Most experts are in agreement when it comes to pointing out the absolute peak performance from Mike Tyson’s entire career: almost every person looks to the Michael Spinks fight from 30 years ago this month. And although it wasn’t much of a fight in the way of two way action or value for money, it was nonetheless a truly great night – one in which not a single fan grumbled about the swiftness of the action they had paid to see. We were witness to a lethal and destructive heavyweight boxer who was at his absolute best. He met the challenge of the man who at the time was considered as having at least a fair shot at beating him. Michael Spinks was an all-time great in his own right.
Actually, to say Tyson met his greatest challenge is to do a disservice to Spinks. At the time Spinks was proclaimed as the real heavyweight champ – not Tyson. In linear terms, Spinks’ claim to the throne was the more respected one. He had won THE title from Larry Holmes (forget the alphabet soup gangs) and as such, the fight with Tyson would produce an undisputed heavyweight ruler – hence the bout’s tagline of “Once And For All.”
The anticipation of the historic and fascinating fight was intense and when fight night finally came it was announced just how big a money fight Tyson versus Spinks was. Tyson, the undeniable big name and crowd puller of the two, would be paid a staggering amount of dollar bills – many millions of times over. While Spinks, though the real champ according to many opinions – not least Ring magazine’s – would get roughly half as much.
Spinks looked terrified during the introductions, not even appearing to want to part with his robe, while Tyson prowled the canvas with his usual caged animal impersonation. He could not wait to get at Spinks. We all know the story of Butch Lewis – Spinks’ main man – visiting the Tyson dressing room before the fight in the hopes of maybe unsettling the young fighter. What with all the turmoil going on in his (not too) private life at the time one can see why Butch tried to get an edge for his fighter. But the sight he was to be a spectator to – namely Mike Tyson punching holes in his dressing room wall – was not something he was expecting. He knew then that his plan of rattling “Iron” Mike was not going to produce anything productive to the chances of Michael Spinks, and he quickly departed.
The action at last got underway and Tyson came out blazing as was expected.
For his part, Spinks did throw punches back, but his shots had the look and effect of a pop gun compared to Mike’s howitzers. With the echo of the opening bell seemingly still ringing in their ears, the huge crowd was about to be treated to its first knockdown. With Spinks on the ropes Tyson landed a breathtaking body shot to his rival’s midsection and nearly folded him in half. Showing heart, Spinks beat the count and then nodded to referee Frank Cappuccino that he was okay and prepared himself as best he could for the inevitable follow-up attack that was coming his way. With blinding speed Mike tore a lethal right hand into Spinks’ skull and sent him crashing backwards to the canvas. Flattened on the ring apron, Spinks again attempted to rise, but could only get as far as to his knees, whereupon he collapsed back into, and then almost through, the ropes.
It was all over.
As we know, Tyson had only one way to go, and that was down. It was just three fights later when Tyson lost, never to reclaim all that he once had. Tyson’s terrifying prime was a short one, but it was terrifying. Some say, to this day, that if Tyson had not fallen apart, had not slowly but surely distanced himself from his original team of trainers and trusted team members, he would have gone on to become the finest heavyweight in history. Maybe.
How would greats such as Ali, Louis, Liston, Holmes, Frazier, Marciano, Lewis and others have coped with the fantastic blend of speed, power, ferociousness and brutality Michael Spinks faced three decades ago?