Last 11 February was the anniversary of the most incredible defeat in modern boxing. Let’s see how things went in Tokyo during that famous night…
Nothing has ever been easy for Michael Gerard Tyson, known to friends simply as Mike. He practically never knew his father (Parcel) and his mother (Lorna Smith) drowned her sorrows in alcohol, just waiting for illness to finish her off. And all the same, little Mike never surrendered.
As an adolescent, Mike dropped out of school and was often in trouble with the police. Legend has it that at twelve years of age he had already paid thirty visits to the local reformatory school. But then one day, in Spofford correctional centre he met the divine Muhammad Ali, just passing through on a courtesy visit.
For Tyson it was an epiphany: he realised there and then that boxing, aside from being a sport, could mean an escape route from poverty and what seemed a certain doom. He started training like crazy and caught the eye of a prison guard (and once light-heavyweight champion) Bobby Stewart who was astounded by this extremely clumsy kid with a heart as big as an elephant’s.
Bobby introduced him to Costantine D’Amato, the legendary “Cus” who managed and trained Floyd Patterson. As soon as he set eyes on Tyson he knew he had found what he was after and so he handed him over to his pal, trainer Teddy Atlas, someone who would play a crucial role in building the future champ.
Ted stared Mike right in the eye and told it to him straight: “Kid, there’s no arguing about you being strong. Here we just need to work on technique: you’re short, stocky, rough. So I’ll teach you how to dodge punches and move fast with every part of your body.” Mike didn’t need telling twice, and in the 54 bouts he would fight as an amateur, he would have 48 wins (in his very first match it only took him 8 seconds to knock out his unfortunate opponent).
On March 6 1985 the kid from Brownsville finally became a pro and knocked out Hector Mercedes in the first round. What followed was 15 wins with 11 of the fights over within the regulation three minutes.
Which brings us to the magical two-year period ’86/’87 when Iron Mike would defeat Trevor Berbick for the WBC title (Tyson was world champion at the tender age of 20 years, 4 months and 22 days), James “Bonecrusher” Smith for the WBA belt and Tony “TNT” Tucker for the IBF title. Nobody could stop him now.
Mike went through them one after another, first Pinklon Thomas, then Tyrell Biggs (Olympian champion and gold medal in 1984), Michael Spinks (with the famous knockout after just 91 seconds), Carl “The Truth” Williams, and even the charismatic Larry Holmes who in the course of his career had gone head to head against Ali himself.
“Too much, too young”, is what they would say at this stage in America. And improbable though it must have seemed, Iron Mike’s glory days were suddenly over one evening, on February 11 1990, in Toyko, when he was knocked out and lost to James “Buster” Douglas in the tenth round. His fans were in shock, but the “Beast” played it down. “I didn’t prepare properly for the fight with Douglas. I wasn’t in shape, but I’ll make up for it.”, his laconic words. The fighter that night fell, but the icon remains. Especially in the minds of tattoo lovers.