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Michael Gerard “Mike” Tyson
(born June 30, 1966) was the undisputed heavyweight champion and remains the youngest man ever to win the WBC, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles. He won the WBC title at just 20 years, 4 months and 22 days old, after defeating Trevor Berbick by a TKO in the second round. Throughout his career, Tyson became well-known for his ferocious and intimidating boxing style as well as his controversial behavior both inside and outside the ring.
He was the first ever heavyweight champion to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles simultaneously.
Nicknamed “Kid Dynamite”, “Iron Mike”, Tyson won his first 19 professional bouts by knockout, 12 in the first round. He unified the belts in the splintered heavyweight division in the late 1980s to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Tyson lost his title when he lost to 42-to-1 underdog Buster Douglas on February 11, 1990, in Tokyo, Japan, by KO in round 10.
In 1992 Tyson served a three years in prison sentence before being released in 1995 and engaging in a series of comeback fights. He regained a portion of the heavyweight title, before losing it to Evander Holyfield in a 1996 fight by an 11th round TKO. Their 1997 rematch ended in shocking fashion as Tyson was disqualified for biting off part of Holyfield’s ear. He fought for a championship again at 35, losing by knockout to Lennox Lewis in 2002. Tyson retired from competitive boxing in 2006 after two consecutive knockout losses to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride.
He is ranked #16 on Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.
Tyson was born in Brooklyn, New York. He has a brother, Rodney, who is five years older than him. His sister, Denise, died of a heart attack aged 25 in 1991. Tyson’s father, Jimmy Kirkpatrick, abandoned his family when Tyson was 2, leaving his mother, Lorna Smith Tyson to care for them on her own. The family lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant until their financial burdens necessitated a move to Brownsville when Tyson was 10 years old. Smith died six years later, leaving 16-year-old Tyson in the care of boxing manager and trainer Cus D’Amato, who would become his legal guardian. Tyson has been quoted saying, “I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something: She only knew me as being a wild kid running the streets, coming home with new clothes that she knew I didn’t pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know about her. Professionally, it has no effect, but it’s crushing emotionally and personally.” Throughout his childhood, Tyson lived in and around high-crime neighborhoods. He was repeatedly caught committing petty crimes and fighting those who ridiculed his high-pitched voice and lisp. By the age of 13, he had been arrested 38 times. He ended up at the Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown, New York. It was at the school that Tyson’s emerging boxing ability was discovered by Bobby Stewart, a juvenile detention center counselor and former boxer. Stewart considered Tyson to be an outstanding fighter and trained him for a few months before introducing him to Cus D’Amato.
Tyson was later removed from the reform school by Cus D’Amato. Kevin Rooney also trained Tyson, and he occasionally assisted Teddy Atlas, who was dismissed by D’Amato when Tyson was 15. Rooney eventually took over all training duties for the young fighter.
Tyson’s brother is a physician assistant in the trauma center of the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He has always been very supportive of his brother’s career and was often seen at Tyson’s boxing matches in Las Vegas, Nevada. When asked about their relationship, Mike has been quoted saying, “My brother and I see each other occasionally and we love each other,” and “My brother was always something and I was nothing.”
Tyson competed at the 1982 Junior Olympic Games, where he won a gold medal, after the beating Petr Palecek, an amateur Czech boxer. He holds the Junior Olympic quickest knockout record with 8 seconds. In addition he won every bout at the Junior Olympic Games by knockout.
He fought Henry Tillman twice as an amateur losing both bouts by close decision. Tillman went on to win heavyweight Gold at the Los Angeles Olympics.
Rise to stardom
Tyson made his professional debut as an 18 year old on March 6, 1985, in Albany, New York. He defeated Hector Mercedes via a first round knockout. He had 15 bouts in his first year as a professional. Fighting frequently, Tyson won 26 of his first 28 fights by KO/TKO – 16 in the first round. The quality of his opponents gradually increased to journeyman fighters and borderline contenders, like James Tillis, David Jaco, Jesse Ferguson, Mitch Green and Marvis Frazier. His win streak attracted media attention, leading to his being billed as the next great heavyweight champion. D’Amato died in November 1985, relatively early into Tyson’s professional career; some speculate that his death was the genesis of many of the troubles Tyson was to experience later as his life and career progressed.
Tyson’s first nationally televised bout took place on February 16, 1986, at Houston Field House in Troy, New York against journeyman heavyweight Jesse Ferguson. Tyson knocked down Ferguson with an uppercut in the fifth round that broke Ferguson’s nose. During the sixth round, Ferguson began to hold and clinch Tyson in an apparent attempt to avoid further punishment. After admonishing Ferguson several times to obey his commands to box, the referee finally stopped the fight near the middle of the sixth round. Initially ruled a win for Tyson by disqualification (DQ) of his opponent, the ruling was subsequently “adjusted” as a win by technical knockout (TKO) after Tyson’s corner protested that a DQ win would end Tyson’s string of knockout victories, and that a knockout would have been the inevitable result. The rationale offered for the revised outcome was that the fight was actually stopped because Ferguson could not (rather than would not) continue boxing.
On November 22, 1986, Tyson was given his first title fight against Trevor Berbick for the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight championship. Tyson won the title by second round TKO, and at the age of 20 years and 4 months became the youngest heavyweight champion in history.
Because of Tyson’s strength, many fighters were said to be too intimidated to hit him and this was backed up by his outstanding hand speed, accuracy, coordination, power, and timing. Tyson was also noted for his defensive abilities. Holding his hands high in the Peek-a-Boo style taught by his mentor Cus D’Amato, he slipped and weaved out of the way of the opponent’s punches while closing the distance to deliver his own punches. One of Tyson’s trademark combinations was to throw a right hook to his opponent’s body, then follow it up with a right uppercut to his opponent’s chin; very few boxers would remain standing if caught by this combination. Boxers knocked down with this combination include Jesse Ferguson and Jose Ribalta.
Expectations for Tyson were extremely high, and he embarked on an ambitious campaign to fight all the top heavyweights in the world. Tyson defended his title against James Smith on March 7, 1987, in Las Vegas, Nevada. He won by unanimous decision and added Smith’s World Boxing Association (WBA) title to his existing belt. ‘Tyson mania’ in the media was becoming rampant. He beat Pinklon Thomas in May with a knockout in the sixth round. On August 1 he took the International Boxing Federation (IBF) title from Tony Tucker in a twelve round unanimous decision. He became the first heavyweight to own all three major belts — WBA, WBC, and IBF — at the same time. Another fight in 1987 was in October that ended with a victory for Tyson by knockout in the seventh round, against 1984 Olympics Super Heavyweight Gold Medallist Tyrell Biggs. Also in 1987, Nintendo released the video game, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, for its Nintendo Entertainment System.
Tyson had three fights in 1988. He faced Larry Holmes on January 22, 1988, and defeated the legendary former champion by a fourth round KO. This was the only knockout loss Holmes suffered in 75 professional bouts. In March, Tyson then fought contender Tony Tubbs in Tokyo, Japan, fitting in an easy two-round victory amid promotional and marketing work.
On June 27, 1988, Tyson faced Michael Spinks. Spinks, who had taken the heavyweight championship from Larry Holmes via a 15-round decision in 1985, had not lost his title in the ring but was not recognized as champion by the major boxing organizations. Holmes had previously given up all but the IBF title, and that was eventually stripped from Spinks after he elected to fight Gerry Cooney (winning by a 5th-round TKO) rather than IBF Number 1 Contender Tony Tucker, as the Cooney fight provided him a larger purse. However, Spinks did become the lineal champion by beating Holmes and many (including Ring magazine) considered him to have a legitimate claim to being the true heavyweight champion. The bout was, at the time, the richest fight in history and expectations were very high. Boxing pundits were predicting a titanic battle of styles, with Tyson’s aggressive infighting conflicting with Spinks’ skillful outfighting and footwork. The fight ended after 91 seconds when Tyson knocked Spinks out in the first round, many consider this to be the pinnacle of Tyson’s fame and boxing ability. Spinks, previously unbeaten, would never fight professionally again.
Controversy and upset
During this period, Tyson’s problems outside boxing were also starting to emerge. His marriage to Robin Givens was heading for divorce, and his future contract was being fought over by Don King and Bill Cayton. In late 1988, Tyson fired longtime trainer Kevin Rooney, the man many credit for honing Tyson’s craft after the death of D’Amato. Without Rooney, Tyson’s skills quickly deteriorated and he became more prone to looking for the one-punch knockout, rather than using the combinations that brought him to stardom. He also began to head-hunt, neglecting to attack the opponent’s body first. In addition, he lost his defensive skills and began to barrel straight in toward the opponent, neglecting to jab and slip his way in. In 1989, Tyson had only two fights amid personal turmoil. He faced the popular British boxer Frank Bruno in February in a fight where Bruno managed to stun Tyson at the end of the 1st round, although Tyson went on to knock out Bruno in the fifth round. Tyson then knocked out Carl “The Truth” Williams in one round in July. In 1989, Tyson was granted an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Central State University in Ohio.
By 1990, Tyson seemed to have lost direction, and his personal life and training habits were in disarray. In a fight on February 11, 1990, he lost the undisputed championship to Buster Douglas in Tokyo. Tyson was a huge betting favourite, but Douglas (priced at 42/1) was at an emotional peak after losing his mother to a stroke 23 days prior to the fight, and fought the fight of his life. Tyson failed to find a way past Douglas’s quick jab that had a 12-inch (30 cm) reach advantage over his own. Tyson did send Douglas to the floor in the eighth round, catching him with an uppercut, but Douglas recovered sufficiently to hand Tyson a heavy beating in the subsequent two rounds (after the fight, the Tyson camp would complain that the count was slow and that Douglas had taken longer than ten seconds to get to his feet). Just 35 seconds into the 10th round, Douglas unleashed a brutal combination of hooks that sent Tyson to the canvas for the first time in his career. He was counted out by referee Octavio Meyran. Though Tyson has been reputed to have been out of shape for this fight, in fact he weighed in at 220 and 1/2 pounds, only 2 pounds more than he had weighed when he beat Michael Spinks 20 months earlier. Mentally, however, clearly he was not prepared for the inspired Douglas.
The knockout victory by Douglas over Tyson, the previously undefeated “baddest man on the planet” and arguably the most feared boxer in professional boxing at that time, has been described as one of the most shocking upsets in modern sports history.
After the loss, Tyson recovered by knocking out Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart in the first round in his next two fights. Tyson’s victory over the 1984 Olympics Boxing Heavyweight gold medalist (and 1983 Boxing Heavyweight silver medalist of the Pan American Games) Tillman enabled Tyson to avenge his early career amateur losses at Tillman’s hands. These bouts set up an elimination match for another shot at the undisputed world heavyweight championship, which Evander Holyfield had taken from Douglas in his first defense of the title.
Tyson, who was the #1 contender, faced #2 contender Donovan “Razor” Ruddock on March 18, 1991, in Las Vegas. Ruddock at the time was seen as the most dangerous heavyweight around and was thought of as one of the hardest punching heavyweights. Tyson and Ruddock went back and forth for most of the fight, until referee Richard Steele controversially stopped the fight during the seventh round in favor of Tyson. This decision infuriated the fans in attendance, sparking a post-fight melee in the audience and the referee had to be escorted from the ring.
Tyson and Ruddock met again on June 28 that year, with Tyson knocking down Ruddock twice and winning a 12 round unanimous decision. A fight between Tyson and Holyfield for the undisputed championship was arranged for the autumn of 1991.
Tyson did not fight again until later in 1995 after he was paroled from prison. He had two comeback bouts against Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr., which he won easily. Interest in Tyson’s first comeback fight since his incarceration was high enough that it grossed more than US$96 million worldwide, including a United States record $63 million for PPV television. The fight was purchased by 1.52 million homes, setting both PPV viewership and revenue records for that time. The brief 89 second fight wherein McNeeley swiftly crumpled on facing Tyson, elicited criticism that Tyson’s management lined up “Tomato Cans,” easily defeatable and unworthy boxers for his return.
He regained one belt by easily winning the WBC title from Frank Bruno (their second fight) in March 1996 by knocking him out in the third round. Tyson added the WBA belt by defeating champion Bruce Seldon in one round in September that year. Seldon was severely criticized and mocked in the popular press for seemingly collapsing to innocuous punches from Tyson in the fight.
Tyson vs. Holyfield I
Tyson attempted to defend the WBA title against Evander Holyfield. Holyfield was in the fourth fight of his own comeback after retiring in 1994 following the loss of his championship to Michael Moorer (who subsequently lost to George Foreman by knockout during his first defense). It was said that Don King and others saw Holyfield, the former champion, who was 34 at the time of the fight and a huge underdog, as a washed up fighter.
On November 9, 1996, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Tyson faced Holyfield in a title bout dubbed ‘Finally.’ In a surprising turn of events, the supposedly “washed-up” Holyfield, who was given virtually no chance to win by numerous commentators, defeated Tyson by TKO when referee Mitch Halpern stopped the bout in round 11. Holyfield made history with the upset win by being the second person ever to win a heavyweight championship belt three times, after Muhammad Ali. However Holyfield’s victory was marred by allegations from Tyson’s camp of Holyfield’s frequent headbutts during the bout. Although the headbutts were ruled accidental by the referee, they would become a point of contention in the subsequent rematch.
Tyson and Holyfield fought again on June 28, 1997. Originally, Halpern was supposed to be the referee, but after Tyson’s camp protested, Halpern stepped aside in favor of Mills Lane. The highly anticipated rematch was dubbed “The Sound and the Fury,” and was held at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena, site of the first bout. It was a lucrative event, drawing even more attention than the first bout and grossing $100 million. Tyson received $30 million and Holyfield $35 million — the highest paid professional boxing purses ever until 2007. The fight was purchased by 1.99 million households, setting a pay-per-view buy rate record that stood until the May 5, 2007, De La Hoya-Mayweather boxing match.
Soon to become one of the most controversial events in modern sports, the fight was stopped at the end of the third round, with Tyson disqualified for biting Holyfield on both ears. The first time he bit him the match was stopped, but then it resumed. However after the match resumed Tyson did it again; this time Tyson was disqualified and Holyfield won the match. One bite was severe enough to remove a piece of Holyfield’s right ear, which was found on the ring floor after the fight. Tyson later stated that it was retaliation for Holyfield repeatedly head butting him without penalty. In the confusion that followed the ending of the bout and announcement of the decision, a near riot erupted in the arena and several people were injured in the ensuing melee.
As a subsequent fallout from the incident, $3 million was immediately withheld from Tyson’s $30-million purse by the Nevada state boxing commission (the most it could legally hold back at the time). Two days after the fight, Tyson issued a statement, apologizing to Holyfield for his actions and asked not to be banned for life over the incident. Tyson was roundly condemned in the news media but was not without defenders. Novelist and commentator Katherine Dunn wrote a column that criticized Holyfield’s sportsmanship in the controversial bout and charged the news media with being biased against Tyson.
On July 9, 1997, Tyson’s boxing license was rescinded by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in a unanimous voice vote; he was also fined US$3 million and ordered to pay the legal costs of the hearing. As most state athletic commissions honor sanctions imposed by other states, this effectively made Tyson unable to box in the United States. The revocation was not permanent, as a little more than a year later on October 18, 1998, the commission voted 4–1 to restore Tyson’s boxing license.
During his time away from boxing in 1998, Tyson made a guest appearance at WrestleMania XIV as an enforcer for the main event match between Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin. During this time, Tyson was also an unofficial member of D-Generation X. Tyson was paid $3 million for being guest enforcer of the match at Wrestlemania.
In January 1999, Tyson returned to the ring to fight the South African Francois Botha, in another fight that ended in controversy. While Botha initially controlled the fight, Tyson allegedly attempted to break Botha’s arms during a tie-up and both boxers were cautioned by the referee in the ill-tempered bout. Botha was ahead on points on all scorecards and was confident enough to mock Tyson as the fight continued. Nonetheless, Tyson landed a straight right-hand in the fifth round that knocked out Botha.
Legal problems caught up with Tyson once again. On February 5, 1999, Tyson was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment, fined $5,000, and ordered to serve two years probation and perform 200 hours of community service for assaulting two motorists after a traffic accident on August 31, 1998. He served nine months of that sentence. After his release, he fought Orlin Norris on October 23, 1999. Tyson knocked down Norris with a left hook thrown after the bell sounded to end the first round. Norris injured his knee from the off-the-clinch-punch when he went down and said he was unable to continue the fight. Consequently, the bout was ruled a no contest.
In 2000, Tyson had three fights. The first was staged at the MEN Arena, Manchester, England against Julius Francis. Following controversy as to whether Tyson should be allowed into the country, he took four minutes to knock out Francis, ending the bout in the second round. He also fought Lou Savarese in June 2000 in Glasgow, winning in the first round the fight lasted only 38 seconds. Tyson continued punching after the referee had stopped the fight, knocking the referee to the floor as he tried to separate the boxers. In October, Tyson fought the similarly controversial Andrzej Go?ota, winning in round three after Go?ota refused to continue after his jaw was broken. The result was later changed to no contest after Tyson refused to take a pre-fight drug test and then tested positive for marijuana in a post-fight urine test. Tyson fought only once in 2001, beating Brian Nielsen in Copenhagen with a seventh round TKO.
Lewis vs. Tyson
The Lewis-Tyson fight that took place on June 8, 2002, was one of the most anticipated heavyweight fights in years.
Tyson once again had the opportunity to fight for a heavyweight championship in 2002, against Lennox Lewis, who held the WBC, IBF and IBO titles at the time. As promising amateurs, Tyson and Lewis had sparred together at a training camp, in a meeting arranged by Cus D’Amato in 1984. Tyson sought to fight Lewis in Nevada for a more lucrative box-office venue, but the Nevada boxing commission refused him a license to box as he was facing possible charges at the time.
Two years prior to the bout, in a post-fight interview following the Savarese fight, Tyson had made several inflammatory remarks to Lewis, “I want your heart, I want to eat his children.” On January 22, 2002, a brawl involving the two boxers and their entourages occurred at a press conference held in New York to publicize the planned event. The melee put to rest any chance of a Nevada fight and alternative arrangements had to be made, with the fight eventually occurring on June 8 at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee. Lewis dominated the fight and knocked out Tyson with a right hook in the eighth round. Tyson was magnanimous after the fight and praised Lewis on his victory. This fight was the highest-grossing event in pay-per-view history at that time, generating $106.9 million from 1.95 million buys in the USA.
Late career and retirement
On February 22, 2003, Tyson beat fringe contender Clifford Etienne 49 seconds into round one, once again in Memphis. The pre-fight was marred by rumors of Tyson’s lack of fitness and that he took time out from training to party in Las Vegas and get a new facial tattoo. This would be Tyson’s final professional victory in the ring.
On August 13, 2003, Tyson entered the ring for a face to face confrontation against then K-1 fighting phenom Bob Sapp immediately after Sapp’s win against Kimo Leopoldo in Las Vegas. K-1 signed Tyson to a contract with the hopes of making a fight happen between the two, but Tyson’s status as a convicted felon made him unable to obtain a visa to enter Japan, where the fight would have been most profitable. Alternate locations were discussed, but the fight never came to fruition. It is unknown if he actually profited from this arrangement.
On July 30, 2004, Tyson faced the British boxer Danny Williams in another comeback fight, this time staged in Louisville, Kentucky. Tyson dominated the opening two rounds. The third round was even, with Williams getting in some clean blows and also a few illegal ones, for which he was penalized. In the fourth round, Tyson was unexpectedly knocked out. After the fight, it was revealed that Tyson was trying to fight on one leg, having torn a ligament in his other knee in the first round. This was Tyson’s fifth career defeat. He underwent surgery for the ligament four days after the fight. His manager, Shelly Finkel, claimed that Tyson was unable to throw meaningful right-hand punches after the knee injury.
On June 11, 2005, Tyson stunned the boxing world by quitting before the start of the seventh round in a close bout against journeyman Kevin McBride. After losing the third of his last four fights, Tyson said he would quit boxing because he no longer had “the fighting guts or the heart anymore.”
Tyson returned to the ring on a world tour in a series of four-round exhibitions against journeyman heavyweight Corey “T-Rex” Sanders in Youngstown, Ohio 2006. Tyson, without headgear at 5 ft 10.5 in and 216 pounds, was in great shape, but far from his prime against Sanders, with headgear at 6 ft 8 in and 293 pounds, a loser of his last seven pro bouts and nearly blind from a detached retina in his left eye. Tyson appeared to be “holding back” in these exhibitions to prevent an early end to the “show”. “If I don’t get out of this financial quagmire there’s a possibility I may have to be a punching bag for somebody. The money I make isn’t going to help my bills from a tremendous standpoint, but I’m going to feel better about myself. I’m not going to be depressed,” explained Tyson about the reasons for his “comeback”.
A 1998 ranking of “The Greatest Heavyweights of All-Time” by Ring magazine placed Tyson at #14 on the list.
A computer program, cited by British boxing commentator and journalist Reg Gutteridge in his 1995 book ‘Mike Tyson – The Release Of Power’, took into account the skill, speed, power, strength, title defences, weight, career records and calibre of opponents. The careers of all heavyweight champions from the last 100 years were evaluated and Tyson ranked as the 4th greatest heavyweight from the last 50 years and 7th greatest of all-time.
In Ring Magazine’s list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years, released in 2002, Tyson was ranked at #72. He is ranked #16 on Ring Magazine’s 2003 list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.
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