Michael Gerard Tyson was born on 30th June 1966 in Brownsville, a neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York. The youngest of three children, Tyson, from an early age, was never far from trouble. Arrested more than 30 times for petty crimes by the time he was 13, he was learning to fight on the streets rather than the boxing ring, but then he met Bobby Stewart, a juvenile detention counsellor and former boxer. Stewart, recognising his boxing talent and potential, introduced Tyson to legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, who had trained former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson.
Tyson moved in with D’Amato and when his mother died when he was 16, the influential father figure became his legal guardian, as well as his boxing trainer.
After missing out on the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Tyson had his first professional fight in March 1985, as an 18 year old. Including that first round technical knockout, he amassed 15 wins by the end of the year, 11 of which were in the first round. Although he was racking up the contests, his workload was in the ring was relatively light.
In November of that year, D’Amato died at the age of 77. Tyson’s guiding light was gone, but his destructive path through the heavyweight division continued. The US TV networks were starting to take note and in February 1986, ABC Sports broadcast his fight against Jesse Ferguson; for the first time, the country as a whole were able to see the destructive power this 19 year old possessed. By early September, just 18 months after his professional debut, his record stood at 27-0, including 25 knockouts. Fight 28 would be, in theory, a much tougher proposition.
Trevor Berbick was 32 years old. For many, he was best known for being the last boxer to fight (and beat) the legendary Muhammad Ali, in 1981. He’d made his professional debut in 1976, and had 36 fights on his record, the most recent being a World title shot against Pinklon Thomas in March 1986, where he’d taken the title. After a break, his first defence was arranged for 22nd November 1986, at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Tyson, led to the ring by trainer Kevin Rooney, was no frills. He wore a plain white towel with a hole cut out so he could fit his head through. Rather than look nervous, he looked shy, embarrassed to be the centre of attention in front of the biggest crowd of his career.
Berbick made his way out, slightly more animated, in his black, hooded dressing gown. It’s not often the champion is the underdog, but that was the reality. If he was nervous, he was putting on a brave face.
The champion was three inches taller and had a seven inch reach advantage, although Tyson was three pounds heavier. After the introductions, referee Mills Lane called the boxers together and gave them their last instructions. Tyson looked confident and his eyes were fixed exclusively on Berbick. Berbick suddenly did look nervous, his eyes partly on Tyson, occasionally breaking away to look at the floor.
The first bell rang, the fighters met in the middle, Tyson with more movement, and they started to exchange blows. There was no ‘feeling out’ and both fighters were straight into into it. Berbick was leaving himself open in his desperation to control the fight. Could he catch Tyson early and get him on the back foot for the first time in his career? He was getting hit too often though and hit hard. Tyson looked unruffled, all business, moving forward, throwing single shots and combinations. The lethal upper cut was being thrown, Berbick started to hold on. When they were separated Tyson was always getting on top. Berbick stumbled back, but somehow kept his balance. Berbick looked like he was in Round 12 and hanging on to go the judge’s scorecards. The bell saved him, but it’s only the end of Round 1.
The corner was in panic mode; the ice bag on the back of the neck, the wet sponge on the face. There’s a message from trainer Angelo Dundee, a legend of his trade, but is Berbick even able to take it in? In the opposite corner, Rooney talks calmly to Tyson. There is focus, clarity and Tyson stands up slowly to get back to work as the bell goes again.
Tyson throws big shots straight away and Berbick hits the canvas for the first time. He gets up and Lane completes the standing 8 count. Berbick gestures he’s all good, he wants to get on with it. He looks dazed, unable to throw any punches back, trying to hold to survive. The onslaught continues but momentarily the pace slows. They rub heads, Tyson working in close, the champ holding on. There’s a right body shot from Tyson, they separate ever so slightly and Tyson throws the left hook. It seems relatively light in comparison to some of the other shots but Berbick hits the floor again. As he tries to get up, he stumbles and falls again. It’s over. Tyson wanders slowly towards his corner, an understated celebration with one arm pointing toward them, the shyness still evident. Lane tries to hold his arm aloft in victory but he’s more intent on getting to Berbick to see how he is. The masses enter the ring, Don King first in line. There are smiles everywhere. Mike Tyson has become the youngest ever World Heavyweight champion at the age of 20 years, 4 months and 22 days. Sport’s newest global superstar has arrived in style.
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