. Tiberi is an articulate, honorable, and likable man. He chose dignity over cash. Pride over the almighty dollar. And isn’t that, in the end, what we as fans really want from all fighters?

DB: Dave, first, what happened after the Toney fight and why didn’t you fight again?

When it all came down, immediately within days a U.S. Senate investigation was launched into my fight and the Senator who had the power to do that was Bill Roth who was on the subcommittee on investigations. He met with me days after the fight, and within months they found out that the two judges that awarded James Toney my fight were unlicensed in the state of New Jersey. The only licensed judge was Frank Brunette. This is what really frustrated me about the boxing industry. This gave them the greatest opportunity to right a wrong, and they could have easily just talked to the licensed judge who gave me the fight in a blowout. I said as long as I go in the ring as champion, I had no problem signing a contract for a rematch tomorrow. It became more of a moral issue than a money issue. The more I took a stand, the more money I was being offered, and believe me, when the offers got into the millions it was very tough. But at the same time, my wife and I prayed very hard about it. I’ve been doing this since I was five years old. It’s a shame, and it’s not just in my situation, but in many situations, when you feel like you’ve worked your whole life for something and give your heart and soul to anything, in this case boxing, you want to be treated fairly. The sad part is, once they found out that the rules were broken, they weren’t willing to address it. If more boxing people had known about it, they would have been up in arms. The good news is, with the stance I took, nine years later after my fight, the Ali Bill was signed. So some positive came out of it. I personally will never benefit, but one of the writers put "B.T." and "A.T.," before Tiberi and after Tiberi because of the stance I took. The real fight for me was in the Senate and on boxing to clean it up.

DB: So as you say, it was a moral issue, and not about money.

Yeah, the last offer I received was half a million dollars plus two percent of pay per view. I only made thirty thousand against Toney. I could have taken Duran, Leonard, or any of the other big fights against those guys on their way out, and could have gotten six figures. I took a fight against James Toney because he was 28-0, he had just won Fighter of the Year honors, and he was the hottest name in boxing. For five years, Bernard Hopkins was my chief sparring partner. James Toney never had the kind of fights we had. We trained in Philadelphia and New York. Every single day, I had Prince Charles Williams, Bam Bam Hines…I couldn’t wait to get out of the gym and get into the fight! The sparring was treacherous. There was no way I was walking out of that bout without the belt. I never went back. Do I miss it? Yes, but I was making a stand.

DB: Please tell our readers how you got into boxing.

My old joke is that with eleven older siblings I had no choice, but to fight. I had six older brothers who were boxing and we started at the old race track here in Delaware Park. They used to have barnyard brawls where the jockeys would fight with us. I started really young at five years old. My love was always baseball, but I grew up with boxing.

DB: You have a training video on the market. Tell us about that and how it came about.

For the last thirteen years, I’ve trained all Delaware law enforcement, the state police and municipalities, in self-defense. As a speaker, I talk to a lot of corporations, and I never realized that the need was out there, and so there became such a demand that I had women’s groups calling me to set workshops up. The tape has been selling really well at with kids who want to learn the basics of self-defense. That’s how I came up with "Dave Tiberi’s Basics of Self-Defense" out of need. Not as much to make a profit, but I thought that if kids could just learn some basics to have the competence to get away from dangerous situation the tape will pay for itself over and over.

DB: Have you followed boxing since you retired?

When something controversial happens in boxing, I get more calls, not from the boxing media so much, but from CNBC, CNN, they all want a quote. I love boxing so I still follow it. I think there is no other sport that is so exciting.

DB: What do you think of James Toney fighting at heavyweight now?

It’s interesting, everyone says you must hate the guy. One thing I always say is that James Toney didn’t do it, the people around him did. As for James Toney as a fighter, I think he’s a very gifted fighter. I’m disappointed in a lot of fighters, not only him, who do that. I don’t believe he’s a real heavyweight and I don’t think he’ll step into the ring with Klitschko or any of the guys who would be a danger to him. I think his people would use common sense with that approach, and that’s why I thought Holyfield was ideal for him. It also could have given him false hope. With his body frame, I think he could make a solid light heavyweight if he got down to a proper weight.

DB: What has been going on for you recently?

I’ve had some of the hottest fighters in the world calling me when they found out that I’ll be stepping back into boxing, we’re going to start professionally televising fights. The first fight will be at the end of March with Mike "No Joke" Stewart, who will defend his USBA title here in Delaware. Also, we have a bunch of fighters, fans, and media coming together and collaborating to clean up the sport of boxing. To send a message that there are a handful of you that have done this for years to destroy a great sport, and we’re coming in and want to get rid of the alphabet soup sanctioning bodies. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing. I’m sick of hearing my friends with speech impediments, they don’t have insurance, they don’t have pension plans, they’re broke. And let’s start returning some fights to network television, so the genuine boxing fans can love the sport like they once did.

DB: Why have you decided to get back into boxing?

I want to be a part of unifying and cleaning up the sport of boxing. I think that boxing fans want competitive fights, and they don’t want it to be political. If we don’t start sending a message, we’re not doing the sport any good with the way it’s been operating. I’ve made a commitment to my goal. I want the fighters, the writers, the fans and others, trainers and managers, the good people to weed out and don’t sign contracts anymore with the people who have brought the sport down. Let’s ensure the fans the best fights, that the best ten fighters are ranked in every division, and let’s get to a point where boxing is run better than any sport in the United States. If you are going to keep the sanctioning bodies, though, I believe that boxing needs a czar, a commissioner to oversee in America, no different than Major League Baseball. In boxing with the sanctioning bodies, there is no accountability system and that is my biggest concern and I want to articulate that to the public.

DB: Have you ever thought about training fighters?

I can give direction and advice, but I think television is going to be my angle. I would love to start negotiating pay per view fights where when fifty million comes in, you pay the fighters fairly, but you take a percentage of the pay per view and put it in a pension plan for retired boxers. Money was never my driving force, and if I could use the leverage I got from boxing that would be great. We need to start doing these things for the best of boxing. Two or three percent from every fight card needs to be put aside for boxers. I walked home with less than ten thousand dollars, and guys say well what are you complaining about, you should go back and take all those millions. I say that still doesn’t right a wrong. I took a stand for what was right and I’m not complaining about this. I signed a contract for thirty thousand dollars, and that’s the problem. It’s a travesty. We are modern day pawns. You have to be fair to the fighters, and look down the road for fighters after their careers. Some of them don’t have a penny to show for their careers, and these are great Hall of Fame fighters.

DB: Is there anything you would like to add in closing?

We just need an infrastructure in boxing. I would like to play a part in that, and have a flowchart for boxing. It would have an endowment foundation for pensions and health care, have an independent referee panel, have a judges panel that the promoter cannot hire and the commissioner cannot hire. An e-mail could be sent to the panel, and you won’t know who the referee or judges will be until the night of the fight. Retired boxers could make applications to the panel for some relief. This is my passion, as you can tell. We need to take a higher ground and be proactive.


Professional Record: 28 fights; 22+ (7 KO), 3=, 3-

- 1985 -
+ (Jul-24-1985, Atlantic City) Mike Jefferson 4
- 1986 -
= (Mar-9-1986, Las Vegas) Danny LINDSTROEM 6
+ (May-10-1986, Stanton) Ken Page 6
= (Jun-20-1986, Atlantic City) Eddie Belfiore 6
+ (Aug-1-1986, Atlantic City) Ray Daniels 6
+ (Aug-15-1986, Atlantic City) James Barham 4
+ (Sep-18-1986, Atlantic City) Wesley Reid 6
- 1987 -
= (Feb-25-1987, Akron) Jerome KELLY 6
+ (Mar-27-1987, Atlantic City) John Keys 6
+ (Apr-17-1987, Atlantic City) John Keys 6
+ (May-15-1987, Atlantic City) Bob Wasilewski 8
+ (Aug-18-1987, Atlantic City) Terry Christle 8
- (Oct-23-1987, Atlantic City) Ron ESSETT 8
- 1988 -
+ (Jul-14-1988, Philadelphia) Manuel Opher 6
+ (Aug-16-1988, Philadelphia) Terry Young 6
+ (Oct-6-1988, Philadelphia) Tony Blair 6
- 1989 -
+ (Jan-17-1989, Philadelphia) David Barrow ko 7
+ (Mar-7-1989, Philadelphia) Wardell Langston ko 4
+ (Apr-13-1989, Philadelphia) Jerome KELLY 8
+ (Jun-5-1989, Philadelphia) Jerry Williams 10
- 1990 -
+ (Feb-12-1990, Philadelphia) Joe Summers ko 6
+ (Mar-26-1990, Atlantic City) Ken Shannon kot 4
- (May-21-1990, Atlantic City) Tony THORNTON kot 4
+ (Sep-24-1990, Atlantic City) Willie MC DONALD kot 5
+ (Nov-10-1990, Newcastle) Danny MITCHELL 10
- 1991 -
+ (Mar-11-1991, Atlantic City) Troy WATSON kot 9
+ (Jul-1-1991, Cheyney) Eddie HALL kot 4
- 1992 -
- (Feb-8-1992, Atlantic City) James TONEY 12 (I.B.F., Middleweight)

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