VIDEO: 'When my kids grow up they can say my daddy kicked Mike Tyson's ass.': 12 years on, Kevin McBride looks back on the night that changed his life
In June 2005 Kevin McBride stood tall over a defeated Mike Tyson, a career-defining - even life-defining - win over one of the most feared heavyweights in boxing history. Twelve years on, Neil Loughran talks to the Clones man about life before, during and after that fateful night...…
KEVIN McBride laughs as he recalls the moment, his slow, low voice giddily moving up an octave. The man who beat Mike Tyson? Forget about it.
With seconds left in the fifth, one slip of Tyson’s gumshield and McBride’s whole story would have been flipped on its head.
“He tried to bite my nipple off,” recalls the Monaghan man, every bit as outraged almost 12 years on.
“I was like ‘what’s this bollox doing?!’ Thank God he had the mouthpiece in because otherwise he wouldn’t have slipped off and my nipple would’ve been in his mouth.
“If that had happened, nobody would know me as the guy who beat Mike Tyson – I’d just be the guy who was left standing there in the ring with one nipple. That’s how I’d be remembered.”
Instead, whether boxing purists like it or not, McBride occupies a place in the sport’s gloried, at times gruesome, history.
The image of the self-proclaimed ‘baddest man on the planet’ sitting on the bottom rope while the six-foot, six-inch Clones colossus watches on, wide-eyed, signalled a sad end for a fighter who orchestrated a campaign of fear through the heavyweight division in the late 1980s.
Yet rather than being lauded for defying the odds and finishing off ‘Iron Mike’, McBride’s victory was greeted by some with little more than a sigh and a shrug of the shoulders.
To them, this was the last pit stop in Tyson’s sorry spiral into self-destruction, the final indignity of a career that had burnt out just as quickly as it caught fire.
“I was just fighting to pay off the bills. I’m not an animal any more,” said Tyson in the moments after.
“I’m not going to disrespect the sport any more by losing to this calibre of fighter.”
McBride has heard the talk.
With a record of 35 fights, 10 defeats and one draw by the time a chopping right hand from Mariusz Wach left him out cold, McBride knows he’s never going to go down in the pantheon of heavyweight greats.
Four words, though, make all the difference: “I beat Mike Tyson”.
Mariusz Wach can’t utter that sentence to his grandchildren. Neither can Tomasz Adamek, Axel Schulz or any of the men who had their hand raised against McBride.
“I don’t care what people say,” states the 43-year-old defiantly.
“It’s like the boy on the sideline of a Gaelic football match and he’s shouting abuse over the fence.
“When you jump in the ring with anybody, let alone Mike Tyson, it’s no joke. I don’t pass no remarks. It’s something special to know in my own heart that I beat a man of that stature.
“They can call me a journeyman or call me whatever they want, I did enough to get to where I got to.
“I beat Mike Tyson. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, they can’t take that away from me.”
THROUGH the fog of 20 years-plus worth of memories, Danielle McBride hazily recalls the scene from a Dorchester bar on Boston’s east side.
It was the night she struck up a conversation with a tall, dark-haired stranger who had arrived from Ireland just weeks earlier.
She’s not sure, but reckons it was either ’94 or ’95. Between her rapid-fire accent and Kevin McBride’s west Monaghan drawl, the lines of communication were initially strained.
But eventually they established some common ground, finding a language both understood clearly: boxing.
“My brother and all his friends really liked the heavyweights and he was telling me he was a boxer, he was in Boston for a fight,” says Danielle, taking up the story.
“I said to him ‘I don’t know you’ because there weren’t a lot of white boxers at heavyweight. There was that Polish kid, what’s his name again…”
“Right, Golota. And then there was Tommy Morrison too, but there weren’t a lot of white kids about, so Kev told me to go look him up on the internet...”
McBride’s attempts to convince his future bride that he was a student of the noble art may have been floundering but, as fate would have it, that first exchange would eventually turn to the man who would come to define his career.
“We were just talking and it got around to Tyson actually, the ‘Buster’ Douglas fight and things like that,” reveals Danielle.
“He was kinda shocked I knew about it.”
It wasn’t until seven years later, after another chance meeting in a Boston bar – “I told him we had met before and he was like ‘really?’” – that the pair’s relationship blossomed away from the barstool.
Between the ropes, things were looking up too.
Having left London-based promoter Frank Maloney and relocated to America’s east coast on the advice of former two-time world champion Steve Collins, McBride started clocking up one win after another.
Tyson still seemed far from his reach, but whispers were already beginning to circulate before he crossed the Atlantic.
“There was talk about fighting him a few times,” recalls McBride.
“I don’t know how close it ever was then, but Maloney said ‘no, you’ll get killed’.
“Then when Danny Williams fought Tyson [in July 2004] I was supposed to be fighting him. I was offered $350,000 or $400,000, but a lot of people were greedy and it fell through.”
Just one defeat in five years and a succession of stoppage victories brought McBride back on to the radar again less than a year after Williams got the gig.
Despite making strides, though, the Monaghan man never quite felt the warm embrace of professional boxing in the way some do. When he was out of the ring, he was out to work.
Boxing was a pastime, a release, but it wasn’t the real world.
“I was working away the whole time after I left Maloney, tipping away. It didn’t matter what – carpentry, stone walls, just anything to get a few bucks to go on.
“All I knew was just tipping along, working, fighting, partying. Nobody was backing me.”
But then, out of the blue, came the call he had been waiting for.
“How would you feel about fighting Mike Tyson?” asked a member of his management team as a stunned McBride fumbled for words.
The offer on the table was $150,000 – much more than he had ever made in a single fight, but a drop in the ocean compared to the $3.5 million Tyson would pocket.
McBride didn’t care. Having seen one opportunity fall through already, he was determined there wouldn’t be another.
“I said, ‘you know what, don’t negotiate any money, just say yes, thanks very much’. The next day I was in Washington DC, I shook Mike Tyson’s hand and signed the contract.
“Money’s only to keep you going for six months or a year or whatever, but it’s not going to define you. I’d have fought him for nothing.”
“I’m going to gut him like a fish. He’s a tomato can. This is going to be a first-class education in humility.”
HE may have been a pale shadow of his fearsome former self, but Mike Tyson was still the only show in town.
No matter that Lennox Lewis reigned supreme over the heavyweight division in the late ’90s and early Noughties before giving way to the Klitschko brothers, nobody but Tyson could elicit such a cocktail of intrigue, antipathy, fear and revulsion among fight fans.
Pretenders came and went but, in terms of cold, hard cash, ‘Iron Mike’ remained the golden ticket.
As soon as the deal was agreed, McBride got to work. Along with running mate Packie Collins, they pounded the roads around Brockton and clocked up hours in the gym under the watchful eye of legendary trainer Goody Petronelli.
There would be no stone-walling this time, no carpentry and definitely no partying. At 32, he was determined to get into the shape of his life.
Even Danielle, normally a nervous wreck in the days and hours leading up to fight night, was calm as the big day closed in.
“I know it sounds strange, but I wasn’t worried about the Tyson fight I don’t think because he had been away training with the top guys in the sport at that time.
“Right before that he had been away helping those guys get ready for fights so he was just in a good place.
“When there were lulls in between fights, that’s when there was more of a concern because it takes a lot to get pumped up again and motivated.
“I knew how much he wanted the Tyson fight and how important it was to him.”
June 11, 2005. After months of meticulous preparation, the big day had finally arrived.
Wayne McCullough was anxiously watching the build-up when his mind was cast back to the old Pavelló Club 13 years earlier.
Minutes before his Olympic bow against Czechoslovakia’s Peter Hrivnak in Barcelona, McBride found himself frozen to the spot.
Running late getting to the venue, and with only a handful of senior amateur fights under his belt, the magnitude of the situation began to dawn on the 19-year-old backstage.
“I had to tie his shoelaces before he went out, his hands were just shaking like mad,” recalls McCullough, his Ireland team-mate.
Tyson’s box office appeal ensured over 20,000 people crammed into Washington’s MCI Centre. By the time he got a knock on the door with a five minute warning, unlike in Barcelona, McBride felt ready.
But when the familiar strains of LL Cool J’s I’m Gonna Knock You Out served notice of Tyson’s impending arrival, reality bit hard.
“What the f**k have I got myself into?”
Those words swirled around McBride’s head as time temporarily stood still.
That moment of self-doubt eventually passed and once the first bell went and referee Joe Cortez waved the fighters together, his instinct kicked in.
Tyson came on strong, throwing wild, swinging left hooks in the early rounds but McBride tied him up at close quarters as often as he could before slowly, deliberately breaking him down with left jabs and thudding right uppercuts.
“I trained good and hard for eight weeks, and I told my trainers no matter how hard Tyson hits me I’ll be smiling. I think I was smiling but, Jesus Christ, it hurt…
“He hit me so hard I thought there was leprechauns playing drums in my head, or he’d hit you to the body and you’d think your kidneys had gone over to the other side.
“His power was unbelievable.”
Although still dangerous, Tyson was visibly tiring. McBride could feel his energy sapping and by the start of the sixth, his nipple still intact, the Clones man knew he had him.
“Tyson hit me hard in the sixth round and I grabbed a hold of him and said ‘is that all you’ve got?’ I was hoping in my head that was all he had.”
Tyson was deducted two points for an intentional head-butt as his frustration grew and, with 15 seconds left of the round, Tyson’s knees sagged and he fell into the ropes following a short McBride left hook.
After just about making it back to his corner, Tyson failed to appear for the seventh, quitting on his stool in what was his last-ever fight while primal screams of “we did it, we did it” filled the other corner of the ring.
The minutes after, the wild celebrations as his team lapped it up, are a blur – but one moment remains crystal clear.
Sat at ringside to watch his daughter Laila in undercard action earlier that evening, the unmistakeable figure of Muhammad Ali beckoned McBride over once he stepped out through the ropes.
He thought he was dreaming or maybe concussed for a few short seconds before throwing his arms around the undisputed king of boxing.
“Growing up, my two heroes were Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali. That night I got to meet them both. When Ali called me over, I told him ‘I’m after beating a legend, now I’m meeting one’.”
Ali threw a few punches through the air before leaning in close.
“I’m the greatest,” he whispered low into McBride’s ear, “but you’re the latest.”
CHOPPING down trees during the day, taking his brood to see the Celtics shoot hoops at night. Life is pretty good right now for Kevin McBride.
His 15 minutes of fame long gone, the McBrides live a normal, modest life in Savin Hill, the largest neighbourhood in Boston.
The closest he comes to a boxing ring these days is during occasional guest appearances at big fight nights in his adopted home town, normally paraded alongside Boston’s own Mickey Ward in a city that is rightly proud of its rich warrior tradition.
It’s coming up on six years now since McBride last laced up gloves against Wach. Despite being sparked out in the fourth, he has no regrets about how it ended.
“Ah, that’s boxing,” he smiles.
“It had to end sometime – my kids can hardly understand me now with my accent, never mind after another couple of fights.”
Danielle wanted him to quit sooner, and McBride knows he took one shot too many. One shot more than he needed in search of a crack at a world title that would never come.
Walking away from it all wasn’t easy. There were dark moments when he hit the bottle harder than he should, and could feel its cold clutches tightening with every sip.
Talking as he prepares to take Danielle, daughter Gráinne (12) and son Caoimhín (9) to the game, McBride admits turning his life around and saving himself was a far greater achievement than any height reached in the ring.
“I beat the drink and that’s the hardest fight,” he says.
“I’m off it now three years and I’m fighting the fight one day at a time. It can get a hold of you – I was drinking all the time, so I had to get a hold of it.
“Beating Mike Tyson is hard, but beating the bottle is harder. It’s the toughest fight I’ve ever had.”
And the greatest pride he feels is not when looking back at old re-runs of his former self taming Tyson, or shooting the breeze with Ali, but the happy life he leads today.
“My wee claim to fame in America is beating Mike Tyson but my big claim is having two beautiful kids and a lovely wife. I’m happy out – I’m just glad I’m still alive.
“In 20 years from now, people will still look back and say that man Kevin McBride from Clones, county Monaghan knocked out Mike Tyson.
“And when my kids grow up they can say their daddy kicked Mike Tyson’s ass. That’s something to be proud of I suppose.”