Whatever Happened to Tyrell Biggs?…….

As a 15 year old kid, in 1987 I distinctly remember a tall rangy fighter by the name of Tyrell Biggs taking on the near immortal ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson for the heavyweight championship of the world. I was probably too young to appreciate Tyrell’s amateur pedigree at that point, and was too green and oblivious to any struggles he was battling outside the ring. I certainly appreciated the fact that he had cast iron guts to step through those ropes, but with only 15 previous fights to his name,  his matchmaker may have perhaps handed him an opportunity ahead of its maturity.


All I do know, is that when I was recently approached by a film crew, looking for extra publicity for a documentary they were making called ‘Whatever Happened to Tyrell Biggs?’ – they had my attention.


I have spent a fair bit of time interviewing heavyweight legends of Tyrell’s era such as Tim Witherspoon and Riddick Bowe, and it seems like that in order to have been a great boxer back in those days, you also had to have bags of charisma to accompany the role. Tyrell was no exception, as I found out.



PZ:         How did you first get into boxing?


TB:         I’ll give you two quick answers. I used to hitchhike when I was younger, but instead of using my thumb, I used to use my middle finger to get the attention of the driver. I couldn’t understand why people wanted to fight me! I soon realised that you use the thumb to flag down a car,, not the finger, and that I also needed to learn how to fight!


The other reason was down to my dad. He was a big boxing fan and used to take me to the fights, and we would see some great boxers, such as Bennie Briscoe and Eugene Hart. I would watch these guys intensely and they inspired me to get into boxing.


PZ:         I believe boxing was not your first sporting love though?


TB:         That’s correct. Growing up in Philadelphia on the streets, I would hang out with the guys, and part of hanging out involved playing basketball. I played for the high school team, and playing for West Philadelphia we won the City championships the three years I was there.


Then what happened was that the guys on the first team decided to not pass me the ball, and kind of freeze me out, and I kind of wanted to beat them up! So I decided to get back to the boxing gym, and the rest is history.


PZ:          You were the first person to win the super heavyweight gold medal at the Olympics in 1984. Take me through how great an experience this was.


TB:         At the time, it didn’t even cross my mind how big that ‘moment’ actually was. As I was stepping onto the podium about to become the first super heavyweight Olympic gold medal winner. However, I remember when I was 16, the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard had just won the light welterweight Olympic gold medal, and I was always intrigued by Leonard’s answer to the very same question you have asked me. ‘It’s a feeling you can’t describe.’  Call it a cliché, but when I beat Damiani and was standing on that podium with the gold medal being placed around my neck, it genuinely was a feeling so unreal I couldn’t describe it. That was probably the high point of my boxing right there.


PZ:         You started your professional career later that year and blasted out your first 15 opponents before taking on Tyson in 1987. What do you remember about that fight?


TB:         I remember not being a winner, which was kind of a bummer! At the same time I felt overwhelmed to have been in the position to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. It was a weird sensation really because it was a high and a low at the same time. I wouldn’t say hero to zero, more like, came up short but had a big bank account afterwards!


PZ:          You went on to fight up to 1998, retiring with a record of 40 fights, with ten losses. What people fail to remember is that many of those losses came against great world champions such as Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe. Talk to me about the struggles inside and outside of the ring you were facing during your professional career.


TB:         I was struggling with drug and alcohol addictions right at the very beginning of my career. When I turned pro, I received a large amount of money. With the money I got sidetracked and found drugs, however, I soon realised that I was going to be dead with the drugs before the money had even run out. My demise was rapid.


My debut fight was at Madison Square Garden, New York, against a guy called Mike Evans. There were some big names fighting that night – Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor, Virgil Hill and Pernell Whitaker to name a few. However, I knew at the back of my mind that I was struggling with more than an opponent at that point.


Soon after that fight, I checked into rehab in December 1984, which ultimately saved my life. I’m pleased to say I’ve been sober ever since, and am delighted to be approaching my 30th anniversary without drugs and alcohol.


PZ:      Congratulations Tyrell. What an incredible milestone to reach and what an outstanding example you have set to so many people out there, that overcoming challenge in the face of adversity really is possible.


TB:      Thank you Paul.


PZ:         The question which everybody is waiting to hear the answer to is, ‘What happened to Tyrell Biggs after you retired from boxing 15 years ago?’


TB:         I’ve been travelling a great deal with my anti drug and alcohol committee, visiting a number of schools, spreading the word about drugs and the damage they can cause, using my life as a firsthand experience case study.


Now I work at a recreation centre, where I help train the kids who are looking to compete in the 2016 Olympics.


PZ:          Question for Dafna Yachin (one of the documentary’s directors) – How did the film come about? Who suggested it?


DY:         We were chatting with D and D Management who manages a number of up and coming boxers such as Gabriel Rosado and Jesse Hart (son of the ‘Cyclone’), and got talking about this very rough, low income community in West Philly, considered to be a ghetto community, depending on where you live. The school programme was bringing everybody together and doing a great job and the irony of it was that most of the kids he’s working with were born in the 1990’s and didn’t know who he was. D and D management couldn’t believe he was sitting in the gym!


Philadelphia has incredible boxing history, with an outstanding pedigree. That includes current day fighters also. The compelling part of the story is seeing Tyrell coming back to the community he was a part of, where he grew up, and being able to help future generations. The story is bigger than simply Tyrell’s life story. It’s about what he has done, what he is currently doing, and the legacy he will leave to future generations.


PZ:         Who has helped with the film so far from the boxing world?


DY:         There’s a great number of great boxers to date, including Gabriel Rosado, Jesse Hart and Tommy Brooks. We still have a number of interviews to carry out, including the likes of Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. But the biggest part of the boxing community featured in this documentary, are the kids who Tyrell is working with. To witness the intensity in which these kids train at the recreation centre with after school clubs and similar, in an area which is predominantly a rough starting block in life for many, seeing them with intense ambition, is an incredible thing to witness. The manner in which the community has come together to help their children and other inner city youths succeed via the medium of boxing, is a very touching story.


Boxing has its own issues with the likes of corruption and a number of other negative factors. The documentary looks at addressing a number of these, just as Tyrell had to when he was at his most vulnerable, during his most fragile age band, in his early 20’s. The model of boxers becoming rich and famous at a young age, then entering into substance abuse as a result of money and fame is very typical. What’s not typical is for somebody to keep succeeding like Tyrell does, coming to a job every day, wanting to help people and not only help steer their lives in the right direction, but to help them excel.


I come from a human rights background, and we were looking for a story that would help with community outreach. This story hit the mark 100%.


PZ:         If you have a message for the youth of today, what would it be?


TB:         Focus on your ambitions in life – nothing more than that. Do not drink and please steer clear of drugs.

This documentary desperately needs further funding. Can you help?  Please visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/602060953/whatever-happened-to-tyrell-biggs    Help spread the word about a fundamental need in society.


Learn more about the film at the links below:

Website: www.tyrellbiggs.com/

Twitter:   @TyrellBiggsDoc

Facebook: facebook.com/TyrellBiggsdoc


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