Of course everyone remembers the absolutely superb, great fight between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard; their first fight taking place 40 years ago today – Duran winning one of the best welterweight fights of all-time, the “Four Kings” rivalry being born. But less remembered is the heavyweight fight that took place on the under-card in Montreal, Canada.
And the Trevor Berbick-John Tate fight is worth remembering; the shocking, humiliating ending to the fight in particular.
Former WBA heavyweight champ Tate was attempting to come back after having been sensationally knocked out by Mike Weaver in the fading seconds of the 15th and final round. Tate, making his maiden title defence in front of his home fans, was taken out by a Weaver left hand to the head, the now ex-champ deposited flat on his face. It was a crushing loss for a young champion, in a fight Tate was winning quite handily.
Now, just three months later, “Big John” was back. Little could he have imagined how an even worse, more painful, more devastating KO loss awaited him. Facing the rough and tough Trevor Berbick, Tate was in shape, he did not appear to be in any way gun-shy in the fight, and the two put on a good show as the massive crowd awaited the main event they were sure would be a classic (they were right).
In the eighth round, his gas tank visibly emptying, his shorts also dropping lower and lower, Tate was about to meet his second date with destiny. Berbick, something of a fighting caveman, was relentless in his crude yet effective attacks. With Tate trying to get on his toes and box, the heavily muscled Berbick slammed away with punches. “John Tate is getting hit by everything,” Ferdie Pacheco stated on air. Tate was swollen around the eyes, he was gasping though his gumshield and he was being worked over.
At the start of the ninth, Berbick couldn’t wait to resume his attack. Off his stool early, raising both arms, Berbick knew. Tate probably did too. Berbick landed a flurry of shots to the head, a right hand draining Tate and making him literally run across the ring. Was Tate running away in an attempt to survive? Was Tate totally out of it? Berbick gave chase, cracking his fleeing target with shots to the back of the head. Tate crashed to the mat, obliterated.
It was a disturbing sight, seeing Tate stretched out, almost hanging half out of the ring, completely unable to move. His corner dragged him back a few feet, to the alarm of “The Fight Doctor,” who beseeched Ace Miller and co to “let him be.”
“Are you alright, John?” Pacheco asked. There was no reply. Tate had suffered the kind of humiliating knockout defeat all fighters fear. His equilibrium smashed to pieces, Tate had been brutalized. His career never recovered.
Tate was undoubtedly rushed back into such a dangerous fight far too soon after the Weaver disaster, while Berbick was now seen by some as a legit contender. Tate fought on for a further eight years yet he never again came close to reaching the top. Berbick would win a version of the heavyweight title, he would beat a terribly faded version of Muhammad Ali and he would be knocked silly (an even more silly state than Tate had been punched into in Montreal) by Mike Tyson.
Tate and Berbick both suffered a tragic, premature death. A bloated Tate, who had fallen into a life of drugs and petty crime, crashed his truck into a telephone pole and died on impact in April of 1998; it later being revealed how he had suffered a massive stroke whilst driving, cocaine found in his system. Tate was just 43 years old.
Berbick was murdered in October of 2006, his skull smashed by a steel pipe. It was later confirmed how one of the two assailants was Berbick’s own nephew. What’s more, Berbick was murdered on the grounds of his own church. Berbick was just 52.
John Tate and Trevor Berbick: two men who shared one of the biggest stages in boxing, both of them ultimately being victims of frighteningly disturbing misfortune.