Heavyweight rivals in the late 1980s and the mid-1990s, Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno have always had something of a cordial relationship. The two men who fought twice, in 1989 and again in 1996, first met at Cus D’Amato’s gym in the Catskills, when Tyson was just 15 years of age.
Tonight on Sky Sports, a documentary focusing on the rivalry Tyson and Bruno had will run and it could prove to be interesting viewing. No, neither Tyson-Bruno fight was what could ever be described as a classic bout, but they were both a big deal all the same.
In fact, when Tyson defended his undisputed heavyweight crown against the British hero and genuine superstar, it was a massive event for all of Britain.
Everyone, from hardcore fight fans to the man on the street who cared noting for the sport of boxing, was talking about the February, 1989 fight.
Bruno, who had been made to wait and wait for his shot at Tyson, the fight being postponed no less than five times, was a huge underdog.
Bruno didn’t score the upset win (James “Buster” Douglas, an even bigger betting underdog than Bruno shocked the world a year later), but the British giant caused something of a sensation when he rocked Tyson in the opening round.
For just a brief moment, Tyson’s legs dipped and British boxing fans – and respected commentator, Harry Carpenter – went wild. “Get in there, Frank!” Carpenter, a well known admirer and good friend of Bruno’s, bellowed into his ringside microphone in Las Vegas.
Tyson recovered and he went on to stop a brave Bruno in round five. Still, there were now signs that Tyson could possibly be taken. I can recall the screaming headline on the cover of the March ’89 edition of the hugely enjoyable ‘KO Magazine’ – “The Bruno Fight Reveals: Mike Tyson CAN Be Beaten!”
The sight of Tyson being so badly shaken was such a big deal at the time, and plenty of British fans who got carried away stated how Bruno was “one punch away from winning.”
Some British fans still make this claim; the left hook/right hand combo thrown by Bruno and its effects on Tyson having gone down in British boxing folklore.
It was a brief shining moment for Bruno but that’s all it was. As we saw in the Douglas fight, it took a lot more than just two good shots to put Tyson away. Nevertheless, in the documentary that will go out tonight, Tyson does say the shots Bruno tagged him with were good shots. Tyson even says he “saw white lights” when Bruno landed his big blows.
“I went out in the first round to knock him out, trying to catch him with solid shots. He was taking them,” Tyson says of Bruno. “He came back with a couple of shots.
As a matter of fact, he staggered me with a good shot in the first round. It was like electric. I saw white lights. You don’t know if you’re down or not. He was at his best, at that time. He was a tough fight for me.”
The rematch came under hugely different circumstances. By March of 1996, it was Bruno who was champion (WBC), having beaten Oliver McCall for the strap with Tyson away in prison at the time.
Against the comebacking Tyson, Bruno made his first defence of the title he had worked so hard to win (finally doing so at the fourth attempt).
But while Bruno showed no fear in the first fight, he was a nervous wreck going into the rematch. Who can forget the number of times Bruno crossed himself as he made his way to the ring (looking like a man on the way to the gallows, according to one writer of the day)?
Tyson smashed Bruno inside three easy rounds. Still, the two have a bond to this day, and the documentary should prove interesting viewing. Especially the early stuff the two heavyweights talk about. Bruno was there when D’Amato was reaching the teenage Tyson with his words of wisdom.
“I remember when you were 15 in the Castkill and we sparred together. I watched you grow up,” Bruno said to Tyson. “When Cus is talking he was like a pastor, as well as being a no-nonsense man.”
What more revelations will there be in the documentary?