Lee Groves

10: Greatest “above and beyond” performances

7. Tyrell Biggs W 10 Jeff Sims – March 23, 1986, Lawlor Events Center, Reno, Nevada

Injury: Fractured collarbone

Along with Mark Breland, Biggs was a focal point of the 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team that captured a record nine golds in Los Angeles. His finals win over Italy’s Francesco Damiani capped off a brilliant 108-6-4 amateur career that made televising his early pro fights a must-do for the free-TV networks.

His first eight fights proceeded as expected as he won all eight and recorded six knockouts. His most recent fight was a near-shutout eight-round decision over ex-title challenger turned gatekeeper James “Quick” Tillis and that performance provided his management the green light to schedule his first 10-round main event. The opponent this day was Jeff Sims, an aspiring 22-year-old right-hand bomber with a 22-3 (20) record. While he held wins over Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings and Walter Santemore, Sims faltered when he stepped up against faded versions of Earnie Shavers (KO by 5) and Jimmy Young (L 10). Therefore, Main Events felt Sims was safe enough to fight without risking a defeat but experienced enough to teach Biggs valuable lessons.

They couldn’t have known how right they ended up being.

Biggs easily won the first round with stiff jabs and occasional combinations and in round two he added several digging body shots to his attack. But with seven seconds remaining in round two Sims landed a heavy right to Biggs’ right shoulder, a blow that not only shaped the course of the fight in the short term but also Biggs’ reputation in the long term.

“When I came off the ropes I felt a sharp pain,” Biggs told ABC’s Alex Wallau after the fight. “I don’t know whether it was a break or what but as the fight went on the pain was less and less if I kept the right hand in check. But my right arm has been bothering me through most of my training, so I knew it was something that was going to come up.”

Biggs tested the shoulder with a straight right early in the third and, after flinching ever so slightly, he decided the best course was to clamp the arm to his body, position his glove at the center of his chest and let the left hand do the heavy lifting. Biggs smartly circled to his left – away from the hooks that could have further damaged the arm – and he successfully blunted Sims’ straight-line attacks by moving to one side to the other.

Between rounds three and four Biggs informed trainers Lou Duva and George Benton – as well as Dr. Charles Filippini – that he couldn’t lift his right arm. Duva convinced the doctor to give Biggs another round by repeatedly telling him “he’s all right” while Benton whispered instructions into the fighter’s ear.

Biggs’ natural ring tendencies greatly helped him conquer the challenge set before him. Biggs had always relied heavily on frequent jabs and constant movement to pile up wins and with his right arm virtually useless those assets were his saving grace. Late in the fourth Biggs stunned Sims with a volley that included a heavy uppercut-hook and — by instinct — he tried a right uppercut that missed the target.

During the interval between rounds four and five, Dr. Filippini and a second ringside physician monitored the activity in Biggs’ corner and this time Duva said Biggs wasn’t hurt at all. That, of course, wasn’t true, for along with the shoulder issues Sims had landed enough rights to raise a dangerous-looking mouse under Biggs’ left eye – the eye Biggs needed most to properly aim his lefts.

The rest of the bout followed a similar pattern – Biggs jabbing, hooking and retreating, Sims unsuccessfully pursing. Biggs, growing in confidence with each passing second, even attempted to use the injured right from time to time. He tried one right in the fourth, landed one in the fifth, missed a right uppercut to the body in the sixth, missed a pawing right late in the eighth, landed two rights to the body in the ninth and tried two right uppercuts in the 10th. After the bell in rounds nine and 10, a fired-up Biggs raised both arms in the air with no visible effects. However, subsequent tests confirmed that the collarbone indeed was broken. Still, Biggs won decisively on the scorecards – 99-92 and 97-93 twice.

“It was really discouraging because it was the first time something like that happened where – aside from having some broken ribs – having something real weird happen to me,” Biggs told Wallau. “But then it wasn’t that bad and I had to bite down because those things happen in boxing. I had confidence in my conditioning, so therefore I thought I could go ahead and beat him with the jab like I did. Once I absorbed his power it wasn’t no problem; I was able to do the things that I wanted to do.”

Coming out of the Olympics Biggs had to endure adjectives like “gutless,” “head case” and “undisciplined,” but the courage and resourcefulness he demonstrated against Sims forced his critics to rethink their opinion – at least temporarily. ABC’s Jim Lampley put it best when he said “it was supposed to be a step forward but it’s become a rite of passage.”

Was it ever.

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