Two of the biggest names in recent boxing history will step into the ring Saturday in California, when Mike Tyson takes on Roy Jones Jr.
Tyson once was the unanimous heavyweight champion of the world and remained undefeated through 37 fights. Jones held titles in four weight classes from middleweight to heavyweight.
Each is past his 50th birthday, though.
We don’t know what this fight will look like, but we know it provides an opportunity to remember what the two fighters were at their peaks – particularly Tyson, who once reigned as the most dominant athlete on the planet.
Of his 56 fights to date, these were the most memorable and impactful over the course of his career.
1. Tyson vs. Buster Douglas
Date: Feb. 11, 1990
Site: Tokyo Dome
Result: Douglas by KO, 1:22 of 10th
Why it’s here: It may seem unfair to list a defeat as the most memorable of all Tyson’s fights, but such was the magnitude of this upset. There have been few results in the history of organized sport that would rank with the improbability. Tyson had been so dominant, and Douglas so obscure, it seemed impossible the fight would end with any outcome but a quick Tyson knockout of another overmatched opponent. Douglas had been a solid professional fighter but was only the No. 7 contender when he stepped into the ring. He carried in an excellent defensive plan that thwarted Tyson’s aggression. The threat of Tyson’s power still was there; he knocked down Douglas late in the eighth round and was unfortunate the bell helped to save Douglas. In the 10th, though, Douglas rocked Tyson with a powerful uppercut that opened him to the flurry that finished the fight. Down on the canvas, Tyson scrambled to find his mouthpiece and could not beat the count.
2. Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield II
Date: June 28, 1997
Site: MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas
Result: Holyfield by DQ, 3:00 of 3rd
Why it’s here: The greatest statement one could make about the Douglas upset is that it was even more unlikely than Tyson biting an opponent’s ear. Twice. That’s what happened in Tyson’s rematch against Holyfield, some eight months after they met for the first time and Holyfield scored an 11th-round TKO. After that one, Tyson complained Holyfield had head-butted him often, which was rich given Tyson’s habit of slipping an elbow in amplify the effects of many punches. Another such incident happened in the first round of their rematch, opening a cut above Tyson’s eye. Whether that set off Tyson is uncertain, but in a clinch late in the third round, Tyson reached forward with his jaws and bit a chunk of flesh off the top of Holyfield’s right ear. Holyfield was in obvious pain, but when it was determined he was able to continue fighting, referee Mills Lane allowed the bout to resume. Then, Tyson did it again, this time inflicting just a scratch on his left ear. That was less obvious, so it took a moment for Lane to realize what happened. When he did at the end of the round, Lane disqualified Tyson. Holyfield suggested afterward Tyson knew he was about to lose again, so he decided to go out by DQ rather than KO.
3. Tyson vs. Michael Spinks
Date: June 27, 1988
Site: Convention Hall, Atlantic City
Result: Tyson by KO, 1:31 of 1st
Why it’s here: Tyson held the title belts of the WBC, WBA and IBF when he entered his fight against Spinks, but he was not the undisputed heavyweight champion. That’s because Spinks held The Ring magazine title, which recognized the linear champion rather than the whims of any sanctioning body. Spinks had taken that title from Larry Holmes in their 1985 fight. Spinks lost the IBF belt for declining to fight its preferred challenger, but he was the “true” champ when he walked in against Tyson – and a skilled enough fighter that some thought he would handle Tyson’s wild style. (OK, I was one, and I was wrong. Really wrong). From ringside, it honestly looked like an adult matched against a pre-teen. Spinks appeared helpless from the opening bell, and the 91 seconds seemed almost too long. Spinks never fought again, and it made perfect sense.
4. Tyson vs. Trevor Berbick
Date: Nov. 22, 1986
Site: Las Vegas Hilton
Result: Tyson by TKO, 2:35 of 2nd
Why it’s here: Tyson had been expertly built into a contender by trainer Kevin Rooney, who took over that role when Cus D’Amato died at age 77 after Tyson’s 11th pro fight. He’d been expertly built into an attraction by managers Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton. When it was time to choose the opponent for Tyson’s first title fight, the perfect plan was for him to fight the least of the reigning champs and then unify the title by taking on the bigger challenges as he advanced. Berbick already had lost five times when he stepped in against Tyson and was best known for defeating an aging Muhammad Ali in his final official bout. Berbick had no chance. Tyson attacked immediately and furiously, and the only question left was how long it would last. The answer: Not long.
5. Tyson vs. Peter McNeeley
Date: Aug. 19, 1995
Site: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Result: Tyson by DQ, 1:29 of 1st
Why it’s here: McNeeley was Tyson’s first opponent after four years away from the sport following his arrest, conviction and incarceration on rape charges. McNeeley was from a boxing family and had built an attractive record that nearly got him a title shot, but it was denied because he wasn’t a top-10 contender. His consolation prize: big money to get wrecked by Tyson in his comeback fight. McNeeley attacked immediately from the opening bell, backing Tyson into his corner, but Tyson’s second right hand put McNeeley on the canvas. McNeeley chose to keep up an all-out pursuit, and this time it was a Tyson left that wobbled him and sent him backward. After Tyson sneaked in a right uppercut, McNeeley fell directly to his right to the canvas. He got up, but as Mills Lane directed Tyson to a neutral corner, McNeeley’s seconds climbed into the ring. They’d seen enough.
6. Tyson vs. Donovan “Razor” Ruddock I
Date: March 18, 1998
Site: The Mirage, Las Vegas
Result: Tyson by TKO, 2:22 of 7th
Why it’s here: After the Douglas upset, Tyson began rebuilding toward regaining the heavyweight title by fighting Canadian star Razor Ruddock. How did the pre-fight hype go? “If he doesn’t die, it doesn’t count,” Tyson told one broadcast interviewer. So that was lovely. The two fighters swung big and hit hard from the opening bell. Tyson worked Ruddock’s body hard in the second round, and near the end of the third Ruddock was tired by threw a right that left him wide open for a left hook that floored him. In the sixth, there was a hint that Ruddock might have a comeback in him. He punished Tyson with multiple shots, but Tyson came out in the seventh and owned it, convincing referee Richard Steele to stop the fight following a barrage of undefended punches – launched with an overhand right –that drove Ruddock into the ropes. As Ruddock embraced Tyson, a brawl broke out in the ring behind him as Ruddock’s corner objected to the stoppage.
7. Tyson vs. Jesse Ferguson
Date: Feb. 16, 1986
Site: Houston Field House, Troy, N.Y.
Result: Tyson by TKO, 1:19 of 6th
Why it’s here: Ferguson was 14-1, with a win over Buster Douglas and a 10th-round loss to Carl “The Truth” Williams that included him twice knocking down Williams. Ferguson was selected to fight Tyson in the latter’s build toward his first title shot. I had seen Tyson fight on television as an amateur and a few of his pro bouts, and I’d interviewed him by phone and written about his budding career. This was my first time seeing him fight in person. I’d covered fights by Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini; I’d never seen anything like Tyson. He pursued Ferguson immediately, relentlessly. In the fifth, Tyson got Ferguson buried in a corner and hammered at him, flooring him with a vicious right uppercut that bloodied Ferguson’s nose and looked like the end. But Ferguson got up. He didn’t last much longer. For The Pittsburgh Press, I wrote: “There is a frightening aura of brutality present when Mike Tyson enters a boxing ring.” What I didn’t write was this quote from Tyson: “I try to catch them right on the tip of his nose, because I try to punch the bone into the brain.” My editor thought it unsuitable for a family newspaper.
8. Tyson vs. Marvis Frazier
Date: July 26, 1986
Site: Civic Center, Glens Falls, N.Y.
Result: Tyson by KO, 30 of 1st
Why it’s here: The assembled boxing writers following Tyson’s rise made a big deal of Marvis’ father, Joe Frazier, insisting his son would attack Tyson from the start rather than attempt to box his way into the later rounds. And afterward, Smokin’ Joe took a lot of media heat for that “plan.” If that truly was the plan, though, Tyson tore it to shreds immediately. It didn’t matter what approach Marvis might have taken. His mistake was stepping into the ring. Did Frazier move enough? Well, he moved from a position along the ropes into a corner, and there Tyson pounced and snapped in a right uppercut that struck like lightning. After a few more shots, Frazier crumbled to his knees, than sat on the canvas as the count continued and soon was abandoned because it was obvious he had no chance to recover.
9. Tyson vs. Mitch “Blood” Green
Date: May 20, 1986
Site: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Result: Tyson by unanimous decision
Why it’s here: The fight was Tyson’s MSG debut, an important component of the marketing of Tyson into a worldwide attraction. Tyson was paid more than eight times for the bout what Green would make, and on the day before the fight Green told those of us covering the fight he might not show because of the disparity. When promised he would earn a title shot if he won, though, Green agreed to show. It was a dull fight, really, in which Tyson was unable to seize control or knock down Green. It makes the list, though, because it was a precursor to a street fight between the two that occurred two years later in Harlem, when the two happened upon each other at a clothing store and Green still was angry over money. Tyson reportedly struck Green and opened a cut that required five stitches – but Tyson was left with a broken hand. Green insisted afterward, “At that moment, he hit me, and – (Green then used a couple of homophobic slurs) – he ran.”
10. Tyson vs. Henry Tillman
Date: July 6, 1984
Site: Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas
Result: Tillman by 4-1 decision.
Why it’s here: This was the moment when Tyson was introduced to the public, with his uncommon story presented at length: his problematic childhood, how he was discovered by legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, how their relationship became more like guardian/ward than trainer/fighter. Tyson’s style wasn’t ideal for amateur boxing, and neither was he fully developed at that point. Tillman had frustrated Tyson in the Olympic Trials, and Mike fared no better in the U.S. Olympic Box-Offs. But Tyson’s handlers knew he would be a more impactful pro. A gold medal in Los Angeles would have helped in marketing him. But they knew they had a great prospect with a compelling story. He would become a star soon enough.
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