It is 1986, and Trevor Berbick, soon to be ex-heavyweight champion of the world is stumbling across the ring like a baby giraffe on vodka. He goes down, he gets up, then he goes down again. He manages to get to his feet but referee Mills Lane calls a halt to the bout. Lane would later say that he had never seen such controlled power from a fighter, that when he looked into Berbick's eyes to see if he was ok, they had rolled right back into his head. His opponent, just twenty years old, had become the youngest ever world heavyweight champ by taking his WBC title in the second round. More than twenty years later, love him or hate him, he is still one of the most recognizable fighters ever. Ladies and gentlemen - really needing no introduction the world over - say hello to Iron Mike Tyson.
On that night in Las Vegas, a new era had begun in boxing. Not since Muhammad Ali had a fighter created so much excitement. He was already famous, mainly due the the fact that he had been rescued from a life of crime and poverty by Cus D'amato, a famous boxing trainer who had managed former world champions Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres. He now had a professional record of 27 fights, 27 wins, 0 defeats and 25 knockouts. Incredibly, 15 of his knockouts had come in the first round. His knockout punch was once measured at being the equivalent of a 16 pound sledgehammer swung at 30 mph. Make no mistake, Mike Tyson could hit! But he was also hard to hit. Never mind that at 5'11" and 215lbs he was built like a tank, he had the speed of a light heavyweight and his head movement was second to none. Despite being the challenger, Tyson started the fight as firm favourite.
Tyson unified the heavyweight division with points victories over James 'Bonecrusher' Smith (WBA) and Tony Tucker (IBF). He was still only 21 years old.
I remember watching him demolish Michael Spinks in 1988 in a fight which many thought Spinks had a chance to win. It took Tyson just 91 seconds to knockout Spinks, who had never been down in a pro fight prior to this bout. This is thought by many to be Tyson's best fight. I also watched him knockout a childhood favourite of mine, ex-heavyweight champ Larry Holmes. Admittedly Holmes was past his best, but the way in which Tyson ruthlessly took him out in four rounds was awesome. This is the only knockout defeat Holmes has ever suffered in his entire career.
Other notable title defenses include victories over Pinklon Thomas (TKO 6), and Olympic gold medallist Tyrell Biggs (TKO 7). Tyson carried Biggs who he had hated for denying him a place as a super heavyweight in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. He could have finished the job any time from the third round, but instead chose to punish his opponent. In a post fight interview, he laughed as he said that Biggs had been making girly noises as he was hitting him. Sometimes brooding and menacing yet sometimes outspoken, it reminded me of what Tyson had said after beating Jesse Ferguson on his way to the title - "I tried to push his nose back into his brain".
Being British, I was actually rooting for Frank Bruno in their 1989 bout. Bruno could hit hard, but he was slow and ponderous in comparison to Tyson. By now, whenever Tyson fought there was an aura of inevitability about it all. Tyson was regarded as the best pound for pound fighter in the world - something extremely rare for a heavyweight. It was actually becoming boring to watch Tyson destroy everybody who was put in his way. Tyson finished Bruno in round five.
It wasn't a great performance and cracks were showing in Tyson's veneer. He had been making headline news outside of the ring as well as in it. He had crashed his car into a tree and got into a streetfight with ex-opponent Mitch 'Blood' Green. His highly publicized marriage to actress Robin Givens had fallen apart amidst accusations she was a gold digger. He was partying hard and not training properly.
Later that year, the impossible happened. Mike Tyson lost to 42-1 underdog James 'Buster' Douglas in possibly the greatest upset ever in boxing. He had gone into the fight with 37 straight victories. He never looked quite the same after that bout. The aura of invincibility had gone.
Wins over former amateur conqueror Henry Tillman, Alex Stewart and Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock set up a big money fight with new undisputed heavyweight king Evander Holyfield. The fight never happened - Tyson was imprisoned for the rape of beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington. He would spend three years in prison before his release.
The buzz when Tyson came back to fight was incredible. Already seen as one of the best ever, Tyson easily dispatched with Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr, but the old devil had gone. Still a ferocious puncher, the speed he once had had diminished. Prison had taken its toll, and at least some of Tyson's prime years had been spent in jail.
Tyson would fight Frank Bruno again. This time Bruno was the WBC champion and Mike the challenger. Going into the fight with a psychological advantage due to his earlier victory, Tyson easily beat Bruno in three rounds this time, regaining the title for the second time. He looked like the Tyson of old, perhaps not as quick but still as strong as an ox. He also beat Bruce Seldon within a round to win the WBA belt. Tyson looked to be back, big time. But the fight we had all been waiting for but had been denied was on the horizon - Mike Tyson versus Evander Holyfield.
Tyson started hot favourite, but in a pulsating candidate for fight of the year, ex undisputed cruiserweight and heavyweight champion Holyfield emerged the victor with an 11th round knockout. This time there could be no excuses, Tyson lost to the better fighter. Already past his prime, he would never again be called world champion.
Tyson would continue to excite audiences however, but for all the wrong reasons. Once the greatest fighter in the world, he was to become a circus sideshow. People would watch him fight due to his unpredictability. This would all begin with his rematch against Holyfield.
In the third round, Tyson spat out his gumshield and bit a chunk out of Holyfield's ear. Referee Mills Lane who had been there all those years earlier at the Berbick fight, had no choice but to disqualify Tyson. An enraged Tyson, who would later claim he bit Holyfield as a consequence of Holyfield's constant headbutting, threw punches at security guards and anyone who would get in his way in an attempt to get at a baffled Evander Holyfield. Perhaps lucky not to go back to jail for assaulting a man in front of millions of witnesses while on parole for rape, Tyson gladly accepted a one year ban from the ring.
A return to boxing saw his fights degenerate into farce after farce. It seemed that with every Tyson fight came another controversy - trying to break an opponents arm, knocking down a referee, getting a tattoo on his face just a few days before fighting Clifford Etienne. Somehow, while not the best in the world anymore, Tyson always seemed to generate excitement.
In the pre-fight press conference before his fight with Lennox Lewis, Tyson exploded into rage, screaming at and threatening reporters, and taking a swing at Lewis before biting his leg. Once more, Mike Tyson was in the news. An old looking Tyson lost to Lewis in 8 one-sided rounds.
Losses to boxers who would not be good enough to spar with Tyson when he was in his prime, Danny Williams (KO 4) and Kevin McBride (TKO 6) sealed the deal. Tyson announced his retirement. His professional record stands at 58 fights, 50 wins, 44 knockouts, 6 defeats and 2 no contests.
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