Kevin McBride: The day I retired Mike Tyson

Former_heavyweight_Kevin_McBride

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Former heavyweight Kevin McBride will always remember June 11 for one thing: the day he retired Mike Tyson.

Fifteen years ago at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., McBride sent Tyson to the canvas — and eventually into retirement. It was an improbable feat as a significant underdog and a moment that shocked boxing fans around the world.

Boxing announcer Steve Albert, who called the fight for the Showtime pay-per-view broadcast, stated that Tyson couldn’t lose this fight, “even if he tried.” But it happened.

ESPN spoke to McBride about his journey to that fight, his feeling inside the ring and how he never ultimately capitalized on the biggest win of his career.

The genesis

Kevin McBride represented Ireland in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

Like many other boxers who grew up in the ’80s, McBride idolized Mike Tyson. “Iron Mike” became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history when he finished Trevor Berbick in two rounds in 1986, and he ruled the heavyweight division with impunity until he was shocked by Buster Douglas in early 1990.

Tyson wasn’t just a prizefighter — he was an international icon. Even to a kid from Clones, Ireland.

At that time, McBride began crafting his amateur career, one that eventually led him to representing his country at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

“When I was a kid growing up in Ireland, I trained with this guy, Gerry Rehill,” McBride said. “So Gerry would say, ‘Listen, you keep training and you’ll get places,’ and I did box in the 1992 Olympics. It was all surreal out there.”

Despite falling short in his effort to stand on the podium, McBride said he enjoyed his experiences at the event, which included meeting Michael Jordan and the iconic Dream Team and standing next to Carl Lewis at the closing ceremonies. He left Barcelona with a participatory medal not so much dismayed, but more focused on one particular dream.

“I remember telling my father one time, ‘One day I’d like to fight Mike Tyson,’ and he says, ‘If you work hard and believe in yourself, maybe one day it can happen.’

“He died when he was 51 years old in 1992,” McBride said. “I put the Olympic medal in his coffin.”


McBride’s professional path

Axel Schulz, right, scored a ninth-round TKO victory over Kevin McBride, left, in 1997.Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

McBride was not a highly touted prospect, and his pro career got off to a rather inauspicious start in 1992 as he fought to a draw with Gary Charlton, who’d had a record of 1-6 coming in. Then McBride racked up 19 victories before losing to Louis Monaco. Perhaps even more surprising than his 1997 loss to Monaco, who was 4-6-2 at the time, McBride was halted a year later in three rounds by journeyman Michael Murray, who came into the bout having lost his previous seven fights. Of all McBride’s losses, Axel Schulz (TKO9) was by far his most distinguished blemish.

But each of those slip-ups was what put McBride in position for the assignment against Tyson. McBride was a guy with a good-enough-looking record but who would provide no actual resistance for Tyson.

As the calendar turned to 2005, McBride was just another guy trying to make a living.

“I was fighting other fights — that March I was on ESPN, I was the headliner versus Kevin Montiy. I won, then I got the chance to fight Mike Tyson,” McBride said, “I got the call to fight him, and I said sure. All they were offering was $150,000. I said, ‘Don’t negotiate any more, I just want to get in the ring with him.’ It was a dream as a kid growing up to be able to fight him. So things started happening. I got the call to go to Washington, D.C., to sign the contract. I met Mike Tyson, and he’s a legend. I said, ‘I appreciate the fight.'”

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For McBride, the purse wasn’t going to be only what mattered. Getting the fight was priceless. Tyson, by contrast, had a listed purse of $5 million.

“Everyone else was kind of greedy, looking for more, but I didn’t care — I would’ve fought him for nothing,” McBride said. “When you’re a fighter, and just to meet Mike Tyson, a legend, and then to actually box him.”

Trained by Goody Petronelli (best known for his association with Marvin Hagler, with his brother, Pat), McBride had a friend who owned a bar and put up the money to pay for sparring partners and training expenses. McBride even went to a hypnotist. The sessions were, according to McBride, pretty simple — “Every time Mike Tyson hits you, you’re going to be smiling.”

As he went to bed during that training camp, the last thing McBride saw was a photoshopped image of Tyson on his backside. After seeing “Cinderella Man,” McBride fancied himself the modern-day James Braddock.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, left, tried to intimidate Kevin McBride, right, at a news conference to promote their fight.Evan Vucci/AP

At the news conference to announce this event, Tyson tried to intimidate McBride by promising to “gut you like a fish.” Undaunted, McBride countered, “Hey buddy, when I hit you on the chin, you’re going to take the whole of Ireland.”

McBride felt Tyson was dismissive of his talent.

“He was probably saying, ‘I don’t want to lose to this caliber of fighter,’ but I was good enough, as far as I got to the Olympics, I had to qualify, I was the Irish champion. I sparred heavyweights like Ray Mercer, I sparred Riddick Bowe, I sparred Johnny Ruiz. I sparred a lot of champions.”

The night before the fight, McBride told his lawyer he wouldn’t step into the ring unless he had his funds for that night in his hands.

“So they went to the bank, and I actually got paid the night before the fight. So all I had to do was hear the bell ring.”


The fight

Kevin McBride, left, just wanted to survive the first round against Mike Tyson, right.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

As McBride marched into the ring in front of a crowd of 20,000, the sound of two men playing bagpipes was drowned out by the loud jeering from the fans who had come to see Tyson — not his opponent. It was certainly an intimidating scene for the friendly McBride.

“What the hell did I get myself into?” he thought as he made his way to the ring.

At the time, Tyson had more mystique than ability, having lost two of his past three fights by KO. But there was still trepidation in facing him, at least early on.

“He puts the fear of God in anybody,” McBride said. “But that’s the good thing about me, I have no fear because I love the sport. I would’ve fought Mike Tyson for nothing. Just to get in the ring and mix with him and hit him.”

For McBride, just surviving the first round was a moral victory. Before he could topple Tyson, he had to get over his own nerves.

“Oh Jesus, he’s the most intimidating fighter, ever,” he said. “This is the most feared man in the world. But I was just focused on the win and whatever way I could win.”

Once Round 1 ended, a significant hurdle was cleared.

“I’m sure him [and] his company thought, ‘This is a walk in the park.'”

Tyson got off to a decent start, showing flashes of his trademark power, as he pounded McBride to both sides of the body. McBride admits even that version of Tyson was “one of the hardest hitters I’ve ever been hit by.”

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There’s a belief in boxing that power is the last thing to go on a fighter, and in this fight, McBride said there was one significant aspect missing from Tyson’s game.

“He wasn’t as fast,” McBride said. “Ten years before that, I might not have lasted that long.”

While Tyson threw some booming shots, they were, for the most part, one-punch salvos. The whirlwind combination puncher that once dominated the division hadn’t been seen in at least 15 years. His frenetic upper-body movement was reduced to occasionally slipping a punch. Tyson was flat-footed and squared up in his stance.

While he fell behind early on the cards, McBride built momentum by sticking around and gaining confidence. A big part of his strategy was putting his weight on Tyson and laying on him consistently while pushing his head down. More than once he was warned by referee Joe Cortez for this illegal, yet effective tactic. McBride, who came in at 271 pounds, routinely walked back the 233-pound Tyson throughout the night and especially during their clinches.

“I leaned my weight on him,” McBride said. “I was the bigger, stronger man.”

Kevin McBride, left, sent Mike Tyson to the canvas in the sixth round.Ed Mulholland/WireImage

As the fight played out, McBride started to let his hands go more freely, but getting out of the early rounds — when Tyson still had something in his gas tank — was key.

“I was getting stronger and stronger,” McBride said. “I could feel the energy sapping out of him.”

The momentum shift was subtle, but clear. Outside of a few bursts, Tyson’s attack became more muted. By the fifth round it was noticeable that McBride wasn’t going anywhere, as he started to land more chopping right hands from close distance.

Understanding that one punch from Tyson could turn around his fortunes, McBride said he never felt comfortable. But as Tyson came out quickly in the sixth round, he appeared to have an air of desperation. The crowd rose to its feet.

“He hit me so hard in the sixth round,” McBride said. “I grabbed him, and I said, ‘Is that all you got?’ And that’s when he tried to break my arm and he tried to bite my nipple off. Thank God he had his mouthpiece in.

“People don’t understand the pain and suffering. You can just imagine him with a mouthpiece on, biting on it, pulling, and you’re like, ‘AHHHHHHHHH!!!’ and it just slipped off in time. It’s like this man’s nuts, crazy. I know he wants to win at all costs.”

Forty seconds into the sixth round, Cortez deducted two points from Tyson for intentionally headbutting McBride, who suffered a cut over the right eye.

“I know in my heart, when you’re in that kind of a zone, you want to win, you don’t want to lose,” McBride said. “This is your dream, your life. He just wanted to get to the next fight, and make some more money [to] pay his bills.”

Yet despite all this, McBride not only weathered the storm, but by the end of the round he had Tyson on the ropes. He caught him with a series of compact right hands and uppercuts that had Tyson reeling.

And then it happened …

Mike Tyson took a while to get up after going down in Round 6. He wouldn’t come out for Round 7.Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

Tyson was on his backside, slumped on the bottom rope. While not an official knockdown, the implications were clear: Tyson was finished.

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“They say I pushed him, if you watch the end of the sixth, I caught him with a left hook,” McBride said. “Then I went to kneel on him a little bit, not even that hard. He kind of fell to the ground, like he wasn’t even trying to get up.

“It’s like a dream, a fairy tale,” McBride said of the moment. “You can’t imagine it, I had a big smile on my face. But I was sad in my heart because I know the guy’s a legend, and I know the world loves him.”

The round ended, and Tyson slowly rose to his feet with Cortez telling him, “Get to your corner, that was a push.” He put himself down on the stool, where trainer Jeff Fenech made the call. “Enough,” he told Cortez. The fight was then waved off.

After the euphoria died down inside the ring, McBride was approached by Muhammad Ali.

“He got close to me, he started throwing punches at me, like six at a time,” McBride said. “I could feel the wind and he said, ‘You’re the latest; I’m still the greatest.’ Money can’t buy that.

“Regardless, win or lose, it was like magic,” he said. “It’s hard to believe it’s [been] 15 years. Time goes real quick.”


The aftermath

Heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali was ringside at the MCI Center to watch the Mike Tyson-Kevin McBride fight.Paul J. Richards/Getty Imges

The victory over Tyson wasn’t exactly life-changing or career-altering.

“It didn’t change [anything],” McBride said. “I just wanted to maybe fight for a world title; it never materialized.

“I was never in the shape that I should’ve been in,” he said. “For the Tyson fight I trained, I was sober for eight, nine weeks. [Winning] was like a dream come true, it’s a feeling nobody can ever take away from me.”

There were eight more professional contests to end McBride’s career, six of them losses. His final bout came in 2011, a fourth-round knockout loss to Mariusz Wach.

McBride, who now lives outside Boston with his wife, Danielle, and his two kids, Grainne (15) and Caoimhin (12), works for Brendan Hoarty Tree Services.

“It’s easier to knock [trees] down than to knock guys out,” he quipped. “I would’ve loved to have the dream money as far as … have a nice house, my kids would be set for life.”

But McBride has no bitterness. His priorities today are simple.

“Just be a good, stand-up dad and be there,” he said. “I’m sober, I love life, one day at a time.”

And like many other boxing fans, McBride is amused by all this talk of Tyson boxing once again.

“If he called me out, and the money was right, I’d get in shape and fight him again, give him a rematch,” he joked. “Maybe you guys can work it out, call Tyson and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to make a fight again with you and Kevin.’ Maybe I could put my kids through college and all that.”

Last year at the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canastota, New York, McBride happened to cross paths with Tyson.

“I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey Mike, do you remember me?’ He says, ‘Yes, Kevin, I remember you.'”

It turns out McBride isn’t the only one who won’t forget that night.


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