Dave Tiberi on stage with fellow honorees (from left) Shelley Williams of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino; boxing portrait artist Patrick Killian; boxing judge Jackie Atkins and New Jersey Realtor Jordan Counts.
By Ken Mammarella
Before every bout, boxer Dave Tiberi meditated on the same Biblical verse: “I can do ALL through Christ, who strengthens me.” He often does so today, 30 years after his last fight, a fight that Boxing News called “the great robbery” and “one of the most infamous decisions in boxing history.”
“I believe God has me in the community to be a light, and that light ties into my Italian heritage to lead by action,” he said. And lead he does, in multiple nonprofits. “I’m very community-minded.”
Tiberi, 56, was inducted in October into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame, on top of being in the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame.
“It was very humbling,” he said of the latest induction, referring to what he called more famous names involved. “I did fight a lot of fights in Atlantic City, and they gave me a great platform, and I was blessed to get great coverage. The honor pounded my heart a little bit. It was really nice.”
Dave Tiberi (center) and his family (from left) future son-in-law Ryan MacLeish; daughter Alexis Tiberi; grandson Callahan David MacLeish; his wife Angela Tiberi; daughter Angela Marie Tiberi; daughter Ariel Tiberi; and Ariel’s boyfriend Mark McMullen.
“He’s being inducted because that fight changed the landscape of boxing,” Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame founder Ray McCline said. That fight, on Feb. 8, 1992, was a middleweight bout against James “Lights Out” Toney. The three judges narrowly voted Toney the winner, but the vote was controversial. Tiberi rejected plans for a rematch, and he retired from competition.
Two judges turned out to be unlicensed, and the ref’s competence was debated. Tiberi’s follow-up testimony before Congress became part of the push for the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which increased the safety and protection of boxers in the ring and by promoters and managers, McCline said.
The induction ceremony was in the same casino (then called the Taj Mahal, now the Hard Rock Cafe), and Toney was inducted as well. McCline called their joint appearance a statement about sportsmanship. “Opponents don’t have to be enemies,” he explained.
Tiberi viewed the ceremony – the first time he’s seen Toney since then and the first time he’s returned to that building – as a chance to heal and for his fans to celebrate his career, accept what happened in that infamous fight and see how his life has turned out. “God has a great sense of humor,” he said. “Who would think I would be going back 30 years later in celebration mode?”
Footage from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” coverage is on YouTube, and his career became the focus of “Tiberi: The Uncrowned Champion,” a book by Andy Ercole and Ed Okonowicz.
Faith and boxing have been important throughout Tiberi’s life. He was named David – for the strong Biblical hero – after his pregnant mother was injured in a car accident. He started boxing at age 5.
He was the youngest of 14 kids in the family, one of seven brothers who enjoyed the boxing ring outside their Wilmington home. He recalls the stern rules and folksy sayings from his father, who was born in Abruzzi. “Everything was built around the work ethic,” he said. “My dad was no-nonsense.”
He visited Italy in 2016 – 10 days with his wife, Angela; and daughters Alexis, Angela Marie and Ariel, who all studied Italian at St. Mark’s High – and hopes to return. “When we landed, I looked out the window and said ‘Angela, my heart of hearts, I feel like we’re home.’ I’d love to be able to spend 20 to 30 days there, just reaching out to family and friends I have known over the years.”
His Italian heritage shows in his love of its fine fresh food, his respect for elders and “that creative flair that separates us as a culture,” he said. “My security business, my nonprofit work, my boxing – everything I’ve ever done has an artistic flair to it. I’m always planning it out, and it just reminds me of our culture. That creative eye is deep in my heritage. Everything turns out beautiful.”
Tiberi’s artistic flair blossomed as a boxer (“Figuring out ways to win, learning my opponent’s style and finding my sanctuary”) and also showed up in the media, first with a weekly cable TV program, working with Ercole and then on his own (“I love the artistic side of TV”) and then TNT Video Multimedia and Television Productions, which he co-founded with his wife.
In 1995, they founded Emergency Response Protocol, a security firm that “combines their video and software experience with Angela’s background in fire protection and first responders,” Delaware Today reported in 2017, when it named Tiberi as one of 36 “intriguing” Delawareans. The magazine five years before had named him one of the most 50 influential Delawareans of the past 50 years.
“Dave does a lot for kids. It’s been his life’s work. Dave Tiberi is all about everyone else,” boxer Henry Milligan wrote in 2012.
In 1995, Tiberi was named an Outstanding Young American by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, and in 1998, he was voted Young Italian American of the Year by the National Italian American Federation. “When I speak to young Italian Americans, I tell them we have such a rich history and rich culture, and we should try to keep it alive,” he said.
Tiberi devotes a lot of energy to community activities.
In 2020, he co-founded Donate Delaware to supply much needed PPEs throughout Delaware and the surrounding states during the pandemic and help nonprofits and schools to save money by buying it bulk. Although its focus is on Delaware, this year it shipped supplies to Ukraine, Africa, Kentucky, Jamaica and Mississippi as well. The team is preparing to have a convoy for shipment to Florida.
He serves on the board of Catholic Charities, Leadership Delaware, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, the Delaware Police Chiefs Foundation and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, plus advisory boards for Christiana Care and Easterseals.
He co-founded The Dave Tiberi Youth Center and founded Delaware Decision Makers, a monthly panel discussion on “topics that will move Delaware forward” (although it’s on a pandemic hiatus).
Since 1992, he has taught defensive tactics to recruits in the Delaware State Police and local agencies. Most mornings he heads to the gym at 5, where he hosts a boxing-based fitness and training program called Dave Tiberi’s Boxing Boot Camp.
Tiberi grew up attending a nondenominational church and today belongs to Parkview Assembly of God near Newark, where he has become close friends with pastor Chris Dito.
Biblical quotes decorate the walls of his Hockessin home, and he also noted a secular one in his youngest daughter’s bedroom: “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
“God and his word holds me accountable,” he said, noting that the Scriptures provide guidelines on what to avoid (like gluttony) and what to do (like helping one another). “Everybody has good intentions,” he said.
He’s been inspired to “step out” and speak out about his faith, including taping biblical verses on the walls of the boxing gym, next to the pictures of scantily clad women. “My goal is to always earn a seat at the table with people,” he said. “I’m willing to do anything to help anybody, and at the same time, then it’s up to them to help themselves and also to get grounded.”
In his motivational speeches, he likes to talk about the camaraderie of boxing camp. “I lived with a diverse group of men, Hispanic and black, from all different cultures (Bernard Hopkins, Stevie Little, Robert Hines and Prince Charles Williams), and we became brothers. We all came up together. We made a commitment to help each other and hold each other accountable. This commitment led to all five of us winning world titles.”