By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
His ears were a good conversation-starter. Misshapen, the cartilage calcified by years spent scraping against sweat-soaked wrestling mats, they looked alien, possibly malignant. Ask about them and he'd tell you: two-time freestyle All-American from Salina, Oklahoma. Runner-up in the nationals. It was one of the few stories of his that had any truth to it.
"Byrd" is all anyone ever called him. Ask about David Tyner and you get a blank stare. Correct yourself and they say, "Oh, Byrd. I knew him."
Some of his friends say his mother gave him the nickname because he ate sparingly as a child. Others believe it was because he enjoyed climbing trees and nearly fell once, though birds generally don't do that.
In any case, everyone in town knew of Byrd Tyner: Oklahoma high-school wrestling meets were as big as some college matches. He was happy, playful, and loved being the center of attention. He was a Marine, too, though not everyone knew he once stuck an M-16 in his mouth in Iraq and was going to blow his brains out, swear to God, but he never actually bit down on the thing until another soldier walked in.
He was shipped back home and tried cage fighting, and that was fun until he realized his halfhearted approach to training could get him seriously hurt.
At some point, Byrd Tyner reached his ceiling. Nearing 30 and working menial jobs, he and his bulbous ears began to open up to other sales pitches. Maybe the problem was being Byrd. Maybe ambling through life, blowing a scholarship and drinking with your friends, won't set you up. Not with a child to support.
Maybe you need to look at alternative sources of revenue, and, when it comes down to it, prove you're the man you say you are by stealing someone's last breath while they fight for both their life and the life of their unborn child.
Later, you could ask someone about David Tyner in Oklahoma City and get that same blank stare. Byrd doesn't register, either. So you describe him: five-foot-nine, built wide, the pride of Locust Grove High. Half Cherokee. Ears like chewed-up bubblegum.
Oh. You mean Hooligan.
Tyner had one more nickname: Stan. It stood for Shit, That Ain't Nothin', and was in tribute to Tyner's refusal to be outdone during bullshit sessions around the smoke pit at Twentynine Palms, California. That was where the Marines had stationed the 21-year-old as a motor-transport operator in 2003, driving and maintaining vehicles that lent support to other soldiers.
"If someone said they had four acres, Tyner would say he had 17," says Travis Fugate, a fellow Marine. "If someone had fought two guys, he'd say he fought off four. Said he caught fish with his bare hands. That he was a gigolo. He'd lie about the stupidest shit."
Mostly, Tyner would play the one-upper game. Other times, he'd sit stone-faced and tell the men in the barracks about being a hit man for the New York and Chicago mobs. One job, he said, netted him $50,000. The client wanted the target to drop dead in front of his wife, so Tyner posted himself on the roof of a building in Milwaukee and waited for the couple to situate themselves on a patio. He shot the man dead at 300 yards. No scope.
"No scope," Fugate laughs. "He could be pretty convincing, but he'd go too far."
Tyner would have had to do some fast and spectacular networking to set himself up as a Mafia contractor. After his wrestling scholarship at the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga was pulled due to poor academic performance in spring 2000, he spent one listless fall semester at Bacone College, where the coach bounced him for a miserable work ethic. He drank, smoked dope, and never set foot on the mat—a far cry from the devotion he had displayed in high school for coach Johnny Cook, who saw Tyner as a leader and a standout wrestler.
"He'd practice two or three times a day," Cook says. "Was as solid a kid as you'll find."
Tyner stuck up for the bullied; a night of hell-raising would be a few beers and maybe whizzing past some cops on the back roads. Fights were few and far between: Tyner was, in the vernacular of Oklahoma, a "hoss"—barrel-chested and built like a brick. He was so sold on wrestling that his family moved from Salina to the Locust Grove school district, where he stood the best chance of getting into a Division I program. Long-term, he thought he might transition into a career as a coach.
Poor grades ended all of those notions. After Bacone, Tyner kicked around, sometimes sleeping in his truck. With wrestling off the table, he seemed to lack an identity. "Maybe I'll go into the Marines as a chaplain," he told friends.
He enlisted in March 2002, shuttled to motor-transport school in Missouri before moving to Twentynine Palms. Left behind was a high-school sweetheart who had his child; Tyner married a cute blonde he met back in Tennessee. The two briefly lived in off-base housing for couples. Once, Fugate recalls, military police responded to a domestic disturbance. Tyner laughed and shrugged it off. Another time, MPs chased him as he ran—drunk or high—into the Mojave Desert. He soon lost his driving privileges.