|Integrity Wins Out: The Dave Tiberi Story - Boxing Interview
Interview By Ken Hissner (Feb 6, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
On February 8, 1992 I sat in front of the television to watch Wide World of Sports boxing from Taj Mahal Hotel, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I felt bad for the challenger who was a good looking young kid from New Castle, Delaware named Dave Tiberi. Though he had a good record (22-3-3), I feared the IBF middleweight champion James “Lights Out” Toney was about to put out the lights of his opponent bringing about the embarrassment to him and his many fans who had followed him throughout his illustrious amateur (62-0, boxing since he was 5, with many not recorded) career and creditable
professional career. I had seen Tiberi fight on ESPN and USA television several times and knew he was a good boxer with a lot of heart but with only seven knockouts he had nothing to hold off the skilled, hard punching and somewhat arrogant champion.
In the first round Toney came out for an early ending. Near the end of the round he caught Tiberi with a punch that would have dropped most fighters. The second round was more of the same with Tiberi fighting defensively trying to roll with the punches. I do not know how this kid stood up. In the third round the tables would start to turn as the exhausted Toney would be on the defense of the well conditioned Tiberi. Though not a fan of the Rocky movie’s I was seeing it happen before my very eyes.
The underdog, the long shot, it’s the American wish come true when David defeats Goliath. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would have never believed it. Not only did he outbox the champion but out punched him. Toney did all he could just to hang in there for the remainder of the fight hoping to land the one shot to end it that never came. What followed is the reason we
followers of boxing have no defense when others criticize the sport. Ring announcer Michael Buffer announced “we have a split decision.” You could hear the moans in disbelief. He followed by reading the first judge’s scorecard “judge Frank Brunette of New Jersey has it 117-111 Tiberi.” The fans went wild. A new champion was about to be crowned. I agreed having it 116-111 for Tiberi. He then announced “judges William Lerch of Illinois and Frank Garza of Michigan have it 115-112 for the still IBF middleweight champion James “Lights Out” Toney.” Sitting there I was stunned. The fans were booing so loud I could hear them from Atlantic City. We defenders of boxing usually think “never again will I watch another crooked fight like that one.”
It was reported Tiberi received $30,000 in purse money. He was offered $350,000 and it was upped to $500,000 for the rematch by Toney’s promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank. This is where I hoped to get some answers to the questions I have had over the years in interviewing the now Delaware promoter Dave Tiberi.
Ken Hissner: Dave, it is an honor being able to speak to you. You are a man of rare integrity that so many of us have admired you for especially since that night in Atlantic City when it wasn’t just the slots and blackjack table’s getting over on us. Before I get to that fight which would be your last fight let’s get a little information. I understand you to be a native of Atlantic City but raised in New Castle, Delaware, the 12th son to Mario and Helen Tiberi. Is that right?
Dave Tiberi: Yes it is right. Six of my brothers had fought and at five I would go with them on cards throughout the three state area boxing along with them.
KH: Back in May of 1984 I’m at the Radison Hotel in Wilmington, Delaware about to watch an 8 round state title fight between your brother Joe and Pinky Gordon. The fight ended in a draw so no one got bragging rights. While the fighters were in the ring waiting to be introduced a fight breaks out near the corner of your brother. He starts to step through the ropes, gloves and robe on, to help out. Were you there? Or should I ask were you in the fight outside the ring?
DT: (laughing) I was part of my brother Joe’s entourage and came into the ring with him. I do remember a scuffle. It’s funny for we were all friends but suddenly it was a state title bout and people were taking sides.
KH: After a successful amateur career you turn pro July 24th 1985 beating Mike Jefferson (1-0) in Atlantic City. Your third fight would be only one of two in the state of Delaware during your pro career. This fight was sandwiched between a pair of draws. The first in Las Vegas against a Canadian light heavyweight Danny Stonewalker (3-1) and back in Atlantic City with Eddie Belfiore (7-1-1) which would be the latter’s last fight. Tell us about those draws.
DT: My trainer Carmen Graziano had John Collins in the main event in Vegas and we were in the gym and he asked me if I wanted to get on the card. I said sure. He pointed to Stonewaller who was a tall Native American light heavyweight. He had been on the Canadian amateur team I find out later. When I saw the size of this guy I looked at him and Carmen and just said I’ll fight him. As it turned out I was told to eat as much in two days as possible. I went from 160 to 165. Stonewaller was 177 and came down to 175 to cover the 10 pound maximum weight difference. It was a good fight but I was able to counter him well and had to go 6 rounds in just my second fight. Belfiore was an ex-marine and much older than I at 18. I cut him in two places and thought I won.
KH: You win your next three fights in Atlantic City and travel to Akron, Ohio to fight the hometown favorite Jerome Kelly (7-2-2) ending in a draw. This is followed by two wins in Atlantic City over a three week period against John Keys (1-1). Was it a hometown draw in Akron? Why the rematch with Keys?
DT: Again Carmen had a fighter in the main event. I find out I’m fighting a local favorite. I thought I did enough to win the fight but get a draw in his backyard. I thought somewhere down the line I’d like to meet him again. (Little did he know he would) I had a cold for the first Key’s fight and a problem breathing. Though I won I did not perform well. When I got the opportunity 3 weeks later I took it knowing I would be in good shape for this one and won easily.
KH: Two wins later in August of 1987 you defeat Dr. Terry Christle (13-0-1), “The Boxing Brain Surgeon” in a nationally televised match in Atlantic City. Was he really a doctor? Since he never fought again, he may have been. He was in the same stable as Marvin Hagler and his half-brother Robbie Sims. This was an ESPN fight.
DT: 60 minutes did a story on him because he was a brain surgeon who was having his license threatened if he continued fighting. He was from Dublin, Ireland. I won the fight and he retired going back to be a full time surgeon.
KH: You are then matched with future NABF champ and IBF title challenger Ron Essett (12-2) in Atlantic City. You suffer your first defeat, an eight round decision. Tell us what happened.
DT: I find out he was a top amateur. I made the mistake through the first 6 rounds of fighting his fight. By the 7th round I took charge but it was too little too late. It was a good learning experience.
KH: After the Essett fight you make your Blue Horizon debut in Philadelphia. You would win eight straight fights in Pennsylvania including six at the Blue. Six of these fighters would never fight again making it eight in your last ten fights. You also got your rematch win over Akron’s Kelly whom you had fought a draw with two years earlier in Akron. First, were you aware of so many career ending wins? Either you beat them so bad they retired or they thought if they can’t beat you they should quit. (Both laughing)
DT: No I wasn’t aware of that. At this point in my career Mark Kondrath became my manager and Marty Feldman my trainer. I would be in the gym with Marty’s fighter’s like light heavyweight champ Prince Charles Williams, Bernard Hopkins, Steve Little and Rob Hines. Marty had me ready for that Kelly fight and I felt good winning to someone I knew I had beaten before and gotten a draw. I beat Jerry Williams on USA network and had just come off two tough 10 round fights with Steve Little and Frank Tate. Joe Summers had gone the distance with Darrin Van Horn and I stopped him in 5.
KH: You are back in Atlantic City in March of 1990 stopping Ken Shannon (23-6) in the fourth round. You are then matched with former USBA Middleweight champ Tony “The Punching Postman” Thornton (23-4-1) from Glassboro, New Jersey, in Atlantic City. You are four pounds lighter than him and are stopped in the fourth with a cut over your left eye. Tell us about the weight difference and the fight.
DT: Shannon had just gone 12 rounds in his previous fight and it felt good stopping him in 4. Tony Thornton and I had sparred before. Everything was going right and I was ahead after 3 rounds. I knew he would tire down the stretch. In the fourth we bumped heads and when I pulled away the blood just squirted out with a bad cut over my left eye. My cut man Eddie Aliano, the best in the business, had it pretty well patched up but my trainer Marty felt I would have another day to fight for. They feared it would open again with too little time to work on it. I complained to the referee Joe O’Neill as did Marty to no avail. We tried to appeal the referee’s decision with New Jersey commissioner Larry Hazard. My manager Mark went to the expense of getting the film of the fight and had it processed even back then in slow motion showing the accidental head butt. Though Hazzard claimed he looked at the film when it was given to him we had our reservations whether he ever did.
KH: You get wins in New Castle and Atlantic City. Then in July of 1991 you are matched with Pennsylvania’s Eddie Hall for the IBC super middleweight title at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. You stop him in four rounds setting the stage for the Toney bout some seven months later. You were only 161 ½ for this match. Had your manager Mark Kondrath arranged this so you could go into the Toney fight with a title?
DT: We knew Camacho and Vinnie Paz had won this title and it seemed to work for them so we took it. We felt it would be a good pivotal fight. (Mark Kondrath confirmed this and said “it was our plan to use that title to get something bigger”.)
KH: What was your game plan for the Toney fight?
DT: We were offered Leonard and Duran but felt they were past their primes so we took this mainly on Marty’s approval. (Marty Feldman told me “I knew if you backed Toney up he could not stand the pressure.” He added “we had Bernard Hopkins in camp imitating Toney to a tee. I knew Dave would be ready and could beat him.”) Marty had so programmed me that I would know how to fight for he would tell me fall against the rope, double right hand and left hook. It worked. One of the nicest things I remember before the fight was they filmed my wife and I reading the Bible with our baby daughter. That was a real testimony of our faith.
KH: Were the first three rounds hell with Toney trying to knock you out?
DT: Toney winged shots. He caught me with a left hook just before the bell, but I wasn’t stunned. It may have looked like I was getting hit a lot but I was able to slip and block a lot of those punches with shoulder rolls. We knew if we could take Toney into the late rounds we could beat him. By the third round he was slowing down. When he would stop throwing punches I would land punches of my own. He was getting frustrated.
KH: What went through your mind in the sixth round when the referee Robert Palmer took a point away from you for a low blow?
DT: In the state of New Jersey you have to give a warning before taking away a punch and I never had gotten one in this fight. I was really shocked when it happened.
KH: What was going through your mind awaiting and then hearing the decision?
DT: All I could hear was Bernard in camp again and again shouting “and the new…and the new…” so I really thought I was the new middleweight champion. “Maybe it’s not your plan but God’s” I thought I heard my wife say, but she hadn’t.
KH: I understand the rematch purse for you went from $350,000 to $500,000. It wasn’t about the money was it?
DT: We put a complaint in after the fight. The two judges who voted against me were not licensed New Jersey nor was the referee. Each time God helped me to obey Him by responding honestly but without malice to my circumstances, I experienced a little bit of his peace. I began to realize that He had intentionally arranged this entire situation for His own eternal reasons. Ken, from the time I was a small kid in school I was told about Jesus and about forgiveness. If I had won that title who know how it might have changed me. I had a platform to share a message about how to overcome even the greatest of odds. I was able to share Jesus Christ even at political meetings. I had a platform I may not have had if I had won.
KH: The stand that you made would eventually bring about the “Ali Bill”. A bill that would help protect every fighter. What are your thoughts on the bill?
DT: Though the bill got watered down it was something to help all future fighters. Senator Bill Roth of Delaware fought hard and long leading the senate investigation of my fight with Toney until his death. Then Senator John McCain picked up where he left off.
KH: I understand you and your wife Angela have three daughters. You are also President of TNT Video Productions.
DT: My wife and I had known each other since we were young. I couldn’t have walked away from that rematch without her understanding. I opened the Dave Tiberi Youth Center in the middle of the biggest drug district of Wilmington, Delaware, where no other youth ministries existed.
KH: I understand you wrote a book called “Basics of Self Defense” and have a training video. You also have trained all Delaware law enforcement, state police and municipalities, in self-defense. Off the record do you have you any outstanding tickets in Delaware? Dave I appreciate you taking the time you did.
DT: I enjoyed this and look forward to seeing you at our show on February 8th in Dover Downs.
During an earlier conversation in the day…
Ken Hissner: When I came to your last show in December I handed you a business card from former IBF middleweight champ Rob “Bam Bam” Hines who along with IBF light heavyweight champion “Prince” Charles Williams were former sparring mates. Hines said they were spirited. Having written a story on “Philly Gym Wars” I know they were tough. Tell us about them.
Dave Tiberi: Marty had me in with light heavy champ Prince Charles Williams, Vaughn Hooks, Rob Hines, Bernard Hopkins, Steve Little among others. When I had a fight come up it was such a please knowing I didn’t have to fight those guys in the gym. It was almost easy.
KH: Dave, I look forward to covering your next show on the 8th of February at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. It will mark the 16th anniversary since your bout with James Toney. Will James be there? I’m just kidding. It’s been my pleasure speaking with you and would you like to add anything in closing?
DT: I look forward to seeing you at our show. I didn’t realize it was on the same date as my fight with Toney.
The following day after talking to Dave, all over the website was talk of Joe Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins fight with the sparring starting early. In a nose-to-nose press room heated words were exchanged and Hopkins, who is black, told the Welshman he “would never let a white boy beat me” as a group of American and British reporters looked on. Calzaghe called Hopkins “an idiot.” This happened December 7th. The subject was back in the news yesterday. To this Hopkins said “and one of my best friends is Dave Tiberi, who is white.” He added, “Dave used to tell me about the (racial taunts) he had to go through when he trained at Champ’s Gym in North Philly. Fighters say things, but it isn’t always what it seems. It’s just another way of talking trash. It doesn’t mean I think white guys can’t fight. I know better than that.”
In summary, people like Dave Tiberi don’t come along every day let alone in the sport of boxing. His integrity has spoken for itself on more than one occasion. He is a family man. He is a man of strong faith and convictions. I can’t begin to tell you what a pleasure it was conducting this interview. When it was over I knew I had a friend and a brother in the Lord in Dave Tiberi.
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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