On June 27, 1988, heavyweight champion Mike Tyson knocks out challenger Michael Spinks 91 seconds into the first round. The decisive victory left the boxing world wondering if anyone could beat “Iron Mike” Tyson.
Mike Tyson was born on June 30, 1966, in Brooklyn, New York. He had a troubled childhood in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, an area known for its poverty and high crime. As a child he often skipped school, spending his time on Brownsville’s streets engaging in petty crimes. Tyson responded violently to his peers’ teasing about his high, lisping voice, which led to several stints in juvenile detention centers. He was eventually sent to a reform school near Catskill, New York, where he was discovered by legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato. D’Amato became a father figure to “Iron” Mike and a stabilizing force in his life: He took the young fighter into his home and dedicated himself to Tyson’s training. D’Amato helped Tyson to focus his aggression and develop the discipline to become a champion.
Tyson won his first 19 professional fights by knockout, 15 of those coming in the first round. It was during this run that D’Amato died, in November 1985, at the age of 77. D’Amato’s associate Kevin Rooney took over as Tyson’s trainer, and one year later, Tyson beat Trevor Berbick for the WBC heavyweight championship in his first title shot. On March 7, 1987, Mike Tyson defeated James “Bonecrusher” Smith to unify the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles. Already the youngest-ever heavyweight champion, Tyson became the youngest undisputed heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Over the course of the next year, Tyson defeated four other opponents to retain his title and, in 1988, knocked out Larry Holmes, the only knockout of Holmes’ 76 fights as a pro. After Holmes, Michael Spinks was considered the only boxer with a chance against Tyson. Spinks had won Olympic gold in 1976 as a middleweight, beat Mustafa Muhammad for the light heavyweight championship in 1981 and later became the undisputed light heavyweight champ with a 1983 victory over Dwight Braxton. By 1985, he was struggling to find light heavyweight challengers, so he moved up a class to fight heavyweight Larry Holmes. Spinks outmaneuvered the bigger but older Holmes on his way to a 15-round decision and the IBF heavyweight belt on September 21, 1985. In the rematch a year later, Spinks won again.
To beat Tyson, Michael Spinks knew he had to dodge and weave to avoid the young champ’s punishing blows. Tyson, meanwhile, planned to charge straight ahead and hurt his shifty challenger early. Tyson’s trainer, Kevin Rooney, said before the fight that he had bet his cut and Iron Mike’s purse on a first-round knockout. When the bell rang, Tyson charged forward, as expected. Spinks could not escape him, and he was battered by right hands until he decided to slug it out. After being hit with a right to the head, Spinks took a left hook to the jaw and was dropped to his knees. He took three counts from the referee, stood up, waited through the mandatory eight count and then was knocked unconscious by another left hook, this one followed by a right hand that landed Spinks flat on his back. Spinks was knocked out 91 seconds into the biggest payday and worst beating of his career.
The fight was the peak of Tyson’s dominance, the apex of a promising career that turned sour, then tragic and eventually almost comic. Michael Spinks never fought again.