After Tragedy, Harlem Trainer Returns to Boxing with Young Talent

By Sune Engel Rasmussen on Jan 30th, 2013

After tragedy, Harlem trainer returns to boxing with young talent from Sune Engel on Vimeo.

It was going to be a night to remember.

On June 26, 2001, the docked aircraft carrier U.S.S. Intrepid hosted a night of professional boxing for the first time. With Manhattan on one side and the New Jersey skyline reflecting in the Hudson River on the other, the setting was spectacular.

But one fight cast a shadow over the event. In a light heavyweight bout, George Jones, 31, dealt crushing blows to Beethavean Scottland, 26. The younger fighter fell into a coma and, six days later, died of head injuries.

The fight traumatized the victorious boxer, whose career began to crumble, and it sent his trainer, Barry Gibson, into a personal tailspin from which he is only now resurfacing. In recovery from drug abuse, Gibson now trains young fighters in the recently opened El Barrio Boxing Gym in East Harlem and is preparing Duquan Chambers, a local prodigy at 22, for the Golden Gloves.

The tournament will mark Gibson’s public return to the boxing world. He has spent years struggling with the memory of the fight, but now seems able to recall the Intrepid incident without guilt.

Trainer Barry Gibson disappeared after the tragedy on the Intrepid. “Nobody knew where he was at,” said his friend, Clarence White. (Photo by Sune Engel Rasmussen)

“I always pray before a fight for God to protect both fighters, but let my fighter come out victorious,” says Gibson, 55, a practicing Muslim for more than 20 years. “But it wasn’t our fault, it was their fault,” he says of Scottland’s corner.

Scottland usually fought middleweight, Gibson says, but the trainer, Adrian Davis, had deliberately kept his fighter’s weight up to get him in the ring against the undefeated Jones. After a knockout a few months’ earlier, Scottland hadn’t had time to recover and train properly, Gibson says. He believes that ultimately cost him his life.

Gibson says the opposing trainer told Scottland that this would be an easy fight. “But his fighter had just been in a war three months before that,” he said of the preceding knockout. “And he was sluggish and out of shape. I really believe there was a lot of damage done before that fight with George. The kid was getting hit with too many punches.”

While press accounts at the time suggested that Scottland’s trainer should have stopped the fight, they also described a “brutal beating” with continuous “pummeling” and “vicious punches.” However, Gibson says he tried to restrain his boxer.

“I told George to leave his head alone. I told him to back up,” he says, adding that the opponent’s widow “told me afterwards that I was a good trainer for holding my fighter back.”

Adrian Davis, Scottland’s trainer, lost his license after the Intrepid fight. He acknowledges that afterward, people told him he should have stopped the fight.  But “Beet Scottland didn’t want me to. I asked him, and then he got angry. That’s what a real fighter does,” Davis, 68, says on the phone from Bladensburg, Maryland where he owns a boxing gym.

“In the last two rounds, he was actually coming back. He was winning,” Davis remembers. “But it happened all of a sudden; he looked like he collapsed from exhaustion. He got hit a whole lot. Some people blamed me,” Davis says, “but this could happen to anybody. Sometimes you give a boxer another chance.”

Scottland wanted the opportunity to fight in New York, Davis says. Having trained pros like Sugar Ray Leonard, Hasim Rahman and Maurice “The Thin Man” Blocker, Davis remembers looking at George Jones’ record and thinking that he didn’t look “too great.”

“I didn’t just tell Beet to go and fight. We talked about it,” he says. However, he doesn’t refute Gibson’s claims that on that night, Scottland fought in a weight class above his own.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” he says. “I’ve trained hundreds of fighters. I would say it definitely wasn’t Beet Scottland’s best night, but sometimes you think you can come back. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t.”

After the fight, Gibson noticed that Jones was shaken, taking punches he normally wouldn’t have. The boxer nevertheless insisted on fighting tough opponents before he was ready, so Gibson left him. They later reunited as friends, and Gibson is godfather to Jones’ child.

When El Barrio Boxing opened on East 115th Street last year, physical trainer Clarence White coaxed Gibson into the gym. With him Gibson brought Duquan Chambers, a talented lightweight he’d been training for a few years. Together, they’re preparing Chambers for the New York Golden Gloves.

“People won’t spar with him, because they think he’s a pro,” Gibson says of Chambers, whose chances of a Golden Gloves title, he predicts, are “better than good.”

The 2013 New York Golden Gloves tournament kicks off today, Jan. 30, at the B.B. King Blues Club on Times Square. Hundreds of boxers will participate in bouts across the city, until the finals at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on April 18 and 19. Duquan Chambers will fight his first match on Feb. 8 at the Mendez Boxing Club on East 26th Street in Manhattan.

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