Michael Gerard “Mike” Tyson (born June 30, 1966) is an American former professional boxer. He held the undisputed world heavyweight championship and holds the record as the youngest boxer to win the WBC, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles at 20 years, 4 months, and 22 days old. Tyson won his first 19 professional bouts by knockout, 12 of them in the first round. He won the WBC title in 1986 after defeating Trevor Berbick by a TKO in the second round. In 1987, Tyson added the WBA and IBF titles after defeating James Smith and Tony Tucker. This made him the first heavyweight boxer to simultaneously hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles, and the only heavyweight to successively unify them.
In 1988, Tyson became the lineal champion when he knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds. Tyson successfully defended the world heavyweight championship nine times, including victories over Larry Holmes and Frank Bruno. In 1990, he lost his titles to underdog James “Buster” Douglas, by knockout in round 10. Attempting to regain the titles, he defeated Donovan Ruddock twice in 1991, but pulled out of a fight with undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield due to injury. In 1992, Tyson was convicted of raping Desiree Washington and sentenced to six years in prison but was released after serving three years. After his release, he engaged in a series of comeback fights. In 1996, he won the WBC and WBA titles after defeating Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon by knockout. With his defeat of Bruno, Tyson joined Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Tim Witherspoon, Evander Holyfield, and George Foreman as the only men in boxing history to that point to have regained a heavyweight championship after having lost it. After being stripped of the WBC title, Tyson lost his WBA crown to Evander Holyfield in November 1996 by an eleventh-round TKO. Their 1997 rematch ended when Tyson was disqualified for biting part of Holyfield’s ear off.
In 2002, he fought for the world heavyweight title at the age of 35, losing by knockout to Lennox Lewis. Tyson retired from professional boxing in 2006, after being knocked out in consecutive matches against Danny Williams and Kevin McBride. Tyson declared bankruptcy in 2003, despite having received over $30 million for several of his fights and $300 million during his career. At the time it was reported that he had approximately $23 million of debt. Tyson was well known for his ferocious and intimidating boxing style as well as his controversial behavior inside and outside the ring. Nicknamed “Iron”, and “Kid Dynamite” in his early career and later known as “The Baddest Man on the Planet”, Tyson is considered one of the best heavyweights of all time. He was ranked No. 16 on The Ring‘s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time, and No. 1 in the ESPN.com list of “The hardest hitters in heavyweight history”. Sky Sports rated him as “the scariest boxer ever” and described him as “perhaps the most ferocious fighter to step into a professional ring.” He has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Tyson was born in Brooklyn, New York. He has an elder brother named Rodney (born c. 1961) and had an elder sister named Denise, who died of a heart attack at age 24 in February 1990.
Tyson’s biological father is listed as “Purcell Tyson” (who was from Jamaica) on his birth certificate, but the man Tyson had known as his father was Jimmy Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was from Grier Town, North Carolina (a predominantly black neighborhood that was annexed by the city of Charlotte), where he was one of the neighborhood’s top baseball players. Kirkpatrick married and had a son, Tyson’s half-brother Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick, who would help to integrate Charlotte high school football in 1965. In 1959, Jimmy Kirkpatrick left his family and moved to Brooklyn, where he met Tyson’s mother, Lorna Mae (Smith) Tyson. Mike Tyson was born in 1966. Kirkpatrick frequented pool halls, gambled and hung out on the streets. “My father was just a regular street guy caught up in the street world,” Tyson said. Kirkpatrick abandoned the Tyson family around the time Mike was born, leaving Tyson’s mother to care for the children on her own. Kirkpatrick died in 1992.
The family lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant until their financial burdens necessitated a move to Brownsville when Tyson was 10 years old. Tyson’s mother died six years later, leaving 16-year-old Tyson in the care of boxing manager and trainer Cus D’Amato, who would become his legal guardian. Tyson later said, “I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something: she only knew me as being a wild kid running the streets, coming home with new clothes that she knew I didn’t pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know about her. Professionally, it has no effect, but it’s crushing emotionally and personally.”
Throughout his childhood, Tyson lived in and around high-crime neighborhoods. According to an interview in Details, his first fight was with a bigger youth who had pulled the head off one of Tyson’s pigeons. Tyson was repeatedly caught committing petty crimes and fighting those who ridiculed his high-pitched voice and lisp. By the age of 13, he had been arrested 38 times. He ended up at the Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown, New York. Tyson’s emerging boxing ability was discovered there by Bobby Stewart, a juvenile detention center counselor and former boxer. Stewart considered Tyson to be an outstanding fighter and trained him for a few months before introducing him to Cus D’Amato. Tyson dropped out of high school as a junior. He would later be awarded an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Central State University in 1989.
Kevin Rooney also trained Tyson, and he was occasionally assisted by Teddy Atlas, although he was dismissed by D’Amato when Tyson was 15. Rooney eventually took over all training duties for the young fighter.
Tyson’s brother is a physician assistant in the trauma center of the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He has always been very supportive of his brother’s career and was often seen at Tyson’s boxing matches in Las Vegas, Nevada. When asked about their relationship, Mike has been quoted saying, “My brother and I see each other occasionally and we love each other”; and, “My brother was always something and I was nothing.”
Tyson won gold medals at the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympic Games, defeating Joe Cortez in 1981 and beating Kelton Brown in 1982. Brown’s corner threw in the towel in the first round. He holds the Junior Olympic record for quickest knockout (8 seconds). He won every bout at the Junior Olympic Games by knockout.
He fought Henry Tillman twice as an amateur, losing both bouts by decision. Tillman went on to win heavyweight gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Rise to stardom
Tyson made his professional debut as an 18-year-old on March 6, 1985, in Albany, New York. He defeated Hector Mercedes via a first round knockout. He had 15 bouts in his first year as a professional. Fighting frequently, Tyson won 26 of his first 28 fights by KO or TKO; 16 of those came in the first round. The quality of his opponents gradually increased to journeyman fighters and borderline contenders, like James Tillis, David Jaco, Jesse Ferguson, Mitch Green and Marvis Frazier. His win streak attracted media attention and Tyson was billed as the next great heavyweight champion. D’Amato died in November 1985, relatively early into Tyson’s professional career, and some speculate that his death was the catalyst to many of the troubles Tyson was to experience as his life and career progressed.
Tyson’s first nationally televised bout took place on February 16, 1986, at Houston Field House in Troy, New York against journeyman heavyweight Jesse Ferguson. Tyson knocked down Ferguson with an uppercut in the fifth round that broke Ferguson’s nose. During the sixth round, Ferguson began to hold and clinch Tyson in an apparent attempt to avoid further punishment. After admonishing Ferguson several times to obey his commands to box, the referee finally stopped the fight near the middle of the sixth round. The fight was initially ruled a win for Tyson by disqualification (DQ) of his opponent. The ruling was “adjusted” to a win by technical knockout (TKO) after Tyson’s corner protested that a DQ win would end Tyson’s string of knockout victories, and that a knockout would have been the inevitable result. The rationale offered for the revised outcome was that the fight was actually stopped because Ferguson could not (rather than would not) continue boxing.
On November 22, 1986, Tyson was given his first title fight against Trevor Berbick for the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight championship. Tyson won the title by second round TKO, and at the age of 20 years and 4 months became the youngest heavyweight champion in history. Tyson’s dominant performance brought many accolades. Donald Saunders wrote: “The noble and manly art of boxing can at least cease worrying about its immediate future, now [that] it has discovered a heavyweight champion fit to stand alongside Dempsey, Tunney, Louis, Marciano and Ali.”
Because of Tyson’s strength, many fighters were intimidated by him. This was backed up by his outstanding hand speed, accuracy, coordination, power, and timing. Tyson was also noted for his defensive abilities. Holding his hands high in the Peek-a-Boo style taught by his mentor Cus D’Amato, he slipped and weaved out of the way of the opponent’s punches while closing the distance to deliver his own punches. One of Tyson’s trademark combinations was a right hook to his opponent’s body followed by a right uppercut to his opponent’s chin; very few boxers would remain standing if caught by this combination. Lorenzo Boyd, Jesse Ferguson and Jose Ribalta were among the boxers knocked down by the combination.
Expectations for Tyson were extremely high, and he embarked on an ambitious campaign to fight all of the top heavyweights in the world. Tyson defended his title against James Smith on March 7, 1987, in Las Vegas, Nevada. He won by unanimous decision and added Smith’s World Boxing Association (WBA) title to his existing belt. ‘Tyson mania’ in the media was becoming rampant. He beat Pinklon Thomas in May with a knockout in the sixth round. On August 1 he took the International Boxing Federation (IBF) title from Tony Tucker in a twelve round unanimous decision. He became the first heavyweight to own all three major belts – WBA, WBC, and IBF – at the same time. Another fight, in October of that year, ended with a victory for Tyson over 1984 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist Tyrell Biggs by knockout in the seventh round.
During this time, Tyson came to the attention of gaming company Nintendo. After witnessing one of Tyson’s fights, Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa was impressed by the fighter’s “power and skill”, prompting him to suggest Tyson be included in the upcoming Nintendo Entertainment System port of the Punch Out!! arcade game. In 1987, Nintendo released Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, which was well received and sold more than a million copies.
Tyson had three fights in 1988. He faced Larry Holmes on January 22, 1988, and defeated the legendary former champion by a fourth round KO. This was the only knockout loss Holmes suffered in 75 professional bouts. In March, Tyson then fought contender Tony Tubbs in Tokyo, Japan, fitting in an easy two-round victory amid promotional and marketing work.
On June 27, 1988, Tyson faced Michael Spinks. Spinks, who had taken the heavyweight championship from Larry Holmes via a 15-round decision in 1985, had not lost his title in the ring but was not recognized as champion by the major boxing organizations. Holmes had previously given up all but the IBF title, and that was eventually stripped from Spinks after he elected to fight Gerry Cooney (winning by a 5th-round TKO) rather than IBF Number 1 Contender Tony Tucker, as the Cooney fight provided him a larger purse. However, Spinks did become the lineal champion by beating Holmes and many (including Ring magazine) considered him to have a legitimate claim to being the true heavyweight champion. The bout was, at the time, the richest fight in history and expectations were very high. Boxing pundits were predicting a titanic battle of styles, with Tyson’s aggressive infighting conflicting with Spinks’ skillful out-boxing and footwork. The fight ended after 91 seconds when Tyson knocked Spinks out in the first round; many consider this to be the pinnacle of Tyson’s fame and boxing ability. Spinks, previously unbeaten, would never fight professionally again.
Controversy and upset
During this period, Tyson’s problems outside boxing were also starting to emerge. His marriage to Robin Givens was heading for divorce, and his future contract was being fought over by Don King and Bill Cayton. In late 1988, Tyson parted with manager Bill Cayton and fired longtime trainer Kevin Rooney, the man many credit for honing Tyson’s craft after the death of D’Amato. Following Rooney’s departure, critics alleged that Tyson began to jab less to work inside and use the Peek-a-Boo style sporadically. Tyson insisted he hadn’t altered the style that made him a world champion. In 1989, Tyson had only two fights amid personal turmoil. He faced the popular British boxer Frank Bruno in February. Bruno managed to stun Tyson at the end of the 1st round, although Tyson went on to knock out Bruno in the fifth round. Tyson then knocked out Carl “The Truth” Williams in one round in July.
By 1990, Tyson seemed to have lost direction, and his personal life was in disarray amidst reports of less vigorous training prior to the Douglas match. In a fight on February 11, 1990, he lost the undisputed championship to Buster Douglas in Tokyo. Tyson was a huge betting favorite; indeed, the Mirage, the only casino to put out odds for the fight, made Tyson a 42/1 favorite. However, Douglas was at an emotional peak after losing his mother to a stroke 23 days prior to the fight; Douglas fought the fight of his life. Contrary to reports that Tyson was out of shape, it has been noted at the time of the fight that he had pronounced muscles, an absence of body fat and weighed 220 and 1/2 pounds, only two pounds more than he had weighed when he beat Michael Spinks 20 months earlier. Mentally, however, Tyson was unprepared. Tyson failed to find a way past Douglas’s quick jab that had a 12-inch (30 cm) reach advantage over his own. Tyson did catch Douglas with an uppercut in the eighth round and knock him to the floor, but Douglas recovered sufficiently to hand Tyson a heavy beating in the subsequent two rounds. (After the fight, the Tyson camp would complain that the count was slow and that Douglas had taken longer than ten seconds to get to his feet.) Just 35 seconds into the 10th round, Douglas unleashed a brutal uppercut, followed by a four-punch combination of hooks that sent Tyson to the canvas for the first time in his career. He was counted out by referee Octavio Meyran
The knockout victory by Douglas over Tyson, the previously undefeated “baddest man on the planet” and arguably the most feared boxer in professional boxing at that time, has been described as one of the most shocking upsets in modern sports history.
After the loss, Tyson recovered with first-round knockouts of Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart in his next two fights. Tyson’s victory over Tillman, the 1984 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist, enabled Tyson to avenge his amateur losses at Tillman’s hands. These bouts set up an elimination match for another shot at the undisputed world heavyweight championship, which Evander Holyfield had taken from Douglas in his first defense of the title.
Tyson, who was the number one contender, faced number two contender Donovan “Razor” Ruddock on March 18, 1991, in Las Vegas. Ruddock was seen as the most dangerous heavyweight around and was thought of as one of the hardest punching heavyweights. Tyson and Ruddock went back and forth for most of the fight, until referee Richard Steele controversially stopped the fight during the seventh round in favor of Tyson. This decision infuriated the fans in attendance, sparking a post-fight melee in the audience. The referee had to be escorted from the ring.
Tyson and Ruddock met again on June 28 that year, with Tyson knocking down Ruddock twice and winning a 12 round unanimous decision. A fight between Tyson and Holyfield for the undisputed championship was scheduled for November 8, 1991 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, but Tyson pulled out after sustaining a rib cartilage injury during training.