I moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in June of 1979. Billy Lyons was one of the first coast residents I met and he made a big impression on me.
I'm a native of New Orleans and New Orleanians are known for their friendliness. Lyons made me feel right at home. He had cigar sticking out of his mouth and he asked me what city I had moved to. I told him, "Gulfport." Lyons said, "Man you should have moved to Biloxi, we're just like folks from New Orleans."
A friendship was made. Billy was like an uncle.
Back in 1980 Lyons helped bring a Yugoslavia-USA international boxing event to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. He even set-up an interview for me with ABC sports announcer Keith Jackson. The event was going to be televised by the national network and I interviewed Jackson on a Saturday next to a water fountain that was located by the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.
In 1982 the Pittsburgh Panthers and Georgia Bulldogs played in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Jackie Sherrill was the head coach at Pittsburgh and since he graduated from Biloxi High School, Biloxi officials, including Billy Lyons, came up with the idea of having Pittsburgh stay at the Biloxi Hilton and practice at the old Biloxi Stadium on Lee Street.
During the week, Lyons and others set-up a big shrimp boil at the Hilton and it was a huge success.
On a cold afternoon I attended the Pitt practice in Biloxi. After practice I interviewed Sherrill and a young quarterback by the name of Dan Marino. Pittsburgh beat Georgia 24-20 on New Year's Day.
Professional boxing took the spotlight when casino's arrived on the coast in the 90s. In 1992 Lyons became the chairman of the Mississippi Athletic Boxing Commission. He certified the bouts and made sure professional referees and judges were available on each and every boxing card.
In February of 1994 former WBO Heavyweight Champion Tommy Morrison trained at the Biloxi Belle Casino as he prepared to meet Tui Toia. With Lyons leading the way, I interviewed Morrison pool side at the Biloxi Belle Casino. A few days later Morrison scored a third round knockout. Morrison won a 12-round decision over George Foreman to claim the WBO title in 1993. Morrison ended his boxing career with a 48-4 record and later disclosed that he was HIV positive. Morrison died in September of 2013.
Lyons was also involved in controversy in 1993. Boxer Roy Jones, Jr. said Lyons made racist comments to him while he was training for a fight at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Lyons denied the accusations. Jones and Lyons mended their ways and Jones boxed numerous fights inside the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.
Former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes became a familiar face inside the ring on the coast and Lyons was instrumental in making sure everything was run to perfection. He was always ring side and he would always come up to me and wanted to make sure I had a good sit and my photographer Rodney Billingsley was set-up ring-side.
He served as the Mississippi Boxing Commissioner up until 2004.
Lyons later moved away from the Mississippi Coast and was living in an assisted living facility in Owensboro, Kentucky. That's where Billy's daughter lived.
On Saturday Billy Lyons died in Owensboro. His funeral is set for Thursday at Nativity BVM in Biloxi. Visitation begins at 9:00 a.m. The funeral service starts at 11:00 a.m.
Lyons was a special character who made an impression on everyone he met.
Billy, "Thanks for making me feel at home here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast...a place I have called home for 36-plus years."
You will be missed !
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