There are very few athletes in sporting history who truly epitomize their era, but there is no doubt that Mike Tyson is amongst them. With a stunning rate of knockouts and stoppages, Tyson remains the greatest of all time in the opinion of some, and the first of his five most famous knockouts takes us right back to the very beginning of the tale of Tyson.
5. Tyson vs. Joe Cortez – June 1981
Tyson’s deadly ability to hit the sweet spot was evident as much as four years before he turned pro. At the 1981 Junior Olympic Games, he exploded onto the scene, taking just eight seconds to destroy his hapless opponent. It was a record at the time by a considerable distance, and if nobody had heard of Tyson before, that was going to change in no time at all.
He would go on to successfully defend his gold medal the following year, before winning gold at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.
4. Tyson vs. Michael Johnson – September 1985
Within six months of turning pro, Tyson was a steady 7-0 and meeting every expectation he had ever shouldered. However, it was in only his eighth fight that he scored one of the most life-threatening knockouts he ever meted out. The place was Boardwalk Hall, NJ, and the victim was Michael Johnson, whose reach advantage meant nothing against Tyson’s raw power.
Tyson’s first knockdown was a lethal left hook to Johnson’s ribs that send him sprawling to the canvas. He was up on the three but took a mandatory eight-count that simply delayed the inevitable. With an utterly non-existent defence, Johnson immediately allowed Tyson a free hit – an absolutely inch-perfect right hook to the face – which could yield only one result.
The fight was over inside a minute. Ultimately, Johnson claimed a moral victory, merely by keeping his head atop his shoulders.
3. Tyson vs. Marvis Frazier – July 1986
As the son of ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier, there could surely be no better man to understand the power Tyson possessed. Sons of boxing legends never have it easy, but Tyson denied Frazier the chance to irrevocably step out of his father’s shadow, destroying him utterly in less time than it takes the average Olympian to sprint 400 metres.
The way in which Frazier fell is also prominent, with the beaten underdog clearly unconscious before sinking to his knees like a discarded rag doll. This is a fight that is impossible to analyse, and is best summed up by the commentator’s immortal words: “It did not last twenty seconds.”
2. Tyson vs. Trevor Berbick – November 1986
Just 20 years old at the time he took on Trevor Berbick for the WBC heavyweight title, Tyson knew that this was his biggest test yet. The bout came just three months after Tyson was unexpectedly held until the final round (of ten) by José Ribalta, but he was back to his lethal best in this WBC title showdown.
Berbick may have lost inside just two rounds, but he certainly received top marks in his efforts to get up.
1. Tyson vs. Michael Spinks – June 1988
This was Tyson’s night of nights, and unquestionably the greatest moment of his career. By this time, he was already in possession of WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight titles, but would add The Ring and lineal heavyweight titles to his existing monopoly over the division.
Tyson won this bout on the second knockdown and looked set for years of dominance. However, his possession of every honour imaginable would be taken from him in February 1990 in a shock defeat to James Buster Douglas.
Never quite the same after the death of mentor Cus D’Amato, his life unravelled in drastic fashion thereafter. Ultimately, Tyson’s story is one of immeasurable triumph, yet so much unfulfilled potential.