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The 5 Greatest Heavyweight Comebacks: #3

by Jason Doherty



3. Mike Tyson (1995-2005)

Arguably the most controversial character in the history of the sport of boxing, Mike Tyson emerged as the dominant heavyweight of the late 1980’s. Inside the ring, Iron Mike proved himself to be one of the most destructive fighters of all time, yet somehow managed to garner an equal amount of attention for his antics outside the confines of the squared circle

Tyson was sent to the Tryon juvenile correctional facility in New York when he was only 13 years old. It was there where Tyson met former amateur boxer Bobby Stewart, who would advise the young Tyson to contact the legendary trainer, Cus D’Amato, after his release. After watching a very raw Tyson spar just a few short rounds, D’Amato turned to his assistant, Kevin Rooney, and said, “I think we’ve just found the next Heavyweight Champion of the World.”

Tyson quickly proved himself a model student of the game, mastering D’Amato’s “peekaboo”style, while spending much of his spare time analyzing footage of great champions from the past. After failing to make the United States team for the 1984 Olympics, Tyson turned professional in 1985.

Despite  D’Amato’s passing in November 1985, now under the sole guidance of Rooney, Tyson looked absolutely phenomenal during the early years of his career, racking up 27 straight victories (25 by ko), on his way to a November 1986 title shot, against WBC Champion, Trevor Berbick.  In his first world title challenge, Tyson proved far too much for the older champion, knocking Berbick down twice on the way to a second round knockout victory.

The win would secure his place in history, as the 20 year broke Floyd Patterson’s record to become the youngest Heavyweight Champion in history. Tyson then defeated James “Bonecrusher” Smith by unanimous decision to win the WBA Championship in 1987, and would add the IBF crown later that year, by beating Tony Tucker to become the first man to hold all three versions of the championship, at only 21 years of age.

The pinnacle of Tyson’s career then came in 1988, when the 22 year old knocked out the undefeated, lineal champion and former Olympic gold medallist, Michael Spinks, in 91 seconds to become the recognised undisputed Heavyweight World Champion.

From this point onward however, Tyson’s life began to spiral out of control. His 1988 marriage to actress, Robin Givens, lasted little more than a year and came to an end after Tyson had been described as a “manic depressive” on public television. But perhaps more importantly, Tyson took the decision to split with career long trainer, Kevin Rooney, immediately after the Spinks fight, on the advice of Don King.

When Tyson faced James “Buster” Douglas in 1990, rumours persisted that he had hardly trained, while spending several nights in the buildup to the fight drinking and visiting prostitutes. Douglas shocked the world  that night in Tokyo, knocking Tyson out in the 10th round of a largely one sided bout, in what remains one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time.

Tyson’s life then hit a new low, when he was convicted for the rape of Miss Black America contestant, Desiree Washington, and subsequently sentenced to six years imprisonment in March 1992. Tyson served half of his sentence, and was not seen in a boxing ring for four years as a result.

Having not fought since beating Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in June 1991, Tyson made his comeback in August 1995. His opponent, Peter McNeeley came to the ring with, what looked on paper, an impressive record of 36 wins and 1 loss, yet of all his 37 opponents only 4 had winning records.

Tyson duly dispatched of McNeeley within a round, yet only were the casual followers of the sport convinced that this was the return of the fighter who had ripped through the heavyweight division in the late 1980’s. When Tyson knocked out both Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon in 1996, to win both the WBC and WBA titles respectively, Iron Mike was again recognised as the no.1 heavyweight on the planet.

In his first defence of the WBA title, Tyson faced former two weight undisputed champion, Evander Holyfield, in November 1996. Tyson was totally outboxed and outfought by Holyfield, who in earning an 11th round stoppage, exposed this version of Tyson as little more than an impostor of his previous self. The jab, hand-speed and head movement had become forgotten weapons of Tyson’s arsenal. Though the former champion still possessed the knockout power, better fighters like Holyfield could now see the punches coming, and at the highest level Tyson had become predictable.

After the loss to Holyfield, Tyson’s life both inside and outside the ring would be marred by unprecedented levels of chaos. His 1997 rematch against “The Real Deal” will long live on in infamy, after the challenger was disqualified for biting off part of the champion’s ear in round three, which lead to Tyson having his licence rescinded until October 1998. Tyson then filed a $100 million lawsuit against promoter, Don King, claiming the latter cheated him out of millions since taking over as his promoter in 1988. A failed drugs test, after Tyson tested positive for marijuana, saw the fighter fined $200,000 in 2000.

By the Time he met long term rival, Lennox Lewis, for the WBC and IBF titles in 2002, Tyson was an almost unrecognisable shell of the fighter of his prime years. In what was at that time the highest grossing pay per view event of all time, “The Baddest Man in the Planet” was little more than a stationary target, as Lewis eased his way to an eighth round victory.

Despite earning over $300 million dollars during his career, Tyson was declared bankrupt in 2003, by which point he was fighting solely for the money. His career ended in utter humiliation, when the former undisputed champion quit on his stool after round five of what would be his final bout, against the unheralded Kevin McBride, in 2005

Since announcing his retirement after the McBride loss, Tyson’s place amongst the pantheon of all time great heavyweights has been the subject of much debate. His advocates argue that the destructive beast we saw during his early career would have brushed through the best heavyweights of any era, while his skeptics claim that Tyson was little more than a bully, who lost to any decent fighter brave enough to stand up to him. The truth lies probably somewhere in the middle, though that debate is one for another day.


This series first appeared on


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