The Trevor Berbick Story.
On the 11th of December 1981, a 28 year old former street kid from Norwich, Port Antonio, Jamaica defeated the most famous athlete in the world. Trevor Berbick had just nailed his flag to the mast of history beating a husk of Muhammad Ali in Nassau, the Bahamas.
This though would be the pinnacle for Berbick, who’s life and career would go through a continuous rollercoaster for the next 25 years and culminate in his brutal murder.
It started with a high, in 1982 he beat undefeated prospect Greg Page and signed with the world's leading promoter, Don King. Boxing though, is often cruel. Berbick would lose his next two fights by decision, to contender Renaldo Snipes and journeyman ST Gordon.
Berbick v Ali
In ‘86 he recovered, beating Angelo Dundee’s heavyweight charge Pinkon Thomas on points to win the world championship. Unfortunately though for Trevor something ominous lurked just out of sight. Kid Dynamite, Mike Tyson, Cus D’Amato‘s protoge. When they met in the ring Tyson blew Berbick away in just two rounds.
This started an unrecoverable decline for Berbick. Losses to Carl Williams and Buster Douglas preceded his first arrest. After his loss to Douglas he turned to crime and was arrested numerous times, all while still competing.
In 1991, in dire financial straits, Trevor traveled to the UWFi promotion in Japan to fight Nobuhiko Takada in a "boxer vs. wrestler" bout. Like his former foe Ali, Berbick was duped and instead of a performance it was a no holds barred fight in which leg strikes were legal. Shocked, Berbick complained to the referee as Takada kicked him repeatedly in the legs. Takada though would claim victory by default when Berbick exited the ring.
Throughout this time he had launched a very public tirade against his former opponent Larry Holmes. Their feud culminated in a public brawl in 1991, ten years after their bout in the ring.
When they met Berbick started a verbal assault about Holmes and his family. After a shouting match that was caught on video, Berbick came out of the building complaining about being kicked and punched by the Easton Assassin. Holmes then climbed on top of a parked car and launched himself at Berbick. The footage ends as the two are separated by police and others.
News Mocks the Brawl
His life spirralled further in 1992 when he was arrested in his adoptive home of Florida on the charge of rape. He was convicted of raping his children’s babysitter and sentenced to 5 years. Despite this already lenient sentence Berbick only served only 15 months and was back in the ring by March 1994. Money talked in the Heavyweight division at that time, and if Don King wanted you back in the ring that’s where you would be.
He took up a starring role in ‘USA Tuesday Night Fights’ where he lost to prospects Jimmy Thunder and Hasim Rahman. His career would end in 2000 when after a 12 round win over Canadian journeyman Shane Sutcliffe, a CAT scan revealed a blood clot in his brain.
His boxing career was over and for the first time an explanation was offered for his erratic behaviour. In a 2009 study into CTE, the condition caused by repeated blows to the head in sports such as American Football, Rugby and Boxing, they found a direct correlation between the condition and “personality changes and/or erratic behavior including depression and severe bursts of aggression”
A diagram showing advanced CTE
This diagnosis (not recognised in Trevor’s lifetime) is supported by the pattern of behaviour he displayed for the rest of his life. After his retirement he took a job at Kenny Barrett's Gym in Tamarac, Florida. He trained amateur and professional boxers but couldn’t stay out of trouble.
Berbick was arrested again for multiple offences and ultimately deported from the U.S. on 2 December 2002, back to his native Jamaica.
Life there was far from the island paradise you could assume. Violence followed Berbick into his new life but ultimately it would cause his death.
On 28 October 2006, Berbick went to church in Norwich, on the north coast of Jamaica. Waiting for him though we’re two men, one armed with a steel pipe the other with a crowbar. They ambushed the ex champion, viciously beating him around the head in a bloody and sustained attack.
They fled, but Berbicks injuries were fatal. Police arrested the two men, 18 year old Kenton Gordon and Trevor's Nephew, 20 year old Harold Berbick. It was his own flesh and blood that had carried out this most heartless Murder.
They were interrogated at the Port Antonio police station in Portland and denied their involvement. At the trial it was established that Harold was involved in a land dispute with Berbick and had killed him as revenge for this.
On the 20 December 2007, Harold Berbick was convicted for the murder of his uncle and sentenced to life imprisonment. His accomplice was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to fourteen years.
This act of unspeakable violence ended a life that had mostly consisted of violence, on both sides of the ropes, both as a victim and a perpetrator. In my view His brain injuries were irrefutably a factor in the man he became. They affected the choices he made and the reactions he had, they influenced him to temper and violence. Not to excuse these acts but offer explanation, a cautionary tale to fighters who do not want to go down the same path.
The story of Trevor Berbick is not the story of a hero or a villain, but a tragic casualty of a sport who used him and cast him aside to hurt both himself and others. He was collateral damage for a world that after the bright lights of Ali and Tyson, simply didn’t care.
Ewan Breeze for SimBoxx