“(Y)ou only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out that life is just a game of inches.” – Any Given Sunday
I always loved this quote, and I always felt it applied to boxing as well as football. Boxing is, in the end, a game of inches. So many fighters come so close to glory, so close to that championship belt, that they can almost feel that cold metal faceplate on the front of the belt.
David Bey was one of those guys.
Now make no mistake, this is not a knock on Bey. I have tremendous respect for the hard punching bomber who came ever so close to removing Larry Holmes from his senses back in 1985. Bey did something that few fighters ever did: fight for a title. He also did something only a fraction of those fighters can say they accomplished: he hurt the champ. And it wasn’t a lucky shot that rocked Homes. When all is said and done, I think boxing history was wrong about David Bey. He wasn’t some tough kid who caught Greg Page on the right night and scored an upset over the most experienced contender, paving the way for a title fight nobody in boxing was expecting him to get. He wasn’t a lucky pug who stumbled into a title fight en route to his inevitable fade into journeyman status. He was almost the real deal.
Prior to his fight with Holmes he scored two wins over future word champions and against Holmes he rattled the undefeated Hall of Fame champion in the second round. Most fans felt that was where the story ended. He got his title fight and he would spend the rest of his career as an opponent for young up and comers. But he wasn’t done almost upending the heavyweight division just yet. In his next fight he almost upset Trevor Berbick before Bey’s notoriously bad endurance caught up to him. Berbick rallied from a deficit to close the gap and stop Bey in round eleven. But had the fight between Bey and Berbick not been for the USBA title, had Bey v. Berbick been a ten round fight, then things may have gone differently that night. Perhaps Bey would have been the one who caught a poorly trained Pinklon Thomas off guard on 1986. Perhaps Bey would have been the man who Mike Tyson had to get past in order to win his first world title.
Bey was a tough brawler, yes. But he was also an awkward fighter with bone crushing power who ultimately suffered from the “punchers curse”: poor endurance coupled with a subpar chin. But so many other fighters became world champions despite suffering from the punchers curse (Mike Weaver, Tommy Morrison, Gerrie Coetzee, and Frank Bruno all come to mind). I also can’t help but wonder “what if Bey decided to fight Coetzee in South Africa?” He certainly could have beaten Coetzee…all he had to do was sell out.
But from what I can tell reading about David Bey from people who knew him, he wasn’t the kind of guy who would sell out what he believed in. Instead he took on the much more dangerous Larry Holmes and came up short, although he came oh so close. .
I wanted to post a clip of David against Greg Page or Buster Douglas, but unfortunalty nobody posted those fights on YouTube. It’s a shame, but the only fights I could find of Bey were the fights he lost. But after watching the Bruce Seldom fight I couldn’t help but think about that quote once again. Bey was trailing in the fight, but for the better part of ten rounds he gave as good as he got. It would ultimately be the last time he ever gave a contender a run for his money (Bey would be stopped by Joe Hipp in his next fight in a lopsided affair) but there was no denying that he gave Seldon all he could handle when the two fought in 1990. Seldon, boxing fans would discover, was a fighter with a less than stellar chin. But that wasn’t yet established in 1990. Nonetheless from rounds four to nine Bey would catch Seldon with the occasional left hook that would land just an inch from the sweet spot on Seldon’s chin. Seldon would stumble on occasion, but he would never go down.
After ten rounds Bey would again come up just an inch short, this time against a fighter who would go on to win the WBA heavyweight title five years later.
Boxing is, after all, a game of inches.
David Bey is survived by his daughter Leah Bey-Batie and step daughter Kyrstin Ellison as well as nine brothers and sisters. David’s Life Celebration will take place on Saturday, September 23rd, beginning at 9:00 a.m. at Pilgrim Baptist Church, 5930 Rising Sun Ave in Philadelphia, followed by his Funeral Service at 11:00 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, a donation in David’s memory to Pilgrim Baptist Church would be appreciated.