By Jason Pribila: On June 11, 2005, Don King brought his traveling circus to the MCI Center in Washington DC, and 15,472 fans made P.T. Barnum’s quote about a sucker being born every minute prophetic. The marquee read that former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson would be in the ring, but those who witnessed the end of his career soon found out that he no longer able to fight.
Following the defeat Tyson admitted, “I don’t have the guts to stay in this sport anymore. I’m sorry for the fans who paid for this.
There is a saying in sports that many athletes vow to follow. “I will retire from the game, and won’t let the game retire me.” Many find that is easier said than done. Tyson certainly should have hung up his gloves after the thumping he took from Lennox Lewis. There are currently several larger than life athletes who are out of work. When playing a team sport the harsh reality of a retirement may come when the phone stops ringing. Those who write the checks make that decision for the athlete. For boxers it is often much harder to walk away. If one could pass the physical requirements of a commission they could receive a license; and if they are desperate enough they will unfortunately be able to find someone willing to pay them to take punches. The sport of boxing has provided far too many tales of fighters going on long after their sell by date.
Filmmaker Joshua Z. Weinstein found an interesting twist to a tale that is far too commonly when he caught up with the other fighter that was in the ring on the evening of June 11, 2005. Kevin McBride was an unknown fighter when he was chosen to face Tyson. McBride fell back into obscurity following his surprising but not necessarily shocking victory over the former, “Baddest Man on the Planet”.
The truth is that many had already closed the book on the Tyson saga. In fact, HBO counter-programmed the Showtime Pay Per View with a bout in New York featuring a 23-0 Miguel Cotto avenging an amateur loss against Muhammad Abdullaev. And three years after the setting of a PPV record of 2 million buys against Lewis, Tyson’s numbers fell to 225,000.
Weinstein’s narrative is straight forward. We revisit the closing round of not only Tyson’s career, but also McBride’s brief moment in the spotlight. Hall of Fame announcer, Al Bernstein summed up the evening perfectly by saying that, “This man’s 15 minutes of fame may extend to 30 based on what he accomplished.”
We then jump ahead five years to see McBride sitting at a kitchen table with one of his three children. His speech is slow and slurred to the point that it requires English subtitles. Although we don’t have a base-line test to compare it with, one is to imagine that this is more likely due to taking a lifetime of punches rather than his Irish accent.
McBride explains how he was promised a million dollars and a shot at the title from Don King, but for him it never worked out. His career high payday was the $125,000 he made against Tyson. The film follows McBride who is approaching another shot to pull off an upset, this time as a 20-1 underdog to heavyweight contender Tomas Adamek.
We meet McBride’s wife who plays a role out of central casting. Loving, supportive, concerned, and unable to communicate that no amount of money would ever be able to replace the man they vowed to spend their lives with for better or worse. Especially when that man could always look back to a night when he defied the odds.
McBride comes off as sad and discouraged, but not bitter. He seems to keep his place in boxing history in the proper perspective. He’s seems miles away from another former fighter from Massachusetts, Dicky Ecklund, who would tell anyone willing to listen that he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in “The Fighter”.
McBride is realistic about his chances of reaching the top of the game, but talks more about getting a victory that could lead to a bigger pay day. He is honest about what the game has already taken out of him when he confesses that his children are already having trouble understanding what he is saying.
McBride is brought in as an opponent to face Adamek who simply wanted to face a taller man with a weight advantage as a dress rehearsal for his shot at one of the Klitschko brothers. Weinstein’s camera remains in the empty locker room as McBride walks to the ring to provide his service.
On this night McBride goes the distance and comes up on the losing end of a wide decision. His face is bruised and swollen. He expresses disappointment in his inability to catch his smaller, quicker foe.
He talks about hanging up the gloves for good this time, but leaves the door open in the event someone in the top ten needed an opponent. He mumbles, “It could be like the Tyson fight again.”
We now see that rather than allowing the credits to roll on this chapter of his story, McBride accepts a fight against an undefeated Polish fighter named Mariusz Wach only four months after the Adamek defeat. For Wach this was not a dress rehearsal, but rather an opportunity to make a statement. He knocked the nearly 300 lb McBride down and out in the fourth round. His record stands at (35-10-1, 29 KO).
It is unknown if McBride will lace up his gloves again. What is known is that his biggest night in the sport came at the wrong time. He did not shock the world as Buster Douglas did, nor did he revitalize his career as Evander Holyfield did. McBride did not have a legacy to cement as Lennox Lewis did, nor did he parley the Tyson fight into a title fight like Dannie Williams did.
Instead, Kevin McBride will leave the sport as the answer to a trivia question. His most memorable night will not be remembered for what he accomplished, but rather what his opponent was no longer willing or able to do. Although his victory did not inspire any Hollywood scripts to be written, McBride will at least be able to proudly say, “I Beat Mike Tyson.”
“I Beat Mike Tyson” has a running time of 13 minutes. It is available to be viewed at IBeatMikeTyson.com.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PribsBoxing.