Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 27, 1988: Iron Mike

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - He attacked the boxing world like a tornado. He was a storm cloud in black trunks, a tightly coiled punching machine who struck quickly and powerfully. His opponents saw him coming, could prepare for his arrival, but they had no chance. The fight was usually over before it began.

Mike Tyson left a trail of devastated opponents behind him as he began his breathtaking ascent up the heavyweight ranks in the mid-1980s. Beginning his career as a 19-year-old in March of 1985, it only took him a year and a half to become the youngest heavyweight champion of all time, winning WBC title on November 11, 1986. By the time he unified the heavyweight crown in 1987 - holding the IBF, WBA, and WBC titles simultaneously - he was already 31-0 and had only allowed four of his fights to go the distance. Among his victories were a stunning 15 first-round knockouts - he took a special pride in destroying his opposition as quickly as possible.

By 1988, Tyson was the most feared and renowned boxer in the world, and there was only one man left for him to conquer. Michael Spinks, the former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion, was 31-0 and waiting for Tyson. Spinks' brother, Leon, was one of only five men to defeat Muhammad Ali, so he had the boxing background. Michael Spinks had at one point been the IBF heavyweight champion, only to have his title stripped for his refusal to fight the IBF's favored challenger.

Tyson and Spinks met in Atlantic City on June 27, 1988, three days before Tyson's 22nd birthday. Tyson was 35-0 and the current champion, while Spinks was 31-0 and a former champion. The boxing world watched intently, wondering if this would be the fight where Tyson showed any weakness. What they saw was shocking, even by Tyson standards.

Perhaps Spinks was saving himself for later rounds, hoping that by making Tyson work harder than normal, he could beat him at the end. Perhaps he was surprised by Tyson's quickness and aggressiveness. Or, perhaps he walked into the ring that night already defeated, knowing he never had a chance.

Whatever the reason, it was an annihilation. By the time Spinks reacted to Tyson's aggressiveness and started to fight back, it was too late. He was knocked down for the first time in his professional career about a minute and a half into the first round. After getting right back up, it only took one punch to knock him down again. This time, Spinks didn't get up.

Tyson had absolutely destroyed him; Spinks never fought again. For Tyson, it represented the peak of his career, his most overpowering and stunning victory in a career full of them. He would only win two more fights before suffering his first career loss, after which his career - and life - completely unravelled. But for that one night in Atlantic City, there was nobody who was ever better.

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