BROWN-TRICE I, A FORGOTTEN TREASURE — Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, setting into motion the beginning of the end of World War II in the European theater.
War – real war, the kind waged with bombs and bullets – cannot and should not be equated to any sporting event, so perhaps CBS commentators Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy were simply being prudent when they refrained from making references to D-Day during the epic battle for the vacant IBF welterweight championship between No. 1-ranked contender Simon Brown (pictured) and No. 2 Tyrone Trice, which took place 29 years ago this week on April 22, 1988, in Berck-Sur-Mer, France, not far from where the greatest amphibious landing in the annals of warfare took place nearly 44 years earlier.
Berck-Sur-Mer, and much of Pas-De-Calais, were heavily damaged as the opposing armies clashed in 1944, but the area had become a thriving resort area by the time Brown and Trice entered the ring at the Palais Des Sports. It was a curious juxtaposition between what had been at the height of the fighting and then was, but any local residents in the audience who had lived through the Longest Day surely recognized the special brand of courage exhibited by two gallant warriors of another sort.
Brown, who had been knocked down for the first time in his career in the second round of the scheduled 15-rounder – the IBF at the time was the last of boxing’s three major sanctioning bodies to resist the move to 12-round championship bouts, making this a pugilistic version of the Longest Day – had gotten much the worst of it through four rounds. But the Jamaican-born, Washington, D.C.-based fighter was known for turning foreboding situations to his advantage, and by the middle rounds he had begun to assert himself, seizing near-total command by flooring Trice three times in the 12th round. He then closed the show in the 14th, catching a wobbly Trice with a left hook to the jaw that prompted referee Steve Smoger to step in and wave things off after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 29 seconds.
So totally spent were both fighters that Brown, the winner, had to be physically carried to his stool by his handlers after he had connected with the shot that finally ended matters. Not long afterward, he and Trice were headed by ambulance to the same hospital where they would be admitted for observation.
“I give him all the credit in the world,” a gasping Brown, complimenting Trice, told Ryan during a postfight in-ring interview. “I didn’t thought (sic) he would last that long. He hung on in there until the 14th round. He put me down for the first time in my career. Now I know what it’s like to be put down. It was my mistake, by standing and fighting instead of boxing.
“Tyrone Trice, he got speed, he got power. I mean, this guy is unbelievable. I ain’t never fought anyone like that.”
As a demonstration of boxing will and determination at the highest level, Brown-Trice I – there would be a rematch, on April 1, 1990, which Brown also won on a 10th-round TKO in the D.C. Armory – was a reasonable facsimile to the celebrated welterweight unification showdown of Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, which Leonard, who was trailing on the scorecards, won on a 14th-round stoppage on Sept. 16, 1981, at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace. The main difference is, well, that Leonard and Hearns were household-name superstars, while Brown and Trice were not. Ryan even called them “the best welterweights nobody knows” during the CBS telecast, which seems odd considering that Brown entered the ring that night – because of the five-hour time difference, the fight was shown live in the United States on a Saturday afternoon – with a 24-1 record and 18 knockouts, while Trice was 28-1 with 24 wins inside the distance.
“What I remember is the resiliency of those guys,” Smoger, who was contacted for this story, said in recalling his first major overseas assignment. “Simon knocked down Tyrone, what, three times in the 12th, and Tyrone never fully recuperated. Still, he was able to give a credible account of himself until the stoppage in the 14th.”
How the fight came to be in Berck-Sur-Mer is a story in and of itself. Trice was co-promoted by the Acaries brothers, Michel and Louis, who won the purse bid and decided their native France in the Spring was just a beautiful time to treat the home folk to some world-class fisticuffs. But there was a price to be paid by those who provided the excitement, as there often is in a sport where those who refuse to yield and thus leave bits and pieces of themselves on blood-splattered canvases.
“I think that first fight (with Brown) took a lot out of Tyrone,” said Smoger, the only person of the three in the ring that night to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, as a 2015 honoree in the Non-Participant category. Trice, 0-3 in world title bouts, ended his career in 1996 with a 43-10 record and 34 KO wins, but he lost eight of his last 15. Brown, whose stock in trade was a relentless body attack that called to mind a lumberjack chopping down a tree, called it quits in 2000 with a 47-12 mark (including 34 KOs) that included seven successful defenses of his IBF 147-pound strap. He would seem to have at least a reasonable case for IBHOF consideration, but losing his last six bouts probably damaged his chances.
The bottom line is that Brown-Trice I is something of a forgotten treasure, lacking even the distinction of being named The Ring magazine’s 1988 Fight of the Year; the first matchup of Tony Lopez and Rocky Lockridge, in which Lopez retained his IBF super featherweight title on a 12th-round TKO in Sacramento, Calif., getting that nod.
But for those who spent an otherwise lazy April afternoon in their home, watching two semi-anonymous welterweight contenders spilling their guts in a TV fight originating from somewhere just off the French coast, Brown-Trice is a keeper, to be forever filed away in the scrapbook of the mind.
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