On This Day: Mike Tyson Destroys Bruce Seldon Before Tupac Shakur Is Shot

Two 90s icons were never the same after the events of 7th September 1996
07:00, 07 Sep 2023

On this day in 1996, the decade of the 1990s reached a defining point. As usual, WBC heavyweight champion ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson was involved. For once, he was not at the eye of the storm that would follow. While his first-round unification win over WBA heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon would prove to be one of his most controversial fights, it would not be the most memorable occurrence in Las Vegas that night.

Rap icon Tupac Shakur attended the evening’s prize fight at the MGM Grand Garden arena. A friend of Tyson’s, he had been at the Catskills fighter’s bouts before. But this would tragically be his last. While being driven away from the bout by Death Row Records founder Suge Knight, Tupac was shot. He died on 13th September from his injuries at the age of 25.


In many ways, the 1990s was a decade marked by excess. Bigger, louder and more colourful than any that went before it. Hued by a sardonic wit and shrugging disaffection that insulated us from the real world and its foibles. A decade where Liam Gallagher’s sneer filled Knebworth, Seinfeld gave us four neurotic avatars through which to see ourselves and Stone Cold Steve Austin slapped around his boss on a weekly basis, giving pro wrestling’s massive viewership a weekly vicarious jolt.

But tragedy lurked around the corner of this most brash and celebrant period. Kurt Cobain took his own life two years before Tupac’s passing. Six months later, his rival Notorious B.I.G was gunned down in what many saw as retaliation. Grief would go global when Princess Diana passed in August 1997. With the internet dawning, the 1990s is often seen as the last truly carefree generation. But at the same time there was a dark undercurrent that ran through it. 

In many ways, Tyson typified that dark undercurrent. A rising young star during the optimistic 1980s, by the 1990s he represented the ugly image of what happens when you give an athlete too much too soon. His bravado had cost him his undisputed heavyweight title against James ‘Buster’ Douglas at the start of the decade. Tyson’s entitled attitude towards women cost him his freedom two years later, when he was jailed for rape. 

Tyson’s days as a smiling poster-boy for everything from Nintendo games to Pepsi was at an end. But the 1990s got the Tyson its attitudinal temperature deserved when ‘Iron’ Mike emerged from jail meaner than ever. No-hoper Peter McNeeley was schooled in double-quick time in a big-money comeback bout. Frank Bruno was then comprehensively beaten up, with Mike taking the Brit’s WBC belt.

Seldon was the next fighter on the chopping block as Tyson sought to regain the undisputed crown he’d lost to ‘Buster’ six years before. The title unification would bring Tyson one step closer to his goal of unifying the three titles he had once held. 

Seldon himself was an unlikely heavyweight champion of the world. ‘The Atlantic City Express’ had lost every time he’d stepped up in class. Former and future world champions Riddick Bowe, Oliver McCall and Tony Tubbs had all beaten him. A win over washed-up former champion Greg Page was the sole victory of note on his ledger when he was matched with ex-Tyson victim Tony Tucker for the vacant WBA strap.

But Seldon stopped ‘TNT’ in the seventh round when the ringside doctor deemed him unable to continue due to a fractured eye socket. A tenth-round TKO win over Joe ‘The Boss’ Hipp on the undercard of Tyson’s victory over McNeeley set up this heavyweight unification showdown.

It is often said of Tyson that his opponents were almost frozen by fear when facing him. In the years since this fight, that allegation has certainly been levelled at Seldon. The fact he wilted after just 1:49 of action is damning, though shouts of a fix have never been proven. A left hook and a grazing right sent Seldon down. He did rise from this initial count, blunting the theory that the fight wasn’t on the level. But Seldon had stomached all he could take from Tyson and another left soon sent him down. Again he rose but the referee waved off a fight where the word ‘contest’ almost feels too charitable. 

Seldon was so ashamed of his performance that he didn’t fight against until 2004. Tyson would not win again for three years. Losing by 11th round TKO to Evander Holyfield in his next fight, the following year he would bite the ear of the same opponent in a rematch and get disqualified. His licence was revoked and Tyson didn’t return until January 1999, when he knocked out Francois Botha. Tyson never again held the heavyweight championship of the world.

Ordinarily, Tyson-Seldon’s status as Mike’s last world title win would hold immense significance. In a way it is poignant that it took place the night that the downfall of another giant of 1990s culture was fatally wounded. The two young black men had ascended to mainstream mega-stardom were lost on that night. In its own way, the limelight had eaten away at both until there was nothing left. One lived and one died but both were gone. 

And yet, we cannot think of their electrifying primes without smiling. In the ring there has never been a heavyweight capable of what Tyson could do. In the booth, no lyricist has quite woven compelling stories of life, love and social injustice with the artistry of Shakur. Tyson was the embodiment of the ‘thug life’ Tupac rapped about. Meanwhile, Shakur could sharpen his words into weapons every bit as potent as Tyson’s dynamite fists. Two titans of their industries, deeply flawed but utterly irreplaceable.

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