How Mark Beiro conquered blindness to return to the fight game

Yahoo Sports
(Courtesy Mark Beiro family)
(Courtesy Mark Beiro family)

Mark Beiro woke up in a hotel room, as he had done hundreds of times before, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. With a stretch and a yawn, he sat up in bed.

He had been the ring announcer the night before for a boxing card in Reno, Nev. He'd had to catch a bus in a short while to do the same job later that night in nearby Stateline, Nev.

Beiro awakened to a room filled with fog.

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"I rubbed my eyes and I rubbed my eyes and I rubbed my eyes, but I couldn't see through that fog," he said. "I said to myself, 'Holy [expletive], why is there so much steam in this room?' I couldn't see beyond this fog, or steam, whatever you want to call it, and I figured I probably had something in my eye."

His immediate task was to get to the bathroom, turn on the water, wipe off his face and then go about the rest of the day.

It wasn't a simple chore. He felt his way along the walls to find the bathroom. Once in, he reached out for the faucet and turned it on. He splashed water in his face and looked in the mirror.

There was nothing but fog.

He'd come to the realization that he'd gone blind.

"To be honest with you, once I composed myself, I cried," said Beiro, who did bouts on NBC, ESPN, HBO and Showtime, among many other networks. "It was pretty difficult at that moment."

He needed to call for help. He made his way back to the bed, and picked up the phone. There was a direct button to reach the front desk, but he couldn't find it. He couldn't see to dial his wife, Jackie, at their home in Tampa, Fla. He had no way to summon someone to help him.

It was July 12, 2003, and 52-year-old Mark Beiro realized life as he knew it would change dramatically.

Beiro had begun ring announcing when he was 9 years old, when he was asked to introduce the fighters in the gym at an amateur card in the Ybor City section of Tampa.

He'd become one of the best in the business, and became a celebrity of sorts in 2000 when he landed a gig as the announcer on the hit Comedy Central series, "BattleBots."

It would be the fans of BattleBots who would be so helpful to him later as he opted for a while to continue his career as a ring announcer despite his blindness.

But on this morning, he was alone, desperate and very much afraid.

Now, a little more than 10 years later, his vision has been restored and he's anxious to get back into the business he loves. Top Rank's Brad Jacobs, a long-time friend, has talked with him and wants to put him back to work eventually.

Beiro has a self-deprecating sense of humor and jokes frequently about his blindness, but Mike Houser, in 2003 a freelance boxing reporter who knew Beiro, said he was the same way on the night he first went blind.

Houser had known Beiro from having covered the fights together, but it was not as if they had been long-time friends. But on July 12, 2003, fate brought them together.

Houser was assigned to cover the card in Stateline at what was then known as Caesars Tahoe. He was seated next to Beiro.

They greeted each other warmly, and then Beiro said something that Houser found odd.

"He says, 'I'm blind,' and I was expecting a joke, because Mark is the kind of a guy who jokes around a lot," Houser said. "And I guess I smiled or maybe I didn't react, I don't know, but he said, 'No, seriously, I'm blind.' I was sitting there trying to process all of this, him just telling me he's blind, and he was calm and doing his job getting ready to call the fights."

Beiro had gone blind because of his diabetes. He'd begun to lose his vision in Dec. 2002, but he had enough sight that he could function normally.

He'd gone to executives of the Nevada Athletic Commission as he arrived at Caesars Tahoe that night and let them know of his blindness. He asked for permission to announce the bouts from ringside, instead of climbing into the ring.

He only went into the ring once that night, before the first fight to tell the crowd that he'd be announcing from ringside.

"It was amazing how he did that," Houser said. "Here he is, blind, and it's the first day he's blind. He climbs up the steps, I guess out of memory, knowing how many steps there were, and then he goes into the ring and he knew exactly how far he had to go to get to the center of the ring. Nobody ever knew he was blind. He never said it and no one sitting there could have known."

Once there, Beiro announced that he wouldn't announce the fighters and the results from the center of the ring, as usual. There was a puzzled reaction, so Beiro, ever the comedian, delivered a quick joke.

"That way, you won't have to look at me all night," he said as the crowd erupted in laughter.

Things went remarkably well, considering what was happening. Houser was helping him by writing all of the information Beiro would need on index cards in massive block letters. Beiro was able to make that out and it enabled him to pull off the job, largely without a hitch.

But unbeknownst to either Houser or Beiro, the commission had changed the order of the bouts. The fighters for the first bout had gotten into the ring, and Beiro dutifully began to announce it.

He knew, though, from the reaction of the crowd that something was amiss.

"There was this grumbling and some booing from the crowd, because they could see that what I was introducing was not what was going on in the ring," Beiro said. "Mike leaned over and was kind of panicky and he whispered to me, 'Mark, they changed the order of the bouts. I didn't know.' "

Beiro told him it was OK. Houser needed a second to get the right information, and Beiro showed his professionalism by quickly ad-libbing.

"They weren't happy about it, but it wasn't a nasty angry, it was more of a good-natured hostility," Beiro said. "And so while Mike was looking for the correct information, I turned on the mic and I said, 'Yeah, I caught you. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.' Everyone laughed and the rest of the show, it went off with no problems."

The morning after the card, Houser agreed to drive Beiro to the airport for the flight home to Tampa. Houser was waiting in the lobby. Beiro had put an eye patch over his right eye, and when Houser greeted him, Beiro cracked, "Have you seen my parrot?"

Even facing a life-altering situation, Beiro was friendly, humorous and chatty.

"He handled things so unbelievably well," Houser said.

He worked a short while longer. His biggest problem was traversing airports. When he'd need to check a monitor to see where his next gate was, he couldn't see it.

But his stint as the announcer on BattleBots from 2000 to 2002 on Comedy Central proved helpful.

He'd become extremely popular as a result of the show. As he was standing in front of a bank of monitors, struggling to figure out where his next gate was, he was recognized by BattleBots fans.

Everyone in boxing had been sympathetic and helpful, but there weren't a lot of them around. But to this group of fans, he wasn't a boxing guy but a celebrity from their favorite TV show.

"Once I was on BattleBots, there wasn't a place I could go without someone recognizing me and calling me out," he said. "I told my wife when this was happening to me, 'This was my taste of what The Beatles and these popular groups and the movie stars must feel like.' It was incredible. Doing boxing and wrestling, you would get a certain amount of respect and recognition, but this was totally different.

"Those people had no idea I was a ring announcer in boxing. The adulation and the friendship and what not that I got from that group of fans was incredible."

They'd not only tell him which gate he needed to be at, they'd walk him to where he needed to be.

But eventually, Beiro couldn't work any more. His reliability was becoming an issue.

"Mark didn't have the big name that Michael [Buffer] or Jimmy [Lennon] had, but he was right up there as one of the best in the business," Jacobs said. "But through no fault of his own, because of his eyesight and all of the issues that arose, it was harder and harder to use him."

Beiro said because of the pressure of dealing with his blindness, when he finished doing a card, "I felt like I'd been in a 15-round fight."

He was out of the announcing business, he thought for good. He was the host of a liberal talk show in Tampa, and had been for years, and had always spoken out in favor of a single-payer health care system. In a heavily right-leaning town, his ideas were always shot down.

But it turns out that a single-payer system saved him.

After years of fighting with his blindness, unable to afford the $30,000 an eye surgery would cost to fix it, he filed for disability. If he remained on disability for two years, he could qualify for Medicare, even though he wasn't of age.

That would pay for his surgery.

And on Aug. 9, 2012, Beiro underwent diabetic retinopathy surgery on his left eye at a Tampa hospital. At 5:30 p.m., 10 ½ hours after his 7 a.m. surgery, the bandages from his left eye were removed.

"When the last bandage was pulled off, my wife was standing there, and I said to her, 'Oh my God, Jackie, I can see you,' " Beiro said. "I could see. It was at that moment you just are so grateful for your sight. I knew what it was like to not have it."

He had his right eye surgery in November 2012. He had slight double vision, which his doctor told him was normal. It would take a while, the doctor said, for his brain to marry to images coming from the left eye and the right into one.

His experience convinced him he was correct about the virtues of a single-payer health care system. Without it, he wouldn't have his eyesight today and be looking to get back into the ring.

He's long done charitable work, and said one of his biggest disappointments during his blind period was being unable to donate his time for causes as he had done so frequently before.

"I live in a city where they worship Rush Limbaugh, and I'm what you would call a George McGovern Democrat," he said. "People here think I'm out of my mind, but that's OK. I've always believed we as a society had an obligation to each other to help out. I want to see social programs that help the average working American."

He now is back among them. He's 62 and will turn 63 in March and is looking to get back onto the ring announcing circuit.

There's not as much work now, and others have stepped up to take jobs he once held.

Jacobs said he wants to see Beiro work a couple of local shows before assigning him to a Top Rank-televised card, but he said he'll find a way to work Beiro into his rotation.

Regardless of how it works out, Beiro said he has a lot to be thankful for in his life.

"When I was out of boxing and struggling with my eyesight, Florida created a Boxing Hall of Fame and I was inducted with their inaugural class," he said. "You talk about an honor. I went in with the great Angelo Dundee and people like that. That was never something in my wildest dreams I ever expected.

"People in boxing have been so good to me. If there is work out there for me, I'll be extremely excited to go back and do it and see the people I haven't seen for a long time. And if there is not, I have a lot of great memories."

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