Mike Tyson’s Destruction Of Trevor Berbick Is Still Stunning 35 Years On

Tyson knocked out Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever.
21:35, 22 Nov 2021

On this day 35 years ago, Mike Tyson became the youngest world heavyweight champion in history. He was just 20 years old when he chopped WBC champion Trevor Berbick down in two savage rounds. It is an achievement that is repeated so often it has lost its impact. Like a commentator half-heartedly pointing out that Jamie Vardy used to play non-league football. 20 years old. Tyson held a portion of the heavyweight crown before he could legally drink. He left a reigning heavyweight champion splattered on the canvas after just one year and seven months as a professional. In that time he had fought 27 times, inconceivable by modern standards. Beating Trevor Berbick has become a part of the much-parroted Tyson myth. But this victory is so much more.

32 years old at the time of the Tyson clash, Trevor Berbick had lived a lifetime in the ring by the time he defended his green belt against the precocious ‘Kid Dynamite’. The big Jamaican had arrived on mainstream radars when losing a fifteen-round unanimous decision to heavyweight Larry Holmes. Despite the defeat, Berbick turned heads by being competitive and taking ‘The Easton Assassin’ the distance, the first fighter to do so during Holmes’ reign.

Berbick followed up with an utterly farcical win over Muhammad Ali in the last fight of the latter’s career. The ‘Drama In Bahama’ came the year after Ali had taken a horrifying beating at the fists of Holmes, a fight after which he was universally implored to retire. But ‘The Greatest’ refused to go out like that, and instead took part in this wretched spectacle. There were just two pairs of gloves that were passed between fighters after each fight, and the ring bell was a cowbell someone had found in a production truck. Berbick won a decision in these bizarre circumstances, but nobody was under any illusion he had beaten anything but a ghost.

Berbick would box unbeaten WBC king Pinklon Thomas in the first bout of Don King’s much-ballyhooed Heavyweight World Series, seven fights that were planned to end with an undisputed champion crowned. The Jamaican entered the bout as a 6.5/1 underdog, but prevailed via unanimous decision in a close, hard fight. Along with that famous green championship belt, Berbick now had the dubious honour of moving on to fight ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson.

Despite walking into Don King’s World Series without a belt, Tyson attracted more attention than the rest of the field combined. Ultimately, fans crave excitement and knockouts when it comes to the heavyweight division. The Catskill heavyweight had already become a sensation, with a string of quick knockouts marking him at as one to watch. There was intrigue around how the kid with granite in his fists would do now he was stepping up into world class.

It scarcely ranks as a spoiler, 35 years removed from this historic paradigm shift, to reveal that Mike Tyson did very well. The early going saw a tense Berbick throw everything but the kitchen sink at the stalking challenger, following a pair of hooks with a UFC-style hammerfist to the top of Mike’s head that goes unnoticed from the referee. But, Tyson bowls forward with impunity, unshaken in his belief that this is his night. That this, and every night beyond this, would belong to his laser-guided, deceptively-quick punches.

In later years, Tyson would throw wild, frustrated swings in the vain hope of catching chin and ending his night early. But against Berbick, there is no hint of wasted motion. Every shot is picked according to the plan laid down by his mentor Cus D’Amato, the late trainer who had taken a teenage Mike into his home and taught him how to be not only a relentless boxing machine, but a man. D’Amato had led Floyd Patterson to becoming the youngest heavyweight champion ever, aged 21. Before his sad passing from pneumonia the previous year, the wise fight sage had given his new charge the tools to break that record.

But first, Tyson would use those tools to break Berbick. Thud-thud. Two devastating hooks jerk the champion’s head from side to side. Berbick tries to walk Tyson back, holding the younger man’s arms to try and stop them rebounding off his skull. It doesn’t last. Tyson takes a step back, jabs his way through Berbick’s guard and starts bouncing his larger opponent’s head like a speedball. A sharp left hook. A crunching right. Tyson has taken control now. Of this fight. Of the heavyweight division. Of the international sport news cycle for the next decade. Berbick had been there for the end of the last great heavyweight era, and now he was about to be the first victim of the new world order.

Berbick was pushing more than he was punching now. Anything to quell this endless barrage of shots. Mike ducks a jab and slams in a left hook. Smelling blood, Tyson attacks with one of the fastest and most powerful combinations you will ever see a heavyweight throw. Berbick sprawls backwards, and even upon composing himself he still carries himself like a man who’s gone fourteen rounds and is just desperate for the fight to end. A bell does ring, but unfortunately for the defending champion, it signals nothing more than the end of the opening round.

Berbick would not be made to suffer for long. But he would suffer. Tyson comes out of the corner throwing hooks with bad intentions, and almost immediately sent Berbick to the canvas. The Jamaican rises quickly, perhaps too quickly considering what follows. Tyson keeps swinging, Berbick keeps holding. One man tries to fight while the other tries to survive. The beginning of the end of every boxing story ever told. The end arrives with a savage left hook, one where Berbick’s senses seem to hit the canvas before his body, as there is a few seconds delay from connection to devastation. 

Berbick would get to his feet. And then go down. Then back up, then down again. One punch, three knockdowns. The heavyweight division really hadn’t seen anything like Mike Tyson. The hard-punching kid from the Catskills was now the WBC champion of the world, the youngest fighter to ever hold a heavyweight belt. Tyson would go on to define modern boxing. The good and the bad, the unparalleled excitement and the grubby underbelly. For better or worse, for the next decade Mike Tyson was boxing.

While one boxing career was peaking, another had reached the end of its prime. Trevor Berbick continued fighting until 2000, but never again competed for a world title belt. In 2006 he was tragically killed in his birthplace of Port Antonio, Jamaica in a land dispute. His own nephew was one of two men arrested for the killing. Berbick deserves his place in the history of the sport. He shared the ring with the two biggest icons of modern boxing, and had a brief world title reign in his own right. Rest in peace, Trevor.

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