Whatever Happened to Tyrell Biggs? featured in The Philadelphia Tribune

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July 22, 2013 by lunchboxcity


Tyrell Biggs wants to help youths avoid pitfalls

Tyrell Biggs has a story tell.

It’s one about embracing prosperity and fame.

It’s also one about accepting failure and obscurity.

And somewhere along the way, the Olympic boxing Gold Medalist found himself and learned something about who he is and what he is about.

“It’s better to have had and lost than to never have had at all,” said Biggs. “That’s the way that I look at it.”

These days, Biggs can be found at the Mitchell Allen Boxing Gym located in the Shepherd Recreation Center in West Philadelphia. He’s there providing inspiration to aspiring boxers and other athletes. He shares his stories about going toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson in the ring for the heavyweight title in 1987. He also spins yarns about the money he squandered and his battles with alcohol and drug addiction.

“I’ve been clean for going on 30 years now,” he said proudly. “I remember a lot of what I experienced in the ring. I also remember what I experienced out of the ring. I want to share what I know to the younger people. I don’t want them to make the mistakes that I’ve made in life.”

Which is why Dafna Yachin is directing a documentary about Biggs. The project, “Whatever happened to Tyrell Biggs” is currently in post production. Yachin is searching for funding to complete the film.

“Tyrell Biggs is a very interesting person,” said Yachin. “His story has so many chapters. He’s been at the top. He’s been at the bottom. I believe many will be inspired by his story and what he’s been through.”

Before he was a budding star in the ring, he was known as Burt Biggs, a bruising power forward for the West Philadelphia High School Speedboys. He was a starting forward for the Speedboys’ Public League and City championship team in 1978. That team had a state-record 68-game winning before losing 62-61 to archrival Overbrook.

In 1977, the Speedboys, led by the legendary Gene Banks, were the best prep team in the nation. Some of that success could be attributed to Biggs, who was a scrappy aggressive rebounder and good defender. He was a reserve on that team.

“Burt had to go away to let Tyrell come out,” said Biggs. “I really don’t recall much about those days.”

Biggs went to then Hampton Institute to play college basketball. He flunked out but soon found success as a boxer. He won the gold medal at the 1981 U.S. National Boxing Championships as a super-heavyweight. In 1982, he repeated as champion and won the World Championship. To win the world title, he outpointed Italian Francesco Daminiani. Earlier in the tournament, Dimiani defeated Cuba’s Telefelo Stevenson.

After winning a bronze medal in the 1983 Pan American Games, Biggs put it all together in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He defeated future heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in the quarterfinals and out-pointed Damiani in the championship bout to win the gold.

Biggs and fellow Philadelphian Meldrick Taylor (125-pounds) highlighted an American boxing team that won 11 total medals, nine of which were gold.

“Tyrell made me the proudest man alive during his run for the Olympic Gold and I even stopped my car in Mississippi and got a hotel room, to watch him win his Olympic Gold with my then wife Isabelle,” said Banks. “I cried seeing him win, knowing he was a product of West Philly, a teammate and brother and from the neighborhood. We STILL have not honored him properly as such, in his achievement. Funny, he was my back up and I wanted to be a pro boxer and he wanted to be a pro basketball player. The irony!”

Not long after that, Biggs went pro. He won his first 15 bouts before going against an angry Tyson. Biggs’ trainer, Lou Duva, hyped the fight saying that Biggs would expose Tyson as a fraud. And Biggs did some jawing as well.

From the opening bell, Tyson was on a mission to destroy Biggs, which he did in seven bloody rounds. In round one, Tyson bloodied Biggs mouth. In the third round Tyson opened a cut over Biggs left eye. In round 7, Tyson dropped Biggs with a left hook.

A wobbly and battered Biggs took a nine-count and tried to go finish the round. Tyson proceeded to drop Biggs with another left. Referee Tony Orlando mercifully waved off the bout at the 2:59 mark. From there, Biggs became a journeyman boxer. He would be ranked as a contender, but never experienced another big payday. Biggs was among the best, but never got another opportunity to fight for a title. He retired in 1998 with a 30-10 record with 20 knockouts.

Those days are long gone and the memories are murky to Biggs.

“I had some difficult moments,” said Biggs. “I made some mistakes. I was out there for a time.”

He’s hoping the documentary will help others not to make the same missteps. “Why not do [the documentary?],” Biggs said. “I’ve got a story that can help someone. No one can take away the things that I have accomplished. I’m proud to be an Olympic champion. I fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. There aren’t many people who can say that.”

Contact Staff Writer Daryl Bell at (215) 893-5746 or at dbell@phillytrib.com.

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