Like the eye of a tornado, there was a destructive beauty to Mike Tyson’s primal prowess in the ring when he blazed onto the scene in the eighties, brutally decimating all who stood in his way. Sure, ‘Prime Tyson’ has become somewhat of an overused cliché among fight fans these days, but there’s no denying that at his peak, ‘Kid Dynamite’ was one of the most explosive and exciting prizefighters to ever grace the ring.
To celebrate Tyson’s 55th birthday, we’ve taken a look back at his five best performances…
Vs Michael Spinks, June 1988, Atlantic City
Battles between two unbeaten champions, both with legitimate claims to heavyweight supremacy, are seldom dull affairs. Spinks, 31-0, was a 4/1 underdog going into the bout dubbed ‘Once And For All’, but while many pundits and ex-pros backed a Tyson win, several, including Muhammad Ali, believed Spinks to be too wiley for Tyson.
Alas, when the two met at the Atlantic City Convention Hall (future president Donald Trump bid a record $11m site fee to host the fight adjacent to the Trump Plaza) it lasted just 91 seconds. Tyson launched an all-out assault on Spinks from the opening bell, becoming the first man to knock him down in five years, before stopping him with a left-right combination to the head.
Don’t feel too bad for Spinks, in just over a minute and a half’s work he netted himself £13.5m, more than all of his previous career purses combined.
Vs Tony Tucker, August 1987, Las Vegas
Not all of Mike Tyson’s best wins were via devastating knockout and in the early portion of Tyson’s blossoming career, Tony Tucker proved to be Tyson’s toughest test. At 6ft 5in, Tucker was an intimidating figure in the ring and one who couldn’t be bullied as easily as the poor souls who’d had the misfortune of clashing with Tyson previously.
Tucker began the fight as the aggressor, having early success to Tyson’s head with a short left hook and actually won rounds one and three on the scorecards. Tyson upped the ante as the fight progressed and found his rhythm in the mid-portion of the bout, landing several power punchers on Tucker, leading the latter to grapple more and punch less.
In an incredibly ballsy move from Tucker, he started to berate Tyson in the final rounds, dropping in his hands to his sides like Ali, shuffling his feet and beckoning Tyson to hit him on the chin. Tyson had done more than enough in the end though, claiming a unanimous decision and becoming the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Leon Spinks a decade earlier.
Vs Trevor Berbick, November 1986, Las Vegas
"The noble and manly art of boxing can at least cease worrying about its immediate future, now [that] it has discovered a heavyweight champion fit to stand alongside Dempsey, Tunney, Louis, Marciano, and Ali,” wrote the Daily Telegraph’s Donald Saunders once the dust had settled on Mike Tyson’s victory over Trevor Berbick.
The fight against Berbick was the moment the boxing world fell in love with Mike Tyson. Tyson was 27-0 going into this fight, and was 12-0 in 1986 alone, before capping the year off with his first shot at a world title against Berbick. Berbick was 12 years older than the bruiser from Brownsville in the opposite corner, but was still a 3/1 underdog entering the ring.
Tyson bounced Berbick around the ring for two rounds before referee Miles Lane was forced to step in and call an end to proceedings. Tyson, at 20 years, four months and 22 days old, had become the youngest heavyweight champion ever, replacing Floyd Patterson, one of Tyson trainer Cus D’Amato’s former fighters, 30 years earlier.
Vs Larry Holmes, January 1988, Atlantic City
To paraphrase Eddie Murphy’s barber in Coming To America, replacing Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano: “Larry Holmes was 75 years old when he fought Mike Tyson!”
Of course, Holmes wasn’t that old when he squared off with Tyson (he was 38), but there’s no denying that the Easton Assassin, one of boxing’s most underrated heavyweight champions, was on the other side of the hill when he crossed ‘Iron’ Mike in 1988. Holmes had filled a void in the sport sandwiched by two of the most popular heavyweight champions in history; Ali and Tyson. Lured out of retirement with a $2.8m offer, his destruction at the hands of the latter was something of a passing of the torch to the next generation.
Holmes was knocked down three times in round four before the fight was called to a halt, delivering Holmes his first defeat by way of knockout in 51 professional fights. Holmes swiftly went back into another short-lived retirement, returning again in 1991.
Vs Pinklon Thomas, May 1987, Las Vegas
Remembered more for its spectacular conclusion than the actual fight itself, Tyson’s fight against Michigan’s Pinklon Thomas might summarise the sheer ferocity of a ‘Prime Tyson’ more than any other in his early days.
In typical Tyson fashion, the champion entered the ring like the proverbial bull in a china shop, smashing Thomas around hopelessly. It was almost over inside the first round - an eight-punch combination from Tyson in its closing seconds left Thomas hanging on for dear life but the challenger inexplicably survived the onslaught.
The inevitable end came in the sixth round and in a stunning fashion. 30 seconds into the round, Tyson crunched Thomas with a mean left hook, which left the victim visibly distraught, and followed it with probably the best bit of fistic wizardry of Tyson’s career; a relentless 15-punch combination that not only sent Thomas to the canvas, but also gave his trainer Angelo Dundee such a scare that he jumped into the ring to the stop the fight before the referee had even counted to ten.
If there was ever beauty in violence, it looks something like Tyson’s 15-punch conclusion in 1987.
If you want more from ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet,’ be sure to check out our exclusive interview and photoshoot with the former heavyweight champion here.