Standing in his locker room just moments before walking towards the ring, the Heavyweight champion whispered to his trainer, Kevin Rooney, “I’m gonna hurt this guy.”
It’s almost impossible to believe that it’s been 28 years.
On June 27, 1988, “Iron” Mike Tyson stepped into the ring to defend his unified crown again Michael Spinks. Spinks, like Tyson, was well respected and undefeated. Universally ranked as the No. 1 contender, Spinks had a claim to throne in his own right.
HBO had put together a Heavyweight unification series that included fighters like Tyson, Spinks, Trevor Berbick, Tony Tucker, and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. The goal was to clean up the division and arrive at one, unified champion.
Larry Holmes, the recognized champion and the man who had beaten Ken Norton to win the title, lost his IBF Heavyweight strap to Spinks in September of 1985. After winning the rematch, Spinks cemented his place as the new kingpin of the division.
While the top tier of the division was being settled in the newly formed tournament, Tyson was making noise and rapidly rising. He entered the unification series in September of 1986. After making quick work of Alfonso Ratliff, Tyson was on a collision course with Berbick, the WBC champion.
Tyson knocked out Berbick in November of 1986 and then won a unanimous decision in March of 1987 over Bonecrusher Smith, earning the WBA title in the process. He had arrived at the top of the mountain alongside Spinks.
Meanwhile, as is often the case, the politics and gamesmanship of boxing took over. Spinks was stripped of his IBF crown in February 1987 for refusing to fight Tony Tucker. Later that year, Tucker stopped James “Buster” Douglas to win the vacated IBF crown.
Talk of a Tyson-Spinks match then began to heat up. Many still viewed Spinks as the “real” champion having beaten Holmes and maintaining an undefeated record. While the negotiations continued, Tyson kept fighting, and winning, beating Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Holmes and Tony Tubbs.
Finally, the camps reached an agreement and the bout, billed as “Once And For All” was a done deal. Atlantic City’s Convention Center would play host as two undefeated men, both with claims to the Heavyweight championship, would square off.
Tyson (34-0, 30 KOs) was just 21 years old. Despite his youth, his aura and power earned him a 4-1 betting favorite.
The 31-year-old Spinks (31-0, 21 KOs) owned a three-inch height advantage over Tyson. His awkward style, lateral movement, and ability to punch with both hands in rapid fire combinations had given opponents fits in the ring.
The bout aired live around the globe on closed-circuit television. Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Sugar Ray Leonard were ringside to call the live action.
A long delay ensued prior to the fighters walking into the ring. Spinks’ promotor, Butch Lewis, was not happy with the way Tyson’s hands were taped. An agreement was reached while Tyson boiled in his dressing room.
Spinks entered first with Tyson wasting little time joining him. Ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced referee Frank Cappuccino and then the fighters.
Tyson attacked Spinks at the opening bell, driving him backwards and into the ropes. Spinks, wearing his traditional white trunks with black trim, tried to bounce and move. With his hands held high, he looked to evade the enormous amount of pressure being applied by Tyson.
Spinks was soon forced to step forward and punch back, a tactic trainer Eddie Futch had warned Spinks against doing. He had little choice while being smothered by the young champion who gave him no room to breathe.
Tyson, garbed in his recognizable black trunks, let Spinks know early on he was in against an entirely different foe. Less than a minute into the fight, he launched a vicious left elbow to the jaw of Spinks while the two stood in a clinch.
Cappuccino, a great referee who knew his business well and his role even better, separated the fighters and pointed to Tyson, “Hey Mike! Knock it off man, knock it off!”
The action then continued with Tyson still applying relentless pressure. Seconds later, Tyson belted Spinks with a solid right hand, forcing him backward. While trying to cover up and protect as much of his head and body as possible, the crowd rose and roared as they sensed Spinks might be in trouble.
Tyson again pressed Spinks against the ropes and landed a picture perfect, twisting left uppercut that snapped Spinks head and jaw sideways.
Lampley spoke quickly to keep up with the assault, “Tyson along the ropes doing damage. Uppercut landed inside and Spinks went down! It was the left uppercut.”
Merchant quickly added, “And that is the first time Michael Spinks has ever been down in a professional fight.”
Just as quickly as Spinks rose from one knee and took Cappuccino’s standing eight count, he was back on the canvas. Spinks had walked directly towards an onrushing Tyson and fired a wild right hand. Tyson turned his head just enough to avoid the punch and launched a devastating right uppercut that separated Spinks from the conscious world.
Lampley wailed, “And he’s down again and in serious trouble! A right hand right on the chin!”
As Spinks lay looking upward, he tried to roll to his side and rise to his feet. Cappuccino reached the count of nine as Spinks’ efforts had failed, his body short-circuited from his brain, falling forward into the ropes.
At just 1:31 of Round 1, a total of 91 seconds, Tyson had steamrolled a man many believed was the true Heavyweight champion. Tyson walked the ring, hands extended to his sides, palms facing upward, as Rooney rushed into the ring to embrace the victorious Heavyweight king.
This was Spinks’ last professional bout. He soon retired from the sport and retreated from the public spotlight. Tyson, on the other hand, had solidified his standing as the undisputed champion and the main man in the sport.
June 27 is often recognized as the peak of Tyson’s career. After crushing Spinks, who would have ever believed that Tyson had just 20 months remaining on his dominance of the division?
Moments after his victory, Tyson was being compared to Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey while others wondered out loud how long it would take to eclipse Rocky Marciano’s perfect 49-0 record.
On that memorable night in June, however, many ranked him as one of the best, if not the best, of all time. His performance was one for the ages. Beating Tyson on this night may not have been possible.
Rockhurst University Alumni. Completing Masters Degree at SNHU. Devout boxing junkie. Workout-a-holic. Fight film collector. Dad & Hubby.