Mike Tyson only fought bums, it might be said, and yet, even if true, as Cus D Amato and Angelo Dundee seemed to both conclude, you can only fight what is in front of you. (In this article, we not only want to interrogate this claim, but we want to put Tyson in perspective) Many names came in front of Tyson, only to be left on their backs, if not only on their bums. His rise to the top meant many got put on their bottoms, being made to look like amateurs, despite their professional status. More importantly, Tyson was fighting somebody’s, such as Tony Tucker who was 34-0 prior to meeting Mike, and 1984 Gold medallist, Tyrell Biggs who was 15(10)-0. Other major names Tyson fought included Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Razor Ruddock, Carl Williams, Pinklon Thomas, Trevor Berbick and Andrew Gollota, who himself, gave Bowe a tough fight prior to his disqualification losses. In the case of Gollota, Tyson was so menacing that he forced Gollota to retire at the end of the second round.
Tyson burst onto the professional scene on Ghana Independence Day, in 1985, when he defeated Hector Mercedes, via knock out, in the first round. He went on to knock out his next 14 opponents of that year, bar 1 (R3), in the first two rounds. 1986 saw him continue this streak, even if with greater difficulty, with the next three opponents – albeit being knocked out – taking his past the second round. Tyson’s next fight, James Tillis – like the one after that; Mitch Green – saw him taken the distance for the first time. He would then win – via knockout – 6 of his next 7 fights in the first or second rounds. (Jose Ribalta survived into round 10 before also being knocked out.) His last fight of 1986 saw Tyson make history knocking out, notably, Trevor Berbick, in round 2, to win the WBC heavyweight title, becoming the youngest ever heavyweight champion. Tyson had arrived.
Berbick had defeated Ali in December 1981, almost five years earlier. Likewise, Holmes, had also defeated Ali, 1980, whilst Michael Spinks, had beaten Holmes in 1985, shattering Holmes perfect record of then, 48-0, before again beating him on points, a year later. Tyson, however, was not as mesmerised by their histories knocking out all three in spectacular fashion. An undefeated Spinks earnt almost 11 million, getting knocked out in 90 seconds, in a manner just as brutal as Tyson’s 28 second battering of Marvis Frazier. Meanwhile, Tyson became the only person to ever stop Holmes, knocking out the aged, returning professional, who had come out of retirement for a 5 million pound pay day. (Holmes did, however, like the returning Foreman, go on to fight the distance against the crowned Holyfield). In between these Holmes and Spinks fights, Tubbs was knocked out in the second round; meaning none of his 1988 fights went beyond the fourth round.
All four of Tyson’s 1987 fights went beyond round 6 with two going the scheduled 12 rounds and the other two being knockout victories. It was in both his title fights that year, interestingly, against James Smith (WBA) and Tony Tucker (IBF) that he was taken the distance, en-route, unifying the belts and becoming the undisputed champion by August. Following his three knockouts victories of 1988, 1989 saw him knock out Frank Bruno (round 5) and Carl Williams (round 1) to defend his title. (Following the January Bruno fight, he would famously remark, “how dare they challenge me with their primitive skills”, quoting the fictional character, Apocalypse, from the X-men franchise.) 1990m by contrast, saw trouble in Tokyo, in what was to become, “the biggest upset in the history of heavyweight championship fights.” Like Tillis in round 4, during the fight, (round 8) Douglas would go down, as Tyson showcased his skills the same way he had during round 5 of his fight with Mitch Green. Unlike Tillis, however, in round 10 the unthinkable happened: after lining up measuring Tyson with a series of soft left hand jabs, he struck a devastating right uppercut, swung a right hook followed by a left, then two more straight/ghost punches and finally, to quote from Chris Rock, Tyson “was crawling around looking for his mouth piece.”
His next two fights, he won by first round KO, en route whooping 1984 gold medallist Henry Tilman who had twice beaten him at the youth level , whilst 1991 saw him twice beat Razor Ruddock, one by KO (round 7) and the other by points after twelve rounds. He could not, however, overcome his next opponent when in 1992, after his February 10 charge, he was convicted of rape following accusations made by Miss Black America contestant, Desiree Washington. It was perhaps the second time Tyson felt betrayal, following his February 1989 split from Robin Givens which came after a humiliating and enraging television interview in which she presented Tyson as an animal. Closer to home, Tyson’s career was also impacted by three other major losses. Much earlier, Teddy Atlas left his camp around 1982, but more importantly, Kevin Rooney parted company after the Spinks fights in 1988 with Tyson’s then promoter, Don King, installing Jay Bright and Aaron Snowell as trainers, along with managers John Horne and Rory Holloway. At the time of leaving Rooney, Tyson’s record was 35(31)-0; he was set to surpass the greats.
After 1988, Tyson’s career was radically transformed. In February he married Robin Givens, but by June, media stories were already suggesting there was conflict between the two with the police being called around the house in response to a call. In September, Tyson felt a lethal blow when, during a Barbara Walters interview, Given’s referred to her marriage with Tyson as “hell.” In August he got involved in a street brawl with Mitch Green, and in the same year, also tried to break from Clayton, eventually doing so around the time of the Spinks fight. 1988 also saw allegations made against him for allegedly making inapppropriate advances at night club patrons, Sandra Miller and Lori Davis, with a civil jury finding him guilty in November 1990, and forcing him to pay charges. He eventually split from Clayton, and started to team with Don King, but a worst split occurred on February 14, 1989, when he split from Robin Givens. “I lost that belief in myself once Cus died; once I went through my divorce.” In Tyson (2007), we hear a recital of D’Amato’s famous musings.
Father-figure, trainer-manager, Cus D’Amato would introduce Tyson to both Jacobs and Clayton (1984). After the death of Jim Jacobs (1988) Bill Clayton assumed responsibilities, and came to ransom Tyson to a contract which saw him take a third of his prize-money. This continued until Tyson fired him near the Spinks fight, almost clearing every ghost of his past, and yet, it was as if he could never forget Cus: “A boy comes to me with a spark of interest. I feed the spark and it becomes a flame, I feed the spark and it becomes a flame. I feed the flame and it becomes afire. I feed the fire and it becomes a roaring blaze.” Tyson’s greatest loss was not in the ring but outside it when November 4, 1985, Cus D’Amato passed away. “I lost that belief in myself once Cus died” he recalled. It was devastating. Cus had been introduced to Tyson around 1980, by Bobby Stewart, who first taught Tyson boxing. He essentially adopted Tyson, who came to live with him and Camille, after his mother passed away in 1982. Cus took Tyson to the junior Olympics where he shattered the record by dispatching his opponent in 8 seconds, following a series of first round victories. He finally took Tyson to professional level in 1985. After breaking Cus D’Amato trained, Floyd Patterson’s record of being the youngest heavyweight champion, he dedicated his victory to Cus.
Cus had a massive impact on Tyson. Tyson remembers “going to school and being bullied… I couldn’t believe a human being would do that… and I think that why people, like myself, become more assertive in life, and become aggressive….more outgoing…because they fear that they don’t want that to happen to them no more and they don’t want to be humiliated in that particular fashion anymore and that’s why I believe I’m the person that I am…I’m just afraid of being that way again; of being treated that way again; of being physically humiliated in the streets again, and I just wish I knew had to fight back then […] Cus was different with me than he was with his other fighters; Cus trained me to be totally ferocious, in the ring and out. We had a totally different relationship, that’s why, once I got involved with Cus, I was a young boy, but, once he spoke with me every night about discipline and character I knew that nobody physically, was going to f**k with me again…I talked to Cus and Cus talked to me over and over again, every night, for hours and hours…I just never had to worry about nobody ever bullying me again.”