Mike Tyson – From Boxing's Mauling Menace to a Lion in Winter


On November 22, 1986, when he was just 20 years old, Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history, a record he still holds. The bout against 32-year-old Trevor Berbick only took 5 minutes and 35 seconds. 

Tyson didn’t look like most other heavyweights. He was 5’11” and carried his 218 pounds on a solid, squat frame. But his “peekaboo” style of boxing (with his fists held up close around the sides of his face), along with his aggressiveness, quick footwork, and technique of bobbing and weaving around the ring, created an almost impenetrable wall against his opponents. His trainer once called his incredibly hard punches “pineapples.”

Tyson’s win changed the record books, putting him in the place that had been held by Floyd Patterson since 1956. That’s when the 21-year-old Patterson, the “Gentleman of Boxing,” described as being so cool he was “like ice in a glass,” beat 40-something Archie Moore. 

When the young Tyson walked into the ring that November night at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, he was already a champion. He had won every one of the 27 matches in his professional career.

However, Berbick wasn’t going to give in to the intimidation Tyson was trying to serve up. Instead of trying to bob and weave, out-flank, or out-strategize his much-younger opponent, Berbick simply stood there. He told the media later that he just wanted to show the fans he could take it. 

By the end of the first round, Berbick—a “mediocre” heavyweight, as many sports journalists have characterized him—was still standing after the relentless pummeling delivered by “Iron Mike.” But it was already apparent that the older boxer was out-classed and outmatched.

In the second round, Tyson kept up the relentless pounding, then used his right hand to drive Berbick down. Berbick managed to get back up, but Tyson’s mean left hook knocked him down once more. This time, it took him three tries to stagger to his feet. It was obvious Berbick wouldn’t be able to continue. The ref ended his agony at the 2:35 mark, and Tyson’s victory entered boxing history.

A troubled teen finds his calling

Mike Tyson was born Michael Gerald Tyson in Brooklyn in 1966. A bullied child, he became a troubled kid, got involved with gangs, and ended up in reform school by age 12. By his early teens, he’d already been arrested dozens of times. 

In reform school, he met a social worker who loved boxing and saw something special in the combative young man. He sent Tyson on to work with a highly respected trainer named Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, who also became his legal guardian and had previously worked with Floyd Patterson. While still an amateur, Tyson built up an impressive record of 24 wins against three losses. In 1985, at age 18, he turned pro.

After defeating Berbick for the World Boxing Council title, Tyson beat James Smith and Tony Tucker in 1987 to earn heavyweight belts from the World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation. In 1988 he knocked out Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs, and Michael Spinks to become lineal heavyweight champ, and his streak continued through 1989.

Over the 58 matches of his career, Tyson won 50, almost all with a KO. In 2011 the International Boxing Hall of Fame inducted him into its ranks.

Demons and loss

Tyson finally lost his title in a shocking upset to Buster Douglas on February 11, 1990, in the Tokyo Dome. Douglas scored a technical KO in round 9. 

After three years in prison, Tyson emerged back into the ring in 1996. He regained two of his titles, then fought two-time heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield. Tyson saw the second loss of his career as a pro fighter when Holyfield delivered a technical KO in the 11th round. Their rematch in June 1997 led to another instance of brutality from Tyson, who lost his boxing license after biting Holyfield’s ears. 

Relicensed, Tyson returned to the ring in 1999, dogged by more violence-fueled scandals. He was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment after he entered a plea of “no contest” to attacking two elderly men after a car accident. He injured a referee in 2000, had a win declared a no contest due to his positive test result for marijuana, and came under fire for hateful, bizarre comments directed at Lennox Lewis, the British champion, whom he also bit at a press conference. In 2002 Lewis knocked out Tyson in the eighth round. 

Tyson won the final game of his career in 2003, endured bankruptcy, and retired in 2005. 

The second act of “The Baddest Man on the Planet”

Fifteen years later, Tyson announced his return to the ring, going into a heavily promoted, lucrative exhibition match against Roy Jones, Jr. There was little drama, with both men—their combined age exceeding 100—not taking the fight as aggressively as they would have in their heyday. We saw a little of Tyson’s classic left hook as he seemed to wear Jones out. The judges in the eight-round match declared a draw.

At the close of 2021, promoters were hyping a February 2022 rematch between Tyson and Lewis that has yet to take place. But Tyson remains in the news. He started a podcast, HotBoxin’ with Mike Tyson, as well as a number of business ventures.

He made other headlines early in 2022 when he stopped an armed man threatening people in a Hollywood comedy club. As captured on viral video, this “Baddest Man on the Planet” kept a Buddha-like calm as he talked the agitated man down, preventing possible bloodshed, and embraced the would-be assailant afterward. 

Many fans see maturity in the older Tyson, who doesn’t often project the untamed menace of his youth.