By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
Inside the jam-packed arena, thousands held their breath and waited to learn the identity of the shadowy "Investor." In Total Nonstop Action Wrestling's twisting narrative, the mysterious character had been wreaking havoc for weeks with his nefarious behind-the-scenes plots. And now, millions watching at home would finally learn the truth.
"Get out here!" Dixie Carter, TNA's president, bellowed into a mike. "Show your face!"
The lights suddenly faded to black. Hip-hop blasted from the speakers. And to thunderous applause, the wrestler known as MVP, dressed in designer threads and exuding the confidence of a self-made man, strolled out from a cloud of smoke.
The moment this past January in Glasgow, Scotland, marked the grand return of MVP to one of wrestling's biggest circuits. He may not have the name recognition of the Rock, another Miami native who ascended to the top of the pro wrestling game, but MVP is unquestionably a man on the rise with nearly a half-million Twitter followers, a fledgling rap career, and now a starring role in TNA.
But MVP's path to fame is even more fascinating than Dwayne Johnson's move from University of Miami football star to Hollywood leading man. Before he donned spandex, MVP robbed a cruise ship, survived months on the lam, and eventually did nine years in the pen. His postcriminal wrestling career has taken him from $5-per-gig nights in Jacksonville to packed WWE arenas and a huge fan base in Japan.
"Wrestling essentially saved my life," says the star, who returns to Miami this Sunday for TNA's Lockdown pay-per-view match at the BankUnited Center.
MVP was born Alvin Burke Jr. and raised by his mother, Lynne Magruder, in hardscrabble Opa-locka. With their father mostly absent and Magruder working long hours at a call center, Burke became a father figure to his younger brothers, Brad and Justin. "We were raised by our mother to look out for each other," says Brad Burke, who's now a Miami-Dade Police officer. "He wouldn't allow me to get in trouble... He was very particular who came around us. He was that father figure."
Even as a kid, he was drawn to fighting culture, for better and for worse. He asked to sign up for a Police Athletic League boxing class, but it never happened. "Instead of learning how to box, I learned how to fight," the pro wrestler says.
His spiral into crime began at North Miami Junior High, where he was jumped on a regular basis. Tired of her son coming home with a black eye and a split lip, Magruder transferred him to John F. Kennedy Middle. The move only exacerbated the situation, because he soon hooked up with a local gang called the Kings Only Posse.
"Somehow I ended up getting punched by someone in another group one time. During the melee, I snapped and thought, No way am I going to let this happen again. Something changed inside me that day. And I beat the shit out of that kid... I wasn't a bully, but a bully's bully," he says.
Every weekend in Coconut Grove and at Tropical Park, he'd pick fights and box with other budding gangsters. Magruder remembers having to venture out in the middle of the night to find her son and drag him home. But he would sneak out his bedroom window, and soon he became tied up in an escalating series of crimes. His buddy Luis taught him how to steal cars, and by the time he turned 14, he was committing grand theft auto and armed robbery and selling drugs. A six-and-a-half-month stay at the Crossroads Wilderness Institute's juvenile program didn't change anything.
His adult criminal record began soon after his 16th birthday, when Burke was drawn into a tabloid-worthy crime spree. On January 14, 1990, he and two older teenagers boarded the Discovery I cruise ship at Port Everglades.
The trio walked on as ordinary passengers, but inside their bags were ski masks and gloves. One of their accomplices had hidden two pump-action shotguns and a semiautomatic handgun in an air-conditioning room a week earlier. They waited until the early morning, when employees in the ship's casino counted out the night's earnings. Then they barged in with guns drawn, forced workers into a utility room, and swiped $81,470. When the boat docked back in Fort Lauderdale the next morning, they made off with the loot. "It was some Ocean's 11-type shit," MVP says.
His cohorts were caught, but Burke evaded the cops and fled to California. Brad remembers a SWAT team searching the house and their mother going in for questioning. Eventually, their father, Alvin Burke Sr. — who, ironically, worked as a corrections officer — got Burke on the phone and persuaded him to surrender.
He ended up pleading guilty to ten counts of armed kidnapping and robbery, and a judge slapped him with 18 and a half years. Faced with a prison term that would take him well into his 30s, Burke grew up quickly. Older convicts took him under their wing. "They told me: 'Don't serve the time. Let the time serve you,'" he says.