Mike Tyson – The Life And Times Of Iron Mike
Mike Tyson was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1966. He became would of most formidable fighter of his era, blowing away his opponents at will, blasting his way to the top of the heavyweight rankings.
Some might say, in his prime no boxer in the world could compete with Iron Mike.
In early life, Mike Tyson’s biological father Percell Tyson was not around for much of his childhood. The man in Tyson’s life as a youngster was Jimmy Kirkpatrick. In 1959, Jimmy Kirkpatrick had left his family and moved to Brooklyn, where he met Tyson’s mother, Lorna Smith Tyson.
Kirkpatrick gambled and hung out on the streets. Tyson once stated “My father was just a regular street guy caught up in the street world,”
Kirkpatrick would later abandon the Tyson family leaving Tyson’s mother to care for the children on her own. Kirkpatrick died in 1992.
The family lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, but once it became a financial burden they moved to Brownsville when Tyson was 10.
Speaking about his mother, Tyson said; “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.”
Tyson had a rough upbringing and had to be strong in the tooth to survive on the streets of Brownsville. He would often find himself in battles with street gangs.
Tyson was always caught on the wrong side of the law, getting involved in petty crimes. As a youngster he was ridiculed about his high-pitched voice and lisp and this led to many fights.
By the age of 13, he had been arrested 38 times. He was by then sent to Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown, New York.
Tyson was later removed from the reform school by Cus D’Amato.
Tyson’s emerging boxing ability was discovered at school 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.
When he was 16 years old Tyson mother died. This led to the fighter being looked after by boxing manager and trainer Cus D’Amato.
Kevin Rooney also trained Tyson and he was occasionally assisted by Teddy Atlas, although he was dismissed by D’Amato when Tyson was 15. Rooney eventually took over all training duties for the young fighter.
Tyson won gold medals at the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympic Games, defeating Joe Cortez in 1981 and beating Kelton Brown in 1982.
Brown’s corner threw in the towel in the first round. Tyson still holds the Junior Olympic record for quickest knockout (8 seconds).
He won every bout at the Junior Olympic Games by knockouts.
He fought Henry Tillman twice as an amateur, losing both bouts by close decisions. Tillman went on to win heavyweight gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
After the Olympics in LA, Tyson began building up his reputation as a ferocious fighter. He turned pro in March 1985 began his quest to become heavyweight champion.
In the 18 months to September, he faced no fewer than 27 opponents and beat them all. Only two of them hearing the final bell.
His punching power was awesome; he had to be rapidly incorporated into Don King/HBO programme.
Tyson was working his way up the rankings, and he would soon face WBC champion Trevor Berbick with the winner taking on the WBA champion. The boxer who won that would take on the IBF champion and thus unify the division.
However, Michael Spinks upset those plans. After easily beating Steffan Tangstad from Norway, the European champion, he relinquished the IBF crown in order to make a lucrative fight against Gerry Cooney rather than proceed with the eliminators and a possible premature showdown with Tyson.
Tyson arrived at world title level on 22nd November 1986 when he challenged Trevor Berbick for the WBC title.
Berbick wore long black socks in retaliation for Tyson deciding to wear black trunks, also favoured by the champion. Perhaps in continuation of the psychological war, Berbick began the fight as if he were the puncher, and not on the defensive as expected.
A looping left from the challenger plainly hurt and might have changed his mind for him but he was determined to carry the fight.
His ploy failed, early in the second round a right dumped him on the Las Vegas Hilton’s canvas and from then on his senses were somewhat scrambled.
Suddenly, a left hook so paralyzed his legs that he fell, got to his feet, tottered across the ring, fell, again and again, tried to rise, only to stagger back and pitch face down on the boards.
He desperately tried to get up but his legs were not with him and Tyson had achieved a spectacular knockout. At 20 years and nearly five months, he had beaten Floyd Patterson’s record to become the youngest fighter to hold a version of the heavyweight title.
Mike Tyson’s manager Cus D’Amato died just before he became world champion; he credits D’Amato with building his confidence, turning his life around, and being the only father figure in his life.
There was a big upset three weeks later at Madison Square Garden, New York, where Tony Tubbs had been scheduled to meet Tim Witherspoon for the WBA title and the right to face Mike Tyson.
Tubbs cried off days before with a shoulder injury, and Bonecrusher Smith was picked to take his place. He was thought to have little chance with the champion, with Smith beaten by both Tubbs and Witherspoon in the previous year.
He risked it all in an all-out attack from the start. This approach worked after he caught Witherspoon cold, sending him reeling with a tremendous right. Not giving Witherspoon time to recover, Smith blasted him out knocking him down three times in the opening round to cause the referee to stop it according to the ‘three-knock-down’ rule.
Mike Tyson was then set to meet Bonecrusher Smith; the fight took place on 7th March 1987 at the Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas. It was a disappointing fight in that Bonecrusher’s main aim was to try and save his own bones from being crushed.
James Bonecrusher Smith went in for spoiling from the opening bell, being warned from holding as early as the second round, and when he suffered an early cut eye it seemed that survival was his sole aim.
He survived, in that he was still standing at the final bell, and indeed in the last few seconds he put together a token attack. However, all the judges had given practically every round to Tyson. Iron Mike allowed some petulance to show through his usual single-minded display at Smith’s purely negative tactics.
Mike Tyson was now the WBC and WBA world heavyweight champion.
While waiting for an IBF champion to tackle, Tyson defended his titles against Pinklon Thomas, perhaps the most talented of the remaining boxers to beat. The was on a Las Vegas Hilton bill on 30th May 1987 which featured two bouts advertised for the heavyweight championship of the world, for on the undercard Tony Tucker faced James ‘Buster’ Douglas for the IBF title vacated by Michael Spinks.
Few gave Thomas much hope against Tyson, but he began positively enough. He was resisting Tyson’s early flashing hooks with some solid jabbing of his own. However, it soon became clear that Tyson’s artillery carried the heavier shells and Thomas’s left jabs were soon being used more as a measure to keep his opponent at a distance than to hurt him.
Thomas was also clever at claiming Tyson at close quarters but in the sixth, one of the champion’s typical sweeping hooks caught Thomas powerfully on the chin. As the challenger staggered back, Tyson piled on the pressure with a vicious flurry of hooks that sat Thomas on the boards.
He struggled to beat the count, but his trainer Angelo Dundee had seen enough and leapt into the ring to halt the bout.
Tony Tucker, a 28-year-old from Grand Rapids, had 34 contests in nearly seven years and won all except one, declared a ‘no contest’ in 1982. Tall and supple, he was the favorite in his clash for the vacant IBF title against James ‘Buster’ Douglas from Ohio, whose record included three defeats, a draw and a ‘no contest’ in 28 bouts.
The shorter Douglas took the early rounds, however, with some solid punching and it was not until half-way that Tucker’s superior boxing began to tell. In the tenth round, he rocked Douglas and moved mercilessly, driving his helpless opponent around the ring until the referee was forced to stop the one-sided exchanges.
Tucker’s win took him one step from being the undisputed champion – but he would first have to beat ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson.
The final unification bout of the heavyweight division took place at the Las Vegas Hilton on 1st August 1987; the fight was over in 12 rounds rather than the IBF distance of 15 rounds.
Tucker stood 6ft 5ins (1.96m) and looked down on Tyson, but he was an outsider in the betting, 12-1 generally being on offer.
Tucker fought as well as any against Tyson and even got in a good uppercut in the first round. However, seeing it had no effect he took the usual line of self-preservation first. Tucker stayed on his feet for the whole of the fight but the final decision was in no doubt. Tyson became the first undisputed heavyweight champion since (surprisingly not Ali) Leon Spinks.
On 16th October 1987, Tyson defended his titles for the first time against the hard-punching Tyrell Biggs, from Philadelphia, who had built up an unbeaten record since his debut in 1984.
Biggs was courageous but was cut above one eye and below the other, as well as around his lips. After he had been down twice in the seventh round the fight was stopped with him helpless in the corner.
The old champion, Larry Holmes, now claimed he could beat Tyson, but whether with any real conviction or with an eye to a last big payday it was difficult to tell.
He was accommodated at Atlantic City on 22nd January 1988. Holmes boxed on a retreat but the champion, who was over 16 years younger, got him tangled in the ropes in the fourth and dropped him to the canvas with a quick combination. He attacked him with such vigour when he rose that the referee was forced to step in and save him.
Tyson’s next challenger was Tony Tubbs, the former WBA champion. The huge Tubbs got his chance in the exotic location of Tokyo on 21st March 1988. Tyson began with circumspection but unleashed a left hook in the second round which sank Tubbs to the canvas and the referee’s service was needed only to call a merciful halt.
All this was building up to the confrontation with Michael Spinks, the only boxer with a semblance of a chance not yet eliminated by Tyson. Spinks, when IBF champion, had opted out of a unification series in order to make money by defeating Gerry Cooney, a feat which was accomplished without any alarms.
Spinks and his backers insisted that Spinks was the true champion, as Ring magazine continued to rate him. There was even an argument about who would have the champion’s privileges of entering the ring second, a dispute which actually delayed the start of the fight.
The big fight took place at the Convention Center, Atlantic City, on 27th June 1988.
Spinks looked cool and confident during the introductions, as befitted a man unbeaten as a professional with many top boxing experts tipping him to win. It was difficult to believe that he had not resigned himself to defeat since he backed out of the unification contests. He was, after all, just a blown-up light-heavyweight.
The great battle was all over in 91 seconds. Backed against the ropes, Spinks took a left uppercut then a blow to the body which made him drop to the floor in pain. He rose and threw a clumsy right at Tyson, a pawing punch that merely lined up his own chin for Tyson to hit.
Iron Mike then landed a powerful right and, although it landed a little high, Spinks was laid flat with no prospect whatever of beating the count. Many consider this to be the pinnacle of Tyson’s fame and boxing ability. After this fight, he clearly had no serious challengers.
Tyson’s problems outside the ring then started to mount up. He was getting divorced from his wife. To make matters worse his promoter Don King and his manager Bill Clayton were squabbling over his future contract.
Subsequently, in 1988, Tyson fired Bill Clayton and his long-time trainer Kevin Rooney, the man many credits for honing Tyson’s craft after the death of Cus D’Amato.
However, his problems outside the ring were starting to mount up; a short-lived marriage to actress Robin Givens was followed by a catalogue of personal misfortune that ultimately resulted in him losing his world championship to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo in February 1990.
He was jailed for rape in 1992 and released in 1995.
After being released from prison, he got his head down and started training again in the gym to mount a comeback. He beat two opponents before regaining the WBC heavyweight crown in March 1996 in a second fight against Britain’s Frank Bruno.
He then went on to defeat Bruce Seldon for the WBA title before getting stopped by the unheralded Evander Holyfield in November 1996.
A rematch in June 1997 saw Mike Tyson bite off Holyfield’s ear – an act that earned him worldwide condemnation.
He went on to fight on and off; a title challenge against Lennox Lewis in 2002 came to an abrupt end when Lennox Lewis knocked Tyson out in round eight.
Mike Tyson would then go on to face journeyman Danny Williams, being knocked out this time in 4 rounds.
His final appearance in the ring was against Irishman Kevin McBride in 2005, Mike Tyson recorded another defeat although to most observers it was clear Tyson was well over the hill and had absolutely nothing left.
He would have one last fight on his hands; he was fighting bankruptcy and a drugs charge, although his status as a cult celebrity still remained strong as well as his boxing legacy.
In retirement Mike Tyson has enjoyed his appearances in the media, appearing on various boxing channels providing expert insight in his boxing education.
Mike Tyson debuted his one-man talk show in Las Vegas: then he teamed up with Spike Lee and brought the show to Broadway in 2012.
On the back of that success, he embarked on a 36-city, three-month national tour with his show titled Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.
In November 2013, Tyson released his book Undisputed Truth, which also made it on The New York Times Best Seller list.
Although Tyson’s boxing career had many highlights it always seems to be his misdemeanors that people still talk about. Yet there are many sides to Mike Tyson: street thug made good, villain of the ring, jailbird and his personal life in the past has been a litany of one disaster after the other.
Yet perhaps history will remember him best in his prime, the ultimate, unstoppable fighting machine: the master of the ring.
Mike Tyson’s notable fights: