Reggie Gross was a boxer-turned-gangster whom Mike Tyson knocked out and is now serving 60 years in prison for triple homicide
One of Mike Tyson’s most spectacular early knockouts came at the end of a thrilling one-round battle with Reggie Gross – a hitman and henchman who is currently serving a life sentence in North Carolina. South.
Gross lasted less than three minutes in the ring with Tyson in 1986, but he made an impression on the 19-year-old phenom, coming out shooting and catching Tyson with a superb uppercut. Unfortunately for Gross, trading firepower with a young Tyson was a dangerous game and “Kid Dynamite”, dodged under the blows of the taller man, popped up to land a savage left hook that took Gross down.
Previously, Tyson was aware that “Rugged Reggie” could be more dangerous than his 18-4 (12 KOs) record suggested – he had a reputation for ruining unbeaten records for heavyweight prospects. “He was a tough fighter they called ‘the Spoiler’ because he upset good fighters, including Bert Cooper and Jimmy Clark, who was a great American Olympian,” Tyson later said.
What Tyson may not have known is that in addition to being a talented but underperforming boxer, Gross was also an enforcer for a violent drug gang in his native Baltimore. Just three months after his fight with Tyson on HBO, Gross committed the first of three brutal murders he would eventually be convicted of as contract killings.
Much like Tyson, whose early life on the streets of Brooklyn was no picnic, Gross had a tough upbringing. His father was stabbed to death in the street when Reggie was just three days old and aged just 13 Gross was in juvenile detention following a purse robbery with what s turned out to be a toy gun.
Like many troubled teenagers, Gross discovered boxing and found he had an aptitude for it. He was 6-foot-3, athletic, could punch, and after a 22-fight amateur career, he turned pro in 1982. Under respected trainer Mack Lewis, Gross amassed a 14-0 record, initially at light heavyweight, including a defeat of future world champion “Prince” Charles Williams.
However, Gross was living a double life away from the boxing gym. He used drugs and had become involved with one of Baltimore’s deadliest and most notorious gangs, led by Warren ‘Black’ Boardley. The kingpin of a major cocaine and heroin smuggling group, Boardley had boxed himself.
Gross’ drug addiction and the tragic death of his five-year-old son in a house fire naturally affected his boxing career. At the same time that a Cus D’Amato-guided Tyson was rising to prominence, Gross lost four of eight fights between 1984 and 1986.
However, he knew that when he was paired with Tyson at Madison Square Garden in June 1986, a win against the hottest heavyweight prospect in decades could change everything for him. Gross found himself in the best shape of his career.
“Mike Tyson is like a bull, he comes right at you – I eat bulls for dinner,” said a confident pre-fight from Gross. Even in the shortened contest, Gross shows some skill and hand speed, firing a shot and catching Tyson when he unleashed a flurry of punches. Unfortunately, when facing Tyson – who later that year would become the youngest heavyweight champion in history – you needed either supreme defensive skills or a cast iron jaw.
Gross got carried away by his own shots and Tyson’s compact left hook flattened him. Reggie got up bravely but on shaky legs and the volley of follow-up hooks from Tyson sent him crashing into the ropes. The fight was called off with 24 seconds left in the first round as MSG went wild.
Reggie admits he got carried away after catching Tyson cleanly. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I hit him,'” Gross recalled, years after the contest. “I punched this man in the chin. I said, “Suppose I hit him again with this right hand. I’m going to knock down his block. “
Mike Tyson SPECTACULAR KOs Reggie Gross in the garden this day June 13, 1986
Mike Tyson 217 pounds
Reggie gross 218 pounds
TKO 2:36 round 1
Madison Square Garden#MikeTyson #Knock out #Madison Square Garden pic.twitter.com/FCueZN8eRw
— Boxing Hall of Fame (@BOXINGHALLOFAME) June 12, 2021
Tyson, the man who knocked down Reggie’s block instead, later said, “He decided to start trading punches, which was fine with me…I knocked him down with a vicious left hook, then I knocked him down a second time with a series of punches. The referee stopped the fight because Gross had glassy eyes, but Reggie complained. “You can’t even walk but you want to fight?” the referee said.
The win took a teenage Tyson to 22-0 (20 KOs) but Gross was soon on a much darker path. Later that year, Baltimore homicide detectives arrested him in connection with the murder of a rival of Warren Boardley’s gang, a street dealer named Andre Coxson.
According to eyewitnesses, Coxson was shot in the upper body, then the shooter stood over him and fired several shots into his head. In other words, this was not just a case of random street violence, but a deliberate, professional hit.
“It had all the signs of an execution,” Detective Mark Tomlin said, “especially with the shooter standing over the man and finishing him with two bullets to the head.”
Gross was arrested for the murder. But, despite the state producing several eyewitnesses who said they saw him commit the murder and then flee down an alley, he was found not guilty by a jury. The boxer had spent much of his $50,000 purse for the Tyson fight on legal fees.
At least he was free to resume his boxing career. Now firmly committed to the “opponent” role, Gross would lose in eight rounds to Frank Bruno in 1987 and his last fight actually came on an undercard by Tyson. As “Iron Mike” picked up his biggest victory, knocking out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in June 1988, Gross was stopped by Donovan “Razor” Ruddock (himself a future opponent of Tyson).
Still, being cut down to size by Ruddock soon became the least of Gross’ problems. Donnie Andrews, a criminal turned FBI informant – and the inspiration for Omar Little in the TV series “The Wire” – was recording conversations inside the Boardley gang. Including conversations with Gross that implicated him not only in the murder of Coxson, but also in using a submachine gun to kill two other mid-level drug dealers from rival gangs. Three of at least 10 murders the FBI has found the Boardley gang committed.
Gross was reportedly paid $3,000 for each shot, just months after he headlined MSG with Mike Tyson. The boxer pleaded guilty to the charges in the summer of 1989, saying: “At the time, I was addicted to heroin… I made huge mistakes. I can’t change the past, but I can do better in the future. I know that I will leave [for] long time. I just pray it’s not for the rest of my life.
However, Judge Paul Niemeyer sentenced Gross to three life sentences, saying, “You have fallen from a most promising career as a boxer. Unfortunately, you chose a life in which you would pursue some of the most brutal crimes.
Gross, who later claimed he did not carry out the murders, is now 60 and in prison. His stated release date is 2048, when he will be 86 years old. Unlike Tyson, who ultimately overcame a tough upbringing and a life filled with violence and heartbreak to find some peace at age 56, Reggie Gross is a tragic example of how boxing cannot save every troubled individual who step into the ring.