Robert Silva is counting down the greatest knockouts of all-time. Here are the previous lists in case you need to catch up:
20. Mike Tyson Vs Michael Spinks
June 27, 1988
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Venue: Convention Hall
Boxing’s heavyweight champion of the world used to be considered the premier athlete in sports. Men like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes became almost mythical-like figures while carrying the mantle of heavyweight champion. Mike Tyson continued this tradition with his mercurial rise to the top of the division. The late 1980s saw Tyson as the biggest sports star on the planet. On the eve of his 22nd birthday, Tyson was as invincible as any athlete that ever lived. The only thing that was missing was that Tyson knew he wasn’t the true heavyweight champion despite owning the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. That distinction belonged to the lineal and Ring Magazine Champion Michael Spinks.
Spinks, after a dominating run as light heavyweight champion, which I chronicled in a previous article, became the Ring and IBF heavyweight champion after dethroning the aforementioned Holmes in September of 1985. A few months later, legendary promoter Don King, in association with HBO, unveiled a tournament to crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion in eight years. Spinks won his first two fights in the tournament before pulling out of the tournament in early 1987 in order to fight Gerry Cooney for a much more lucrative payday. Despite being stripped of the IBF belt, it was a shrewd and wise decision by Spinks. Not only was he getting a much bigger payday fighting Cooney than whatever King would pay him in the tournament, the fact that he was still Ring champion would all but guarantee him a fight against the winner of the tournament. The tournament winner was never in question once Mike Tyson became an entrant.
My father loved Tyson’s hunger inside the ring. My father taught me that the most lethal combination in boxing was incredible talent and hunger. Tyson possessed both and my father was right. Tyson was basically living on the streets as a 13-year-old beating and robbing people when he was sent to a youth detention group home in Upstate New York. While there, he caught the attention of longtime Upstate New York trainer Cus D’Amato. D’Amato would mold Tyson into a near picture perfect fighting beast as well as adopting him as his son. Because the elderly D’Amato was 77-years-old when Tyson turned pro in 1985, Cus’s disciple Kevin Rooney had taken over the reigns as Tyson’s chief second. D’Amato died on November 4, 1985. My father felt that his death would make Tyson even hungrier and more dangerous in the ring. It also was the first event in Tyson’s life that was an opening for the nefarious King to get involved.
In less than 18 months as a professional, Tyson had fought 27 times, winning all but two by knockout, including knocking out WBC Champion Trevor Berbick in two rounds on November 22, 1986 to become at age 20, the youngest champion in the storied history of the division. More on this fight in a later article. Suffice to say that with this victory in his first tournament bout, HBO and King were banking on Tyson winning it all. I was away from home while attending college in New Orleans at the time. My father told me the night after on a long distance phone conversation that there was nobody at heavyweight that stood a chance against Mike. His hunger and skill level was something that was unmatched.
Tyson defeated the WBA champ Bonecrusher Smith and IBF champ Tony Tucker in consecutive 12-round decisions to unify all three governing sanctioning bodies. This, coupled with Spinks’ fifth round destruction of Cooney in June of 1987, would culminate in the signing of the biggest prizefight ever financially up to that point. Three months before the fight occurred, Tyson lost another close confidant to death, his co-manager Jimmy Jacobs. With Jacobs and D’Amato now both out the way, King was able to worm his way into being the single, guiding factor in Tyson’s life. This will be chronicled in further detail in a future article.
The fight was a complete mismatch. The night of the fight, as I was on summer break from school, my father and were at a dingy night club in Greenwich Village to watch. The tickets were only 15 dollars a pop, so I can’t complain that much. As we sat in a packed club anticipating the fight, my father, who was completely inebriated, predicted the fight wouldn’t go 90 seconds. He was wrong. It lasted 91 seconds.
The reason Pop predicted it wouldn’t go 90 seconds was because Spinks delayed his ring entrance which infuriated Tyson to the point where he punched a hole in a dressing room wall and that Spinks had braces on both knees. He was a sitting duck as evidenced from the very beginning of the fight. Tyson came straight at Spinks and dropped him with a thudding right to the rib cage just over a minute into the fight. Spinks got up at the count of four. After referee Frank Cappucino’s mandatory eight count, Spinks immediately walked into a thunderous right cross that sent his head bouncing off the canvas. Spinks, in his attempt to get up, almost fell through the ropes as Cappucino counted him out. Tyson was finally the universally recognized world heavyweight champion.
Spinks, three weeks shy of his 32nd birthday, took his shot knees and $15 million payday and immediately retired. Tyson was at his most invincible that night. Unfortunately, the night of his greatest triumph was also the beginning of the end of his invincibility. More on that later on.