WILKES-BARRE — About 32 years ago in the dimly lit Scranton CYC, two amateur boxers were setting out on their careers and their roller-coaster lives.
Today, Brooklyn’s Mike Tyson and Kingston’s Billy O’Rourke, joined together forever by the split-decision bout, are leading lives quite different than in their boxing days, and both couldn’t be happier.
Tyson, now 46, and O’Rourke, 49, were together Wednesday night at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. Tyson was there to tell the story of his life of boxing, drugs and misbehavior in the show “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.” O’Rourke, accompanied by his son, Shane, and his father, Larry, was there to listen and to recall the night that could have changed both of their lives forever.
“He didn’t knock me down, he threw me down,” O’Rourke said of Tyson. “I saw it coming and I even blocked it a little. It still crippled me. Joe Salci was the referee. He asked me if I was OK. I begged him to not stop the fight.”
O’Rourke said he won the second round and Tyson narrowly won the third for the decision. Joe Munley of Scranton, a former sparring partner of Tyson’s, remembers a very close fight.
Tyson talked to the less-than-sold-out crowd in Wilkes-Barre for nearly two hours, detailing almost everything about his life in a candid, sometimes profanely graphic, way.
Tyson talked non-stop for nearly two hours after the curtain went up at 7:36, p.m., leaving no subject unmentioned and exposing his soul. The ex-champ stood in front of a screen that showed pictures of his life — from birth to reform school to boxing to Cus D’Amato, Robin Givens, Don King, Mitch “Blood” Green” and his family and burial spots for his mother and sister.
“I was a street fighter,” he said. “I was already a legend in the making.”
He denied he raped Desiree Washington, even though he was convicted and served three years in prison.
O’Rourke and Tyson to meet
O’Rourke and his son and father were invited to meet Tyson after the show. O’Rourke said he hoped to get Tyson to sign the white-and-black satin shorts he wore in their fight in 1981.
At show-and-tell day at the Wyoming Valley West Middle School on Wednesday, Shane O’Rourke brought his father’s boxing trunks that he wore in that bout with Tyson.
“I’m proud of him,” Shane, 13, said while watching his father slap a punching bag at the Odyssey Fitness Center on Wednesday afternoon. “I told them what a great fighter he was and I told them about his disease and what it did to his career.”
O’Rourke said he contracted a form of lupus while working at the State Correctional Institute at Dallas as a food service supervisor. Now retired, he volunteers, teaching people exercise and self-defense.
Shane, who is named after former Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan, hopes to attend Penn State and major in architectural engineering. He said he may take a shot at boxing, too.
“As a father, I’m very proud that he talked about me today at school,” O’Rourke said. “But I tell him that self-defense is like an insurance policy — you only use it when you need it.”
Earlier, O’Rourke sat at his favorite booth at Pierce Street Deli, owned by his best friend, Ken Bond. O’Rourke said his life is about helping people, including himself.
At 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, he said he has lost about 100 pounds, but he needs knee surgery, hip surgery, he has had two back surgeries and he’s blind in one eye.
“But I stand tall,” he said. “And every day I try to be the best Bill I can be. And I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.”
The Tyson fight
O’Rourke sparred with “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, and he has been in the ring with many successful fighters, but he will never forget what Tyson’s legendary trainer, Cus D’Amato, told him that night in Scranton.
“Cus told me Michael was a killer,” O’Rourke said. “He warned me; he told me he didn’t want me to get hurt.”
Billed as “the Irish kid from Scranton,” O’Rourke, who hailed from Kingston and still lives there, said his brief career turned on the Tyson fight. At the time, he was 5-0 and Tyson was 4-0 in their amateur careers.
O’Rourke was a tough kid with a powerful right hand. He trained at the Tobin Lane Gym in Edwardsville under the tutelage of Frank Jayne and Joe Horvath.
He said that when Tyson came out, he was surprised that he was short and soft-spoken.
“I’ve been hit by Ali and five other world champions,” O’Rourke said. “Tyson beat the living crap out of me in the first round. The second round was a war. Tyson seemed to back off a bit in the third round, probably because I was bleeding so much.”
He said if he ever got to fight Tyson again, he would never have let him hit him so often — he would box him and not let him hit him with another left hook.
O’Rourke was looking forward to Tyson’s show — to hear him speak about where he was and where he is now.
“He went from the top to the bottom,” O’Rourke said. “Right now, he’s trying to be just like Billy O’Rourke — the best he can be every day.”
O’Rourke graduated from Wyoming Valley West in 1981 and went to Luzerne County Community College to study culinary arts.
Happy with the way his life has turned out, he dedicates his life to Shane and he looks forward to every day.
“But at night, I ache all the time,” he said. “But I go to sleep looking forward to the next day.”
And Tyson moves to the next stop for his one-man show.