Trevor Berbick is the only boxer to have fought Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson – but the heavyweight’s life outside the ring was even more extraordinary and ended with his grisly murder at the hands of his own nephew.
Jamaican Berbick was the last man to fight Ali and the first world title challenger to take Holmes the distance. But Berbick is best known for unwittingly lighting the fuse for the Tyson era when he lost his world championship to the 20-year-old in the most replayed and rewatched of all legendary Iron Mike knockouts.
But before becoming a stumbling, modern meme, Berbick was an unlikely heavyweight contender. He had just 11 amateur fights before turning professional in 1976 and even his age was shrouded in mystery, as he would have been either three years younger or four years older than his official date of birth.
“Legally, I’m a spirit—I don’t have an age,” Berbick explained; a line every 16 year old has tried at least once while trying to get served.
Physically, he looked the part: over 6ft 2in, broad and muscular. But Berbick was tough and clumsy rather than explosive or skilful. Fighting outside of Canada, he lost his 12th professional fight, but then upset ‘Big’ John Tate to earn Holmes a shot. ‘Easton Assassin’ was on an eight-fight knockout streak, but Berbick lasted the full 15 rounds – although the most famous encounter between the two men came later: when Holmes ran over a limo and gave a kick to Berbick, WWE. , in the middle of a parking lot.
Berbick’s in-ring performance against Holmes landed him the role of adversary for Ali’s ill-advised final comeback in 1981. A flat and flaccid 39-year-old Ali was already feeling the effects of his brutally rocky career and would not have just shouldn’t have been in the ring. The fight took place in a decaying baseball stadium in the Bahamas, boxers on the card had to share two pairs of gloves, while a cowbell was used for toll rounds. Berbick outshot “The Greatest” by 10 rounds, but the tasteless sideshow won him few new fans.
Instead, the biggest victory of Berbick’s career came five years later. The 6-1 underdog shocked the gifted but erratic Pinklon Thomas – one of the “lost era” 1980s American heavyweights who struggled with addictions – to win the WBC version of the title.
It put him in the crosshairs of Tyson, who was aiming to become the youngest world heavyweight champion of all time. Berbick was paid a career-high $2.1 million to face “Kid Dynamite” and did his best to unsettle the challenger before the fight. Knowing that Tyson liked the look of stripped black shorts, Berbick wore black himself – which means Tyson, as a challenger, would have to change. (Trevor’s knee-high socks were worn for reasons only he knew.)
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Instead, Tyson also wore black and just swallowed the $5,000 fine for the kit clash. The fight was billed as “Judgment Day,” but only one man was a convincing Terminator. Berbick had a size advantage over Tyson but he was slower, clumsier and lacked the mobility to give the young phenom problems.
As if that wasn’t enough, Tyson later revealed that when special guest Ali was introduced to the crowd before the fight, he turned to Tyson and said, “Kick his ass for me.” (Mike may have paraphrased). Now Tyson was ‘angry and looking for revenge’ on a man who beat one of his heavyweight idols growing up.
Berbick survived round one without falling but was wobbled badly before the bell. In a show of bravado, he ogled Tyson and lifted his chin before returning to his corner.
Tyson didn’t need to be invited twice. Round two featured the remarkable feat of Tyson knocking down Berbick three times with one punch. After a fierce barrage, Tyson hit the champ with a slashing left hook. After a brief delay, Berbick went down, got up, fell into the ropes, got up a second time, then staggered into the ring and collapsed again like a discount bouncer.
His brain and legs simply lost communication and referee Mills Lane called the fight off. Tyson was a world champion and Berbick had earned himself first place on future highlight reels of “The Baddest Man on the Planet’s most spectacular knockouts.”
Berbick continued to fight with diminishing success, while the loss to Tyson marked a drop in his fortunes off the ropes. In 1991, a Berbick in a suit interrupted a Holmes post-fight press conference to bizarrely accuse Larry of sending a sex worker, “Jenny from Jacksonville”, to his room the night before they got together. fight to distract him. He offered Holmes a street fight and duly got one later when the heavyweights had that fight in a parking lot.
The same year, Berbick competed in a “boxer versus wrestler” match against the legendary Nobuhiko Takada in Japan. Except there was confusion over what exactly the rules were and when he found out he could be kicked below the belt, Berbick whimpered to the referee, then left the ring and lost the contest. What a heel move.
More serious criminal reverses followed. Berbick has been in regular trouble with the law: he was once convicted of assault after pointing a gun at a former manager’s head and demanding money he claimed was owed to him. But it took an even nastier turn in 1992 when he was convicted of sexually assaulting his family’s babysitter – Berbick maintained it was consensual – and spent 15 months in jail in Florida.
He was deported to Canada, then eventually returned to Jamaica, though his boxing career lasted until 2000. A CT scan revealed blood clots on his brain, eventually forcing Berbick to retire with a record 49 wins ( 33 KOs), 11 losses and a draw. .
There was to be no peace in the retreat, however. Six years later, Berbick was found dead in a cemetery in Portland, Jamaica, with what was described as a vicious “cut wound” that split his skull open. Police said it was a homicide and arrested two men – including Berbick’s 20-year-old nephew, Harold Berbick – for the crime.
He had apparently been embroiled in a land dispute with his uncle, and Harold and his accomplice were accused of jumping on the ex-boxer with a metal pipe and a crowbar as he was returning home from a Party. Berbick had died almost instantly and his two attackers had been duly convicted, with his nephew receiving a life sentence for murder.
A bloody and brutal end for an ordinary boxer who lived a remarkable life. “We have our challenges in life but Trevor seemed to be handling his own very badly,” understated his friend C Lloyd Allen, former president of the Jamaica Boxing Board. “Once he lost to Tyson, he just went down a slippery slope.”
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