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RSR Goes Down Memory Lane with former WBA Heavyweight Champion, Tony “TNT” Tubbs

Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt

“No matter what, I will always be known as a World Heavyweight Champion from my win over Greg Page for the WBA title.”–Tony “TNT” Tubbs

Former WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World, Tony “TNT” Tubbs, turned pro in March of 1980. The heavyweight division was endearing itself to the fact, that Muhammad Ali was no longer going to be around, and Larry Holmes two years early succeeded Ali to the throne whether the boxing public liked it or not.

Tubbs would fight his way up the ranks of the heavyweight division that was deep with contenders, tough journeymen and solid Heavyweight Champions in Holmes (WBC) along with Mike Weaver the WBA Champ. In fact, with all the rumblings in many boxing columns that there is nothing really to the heavyweight ranks today, pick up a tape or two on the heavyweights from Tubbs’ era and find out for yourself.

Tubbs cemented his name in the record books on April 29, 1985 when he won a 15 round decision over then WBA Heavyweight Champion, Greg Page. Tubbs would lose his title in his first defense a little over eight months later to “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, via a 15 round close majority decision that many felt at ringside he had won.

Tubbs would face battles outside of the ring with a drug addiction which turned out to be his toughest opponent. From all accounts, including his own, he is clean today and deals with his life one day at a time through his deep spirituality.

BB: Last month, you put your name back on the boxing world’s mind when you beat young prospect Brian Minto. The fight was close on the cards, but from all accounts, your experience helped you prevail. How would you judge your performance and what do you need to work on still? Also, off of this win, have any fights been kicked around for your next match?

That actually was the second fight I had back in 2004 that I won. If I had to do it all over again, I would have allowed myself more time to train for the fight. I really didn’t have any sparring and actually, only had four rounds for the Minto fight with Rob Calloway. I was doing everything else to prepare myself with solid bag work and running quite a bit. Going into the Minto fight and not being at 100%, I knew all I could do is go on my ability. When I reviewed the tape on Minto, I could see the kid was still green. I thought if I could not beat Minto, then my comeback was not meant to be. With all of these factors, I would judge my performance as a good, but with all of the right tangibles on my side, I will be much better in future bouts.

The things I need to work on are getting my weight down which I am working on, and get my sharpness back which will come from more sparring. I would love to get into a fighter’s trainer camp to spar and that will help me get my timing back quickly.

I really thought after this fight, the phone would ring. My rationale on this is that most of the upcoming young fighters would want to face me so if they did beat me, they had a recognized name on their records in the win column.

Being in boxing for almost 25 years, I am totally honest with myself and I would be willing to even take a six round fight, just to stay busy so I can get my weight off quicker and, continue to get my sharpness back.

BB: Besides for your return to boxing, what are you doing with yourself today?

Totally straight up with you, outside of boxing, I don’t know how to make it. My entire life from a kid has been in boxing. I have tried to be a trainer and worked with different kids, but so many times in boxing, you see them leave you if they make it or they wind up going to jail. It’s sad because you put your heart into working and training them, for them to just up and leave you.

If I can make it back into the top ten, I can make a little money and maybe even get a title shot.

BB: It’s no secret that in the past, you had a documented drug problem, but from all accounts, it seems you have gotten your life back on track. What do you attribute your finally defeating, what may have been your toughest opponent? Also, what message can you send to other boxers and every day people who may read this interview about getting clean?

I have to first thank God almighty for helping me defeat this terrible drug problem I had. Over the last several years, I had fought my drug demons before, beat them, but slid back again. Now, I want to prove to myself, not the world, that I can stay clean and maybe, do something in this comeback. That keeps me going everyday. If I leave boxing or get around the old crowd, I will fall backwards again, and I don’t want that. I moved all the way out to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to ensure I will not be around the wrong crowds anymore. Clint Calkins who is my best friend and now my manager, is helping me daily. We are a team!

My message would be fall upon your knees and pray. Each individual has their own way of staying clean. I was a fighter, and to fight 15 rounds against another heavyweight, you would think, it would be no problem to beat a drug addiction. I am here to tell you, this drug thing will kill you! To the folks out there struggling with a drug problem, stay focused and believe that God can give you the strength to beat your demons.

BB: You turned professional on June 14, 1980. It was at the end of the Muhammad Ali era, and the start of another with a dominant champion in Larry Holmes. As a young man, what were your thoughts on the heavyweight division at that time?

At that time, I admired Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali gave me my first black eye. I was on Ali’s team and in fact, when I turned professional, he bought my Mother a house. I thought the division was very solid with contenders up and down the ranks that could be a champion on any given night. My jab is what I got from Holmes and from Ali, my speed. I knew after working with guys like Mike Weaver, Leroy Jones, and Ken Norton to name just a few and hold my own, I was going to for sure make move up the ranks.

BB: Right out the box, you knock out Bruce Scott in the first round in your pro debut. You then proceed to knock out many of the opponents in front of you over your next several fights. On October 4, 1981, you face a powerhouse puncher in the late Jeff Sims out of Miami. Jeff was always a guy that if he didn’t get you out with that huge power was out of gas by the third round. All of this didn’t matter because you stopped him in the first round. Were you surprised by that, and what do you recall about Sims? (Side note: Jeff Sims who fought many tough opponents in his day and was known for his punching power, tragically was killed in an argument with a man outside of a store in Liberty City, Florida, back in November of 1993).

To be honest, I didn’t know about Jeff’s power going into the fight. I was in great shape and had an extensive amateur career going into the professional ranks. I knocked him out quick. I really don’t recall anything about Sims, but I am saddened to hear he was murdered.

BB: In your 14th fight on September 12, 1982, you face tough journeyman Steve Zouski who is another one of those guys that fought everyone. In this fight, you get another knockout victory in the fifth. At this point in your career, how do you judge yourself as a fighter?

I knew I would be a champion based on how I did in the ring and also in the camps that I was used as a sparring partner, holding my own with many great fighters at that time.

BB: Two fights after the Zouski win; you fight former heavyweight challenger and top contender, Jimmy Young who was at the end of his career. He takes you the full ten rounds where you pull out the decision. In your opinion, did Young have anything left in this fight? What did you learn from it, if anything?

Yes, I do think he had something left. When we fought, I could only hit him with the left hand. My right hardly landed at all. He was that good of a defensive fighter. I learned to take my time in the ring more.

BB: On March 15, 1985, you face top contender James “Bonecrusher” Smith, who in his last fight, the same year, went 12 tough rounds with then IBF Heavyweight Champion Larry Holmes who stopped him in the 12th. You defeat “Bonecrusher” by a ten round decision. Did you taste any of his punching power in the fight, and did you know off of this win, you would challenge for the WBA Heavyweight Championship your next fight?

“Bonecrusher” never laid a hand on me. Because of that, I didn’t feel any of his power. He was always on the defense because of my speed.

No, I didn’t know I was going to get a world title shot after this fight.

BB: On April 29, 1985, you are 21-0 with 15 KO’s and challenging then WBA Heavyweight Champion, Greg Page. You go on to defeat him via a 15 round decision. Since you both were solid boxers, with the edge I think in power to you, how did you prepare for this fight? What was the very first thought that went through your mind when you heard and the new………….

Greg beat me seven times in the amateurs where you know, we only had three rounds to fight, but this time around, we had 15. Preparing for that fight, I was running all the time and doing lots of bag work to build up my stamina. We also did lots of sparring during camp that was 15 rounds at a time.

To have Muhammad Ali at ringside along with my Mother was just amazing. The funny thing was I was his pupil, but both Greg and I, had his style. I was moved to tears because my Mother, (Tony’s voice breaks a little) was with me all my life when I did sports even as a little kid playing baseball. It was just an amazing night for me.

BB: Having fought 15 rounds in two of your three heavyweight championship fights, do you think they should have been changed to 12 rounds?

I liked 15 rounds better. They should go back to them because 13-15 separated the men from the boys.

BB: One interesting fact I noticed while reviewing your record up until your title fight was this. You fought several times a year. Why don’t you see fighters for the most part, doing this today?

You made a good observation. I feel fighters today are just too protected. They are getting title shots at 13 or 14 fights. They get ranked right away fighting nobody.

BB: You defend your WBA strap a little over eight months after winning it when on January 17, 1986; you face “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon. Witherspoon, an ex Heavyweight Champion, becomes one again, when he defeats you via a 15 round majority decision of scores of 144-143, 143-143 and 144-141. What do you think about the fight, your loss, and how do you rate Witherspoon as a fighter?

I feel I was landing many more clean shots then Tim did. If you’re scoring for points, then you had to give it to me. He caught me with one good left hook in the entire fight. I hit Tim with so many body shots; he could not go to the after party because he was hurting so bad.

Witherspoon should have given me a rematch, but he never did. Witherspoon was very good fighter with a little power, but not a solid boxer.

BB: After your loss of the title, you reel off three wins during 1987 and on March 2, 1988, you are back fighting for all the belts against then undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, Mike Tyson. You have a great first round, working your jab, but in the second, Tyson knocks you out. Where do you feel you deviated from your game plan? At that point in Mike’s career could you see any signs that his fall from the top of the boxing world would be less than two years away?

No, I didn’t deviate from my game plan at all. I actually was doing well in the second round as well behind my jab. What happened is I went to catch him with a body shot, and his arms were shorter, nailing me a solid left hook along with an elbow. He tried to hit me while I was down, and I was looking over to my corner. They were saying stay down because they knew I was not ready for him because I had three weeks to prepare for the fight and it just wasn’t enough for a Mike Tyson in his prime.

No, I didn’t see that he was going to fall as a fighter, but I did think he was going to have problems outside the ring. At the time we fought, he was the American Idol.

BB: Do you have any message for the 2005 version of Mike Tyson Vs the 1988 version you faced?

Yes, I do! Mike, get back to your old self. The guy who wasn’t messing with any drugs, and was always focused. Mike, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone, but yourself.

BB: Readers may not realize it, but you actually fought on the undercard of Roy Jones’ professional debut on May 6, 1989, at the Pensacola Civic Center. I was at that fight and watched history being made when RJJ turned professional. What are your recollections of the entire event and did you see the potential in RJJ at that point in his very young pro career?

I can remember back then telling someone I saw Roy in the gym putting combinations down on his sparring partners that he was going to be something very special as he moved up the ranks. He turned out be a great champion.

BB: On April 20, 1991, you face young contender and future Heavyweight Champion Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe. You extend him the ten rounds and lose on close scores of 96-94 (twice) and 97-94, all for Bowe. Do you think you lost this fight and how do you rate Bowe who is another fighter who is on the comeback trail today?

No, I don’t think I lost this fight. I made Bowe miss a lot and he kept trying to dominate me in our fight. I faked him out for almost the entire fight. In the last round, I took it to him. Bowe is a good fighter, but depends on knocking out everyone out. He needs to think more and that is why he had problems with Andrew Golota.

BB: From 1991 – 1997, you fight on with mixed success, but still bring in wins against formidable fighters. In this period of your boxing career, how do you look back on it?

Bad! I couldn’t get a title shot and I was beating guys like Bruce Seldon and Jesse Ferguson, who got a title shot against Bowe in 93. I was really messing with the drugs, and in my life, it was only one drug I ever messed with which was Crack. I never touched a drug in my life until I was 31 years old and got tricked by a young lady into doing it. I am not bragging because for ten years, Crack was my downfall, but in the ring, I was still beating a lot of the top guys while having this terrible demon on my shoulder.

BB: You were out of boxing from 1998-2001, but return in 2002, you go 2-2 through December 2004, but as we discussed earlier, you have a solid win against Brian Minto in your last fight. What made you want to come back to boxing?

Money! I just want to make a little bit, put it to some good and move on from boxing helping out the young kids out there.

BB: In a day when fighters especially heavyweights, are fighting on way past their primes because of a lack of solid fighters per the boxing columns of what seems to be a growing number of writers, what are your thoughts on the division and fighters over 40 risking it in the ring?

The division today is weak. I would never have come back even for some money, if I didn’t look at the guys out there today and think I could beat some of them.
If the fighter was beat up then retired and came back, I would not be for it, but I can only go by my case. I was hardly ever hit in the ring or beat up. I was not beat up because of my smarts and boxing ability, which I have to depend on both during this comeback.

However, if it gets to the point one of the young guys knocks me out, it’s over. I am not trying to get myself hurt.

BB: What is one thing RSR readers will learn about you outside of the ring, which they may not have known before this interview?

I am very likeable guy who gets along with everyone.

BB: Did you by chance watch the fantastic two part documentary on former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson the other night? If so, from what you saw and know about his career, where would you place him on the all-time list of Heavyweight Champions?

Yes, I did. I would put him at the top of the list. Back in those days, they were lynching black folks and he had to endure discrimination for being a great boxer. He could box, punch and brought a style to boxing that had for the most part, not been seen up until Johnson. I admire him for everything he went through and still became the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?

Yes, I do. Being a former world champion, I wish that had a fund years ago. So many fighters including myself could use it today. We made promoters and different people a lot of money. If I had some money coming in, I would stick to being a trainer and not step in the ring. I think you take a percentage of the fighter’s purse and the promoter should pay a percentage as well. Also, the organizations should kick in because they get big bucks from the sanctioning fees and can put some into a fund.

BB: What would you like to say to the many fans of Tony Tubbs that have been with you from day one?

I want them to know from my heart, I thank them so very much. Please keep praying for me.

BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?

“I have lived my life for the Devil for a long time, now I am going to live it for the Lord”.

Tony wanted to add the following to our interview:

I want to thank RSR for this interview. It’s so good to hear from you guys and I really want to stay in touch with you. God Bless.

Tony Tubbs
Nickname: “TNT”
Division: Heavyweight
Professional Record through 2006: 47-10, 25 KO’s

Date Opponent Location Result

1980-06-14 Bruce Scott Cincinnati, USA W KO 1
1980-08-02 Jerry Hunter Cincinnati, USA W KO 4
1980-11-07 Ron Draper San Antonio, USA W PTS 6
1980-11-14 John L Johnson Miami, USA W TKO 1
1980-11-22 Larry Sims Cincinnati, USA W TKO 3
1980-11-29 Mike Creel Los Angeles, USA W KO 3

1981-08-21 Dennis Wimberly Elizabeth, USA W TKO 2
1981-11-21 Jesse Brown Erlanger, USA W KO 1
1981-12-18 Don Halpin Pittsburgh, USA W PTS 8

1982-04-11 Baker Tinsley Atlantic City, USA W KO 3
1982-06-12 Clayman Sandman Parker Atlantic City, USA W KO 1
1982-08-07 Clarence Hill Albuquerque, USA W UD 10
1982-09-18 Steve Zouski Atlantic City, USA W TKO 5

1983-02-25 Larry Givens Cincinnati, USA W TKO 7
1983-04-10 Jimmy Young Pittsburgh, USA W UD 10
1983-09-09 Gordon Racette Las Vegas, USA W PTS 10

1984-03-18 Tom Trimm Santa Monica, USA W KO 2
1984-11-09 Jerry Williams Las Vegas, USA W TKO 7

1985-01-16 Tim Miller Las Vegas, USA W TKO 2
1985-03-15 James Smith Las Vegas, USA W UD 10
1985-04-29 Greg Page Buffalo, USA W UD 15
WBA Heavyweight Title
1986-01-17 Tim Witherspoon Atlanta, USA L MD 15
WBA Heavyweight Title

1987-04-20 Mike Jameson Santa Monica, USA W UD 10
1987-05-30 Jerry Halstead Las Vegas, USA W UD 10
1987-09-29 Eddie Gonzales Anaheim, USA W TKO 3

1988-03-21 Mike Tyson Japan L TKO 2
WBC Heavyweight Title
WBA Heavyweight Title
IBF Heavyweight Title

1989-04-20 Mike Evans Redondo Beach, USA W UD 10
1989-05-06 Eddie Richardson Pensacola, USA W DQ 8
1989-06-24 Ladislao Mijangos Bakersfield, USA W KO 3
1989-11-21 Orlin Norris Santa Monica, USA NC ND 12
NABF Heavyweight Title

1990-07-28 Mike Cohen Atlantic City, USA W TKO 6
1990-10-20 Lawrence Carter Atlantic City, USA W RTD 6

1991-04-20 Riddick Bowe Atlantic City, USA L UD 10

1992-02-16 Leon Taylor Las Vegas, USA W TKO 8
1992-08-18 Lionel Butler Pensacola, USA L KO 1
1992-10-14 Bruce Seldon Atlantic City, USA W UD 10
1992-11-24 Jesse Ferguson Auburn Hills, USA W UD 10

1993-02-02 Alexander Zolkin Auburn Hills, USA W UD 10
1993-04-27 Melton Bowen Auburn Hills, USA W UD 10
1993-08-16 Jimmy Ellis Boise, USA L KO 1
1993-12-03 Daniel Dancuta Bay Saint Louis, USA W UD 3
1993-12-03 Jose Ribalta Bay Saint Louis, USA W UD 3
1993-12-03 Tyrell Biggs Bay Saint Louis, USA W UD 3
1993-12-03 Willie Jackson Bay Saint Louis, USA W KO 1

1994-02-22 Everett Martin Auburn Hills, USA W UD 10
1994-10-04 William Morris Auburn Hills, USA NC NC 10
1994-12-06 Jimmy Thunder Auburn Hills, USA L PTS 12
IBO Heavyweight Title
1995-03-29 Andre Crowder Cincinnati, USA W KO 1
1995-08-25 Alexander Zolkin Atlantic City, USA L MD 12
NABF Heavyweight Title
1995-10-20 Brian Nielsen Copenhagen, Denmark L TKO 4

1997-08-30 Mario Oscar Melo Mar del Plata, Argentina W KO 5

2002-03-26 Michael Shanks West Lafayette, USA W TKO 2

2003-01-17 Gilbert Martinez Lemoore, USA L UD 10
2003-07-25 Abraham Okine Morgantown, USA L TKO 8

2004-10-29 Brian Sargent Saint Joseph, USA W TKO 1
2004-12-30 Brian Minto Chester, USA W SD 10

2005-02-25 Danny Wofford Nashville, USA W UD 6
2005-08-06 Jason Waller Rising Sun, USA W TKO 7

2006-11-04 Adam Smith Morgantown, USA W UD 6

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