March 18, 1991 was a night that many boxing fans remember simply as, “Desert Storm.”
It was a cold Monday night in the desert and “Iron” Mike Tyson and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock were about to embark on festivities that would soon heat up the outdoor arena at The Mirage in Las Vegas.
At 24, Tyson (39-1, 35 KOs), the former undisputed Heavyweight champion, was about to enter the ring in the third fight of his comeback after losing his titles to James “Buster” Douglas. He had made quick work in blasting out Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart, both first round knockouts.
On this night, Tyson, ranked as the No. 1 challenger by all three governing bodies, would square off against the No. 2 ranked challenger in what was seen as a world Heavyweight elimination bout.
The former Canadian Champion, Ruddock (25-1-1, 18 KOs) was confident. The 24 year old was on a 10-fight knockout streak. He had created quite a buzz in the boxing world by impressively hammering former champions and contenders like Michael Dokes and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. He had brutally knocked out both and left Dokes on the canvas unconscious for several minutes.
The man known as “Razor” looked to use his size and power to subdue Tyson. At six foot, three inches tall, he owned an 11 inch reach advantage over Tyson. Ruddock demonstrated his confidence by proclaiming, “He’s been knocked out before, by a lesser opponent, and he’s going to sleep again.”
Part of Ruddock’s confidence stemmed from an event that didn’t happen. He was scheduled to fight Tyson in November of 1989 while Tyson was still the undisputed king. The fight, to be held in Edmonton, was initially postponed then later cancelled altogether as the Tyson camp described him as sick with a “pneumonia-like illness.”
Ruddock and his camp believed Tyson was ducking him, thinking he would be an easy opponent. As Ruddock later recounted, “He found out I was a serious dude.”
Pre-fight gossip about Tyson not wanting to fight Ruddock seemed to get under the skin of the former champion. When asked, a surly Tyson responded, “March 18, Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock, Razor Ruddock dies. If he doesn’t die it doesn’t count. If he’s not dead, it doesn’t count.”
The press tour had seen its share of trash talking coupled with some pushing and shoving. The question now was would we see our share of action in the ring.
The night of the fight, a chilly March air consumed Vegas as fans packed The Mirage. Many in the boxing universe saw this as a real test for Tyson. It was No. 1 versus No. 2. The sold out Mirage saw celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Eddie Murphy and Kevin Costner make their way to their seats.
The fight was broadcast live via Showtime pay-per-view and closed-circuit television. Steve Albert and “The Fight Doctor” Ferdie Pacheco were ringside to call the action.
Ruddock exited his dressing room first and made the long walk to the ring. Wearing a white robe trimmed in red and gold, he was accompanied by a large entourage of trainers, friends, family and bodyguards.
Tyson didn’t make Ruddock wait as he exited his dressing room immediately after Ruddock entered the ring. In a first, trying to keep warm, Tyson wore a robe with matching pants and a stocking cap. He too was surrounded by a large entourage including new trainer Richie Giachetti as he walked towards the waiting Ruddock.
Once “Iron Mike” entered the ring, the warm clothes were shed as he donned his trademark black trunks and shoes. He wore a towel around his neck and shoulders.
Jimmy Lennon Jr. first introduced the referee, Richard Steele. The Ruddock camp was unhappy with Steele being chosen. Based on his stoppage of the Meldrick Taylor vs. Julio Caesar Chavez fight one year earlier, they believed he may stop the fight too quickly if Ruddock got into trouble.
Nevertheless, Steele was viewed by many as one of the best referees in the sport and was indeed the third man in the ring.
Lennon then presented the fighters. Tyson was a trim and ready 217 pounds. He looked like he could go through a wall as he paced back and forth. Ruddock, also in superb shape, tipped the scales at 228 pounds. He looked like a building towering over the five foot, eleven inch Tyson.
The crowd was electric while the two stood face-to-face as Steele provided instructions.
A wave of sound erupted from those in attendance as the bell rang to begin Round 1. Both men charged to meet each other in the center of the ring. Tyson, bouncing on his toes, fired a powerful right hand that Ruddock rolled with and backed away from. Taking a step back, Ruddock unloaded a wild left uppercut that missed badly. Both men were looking to impose their will, and their power, on the other.
Tyson attacked Ruddock, moving forward and throwing haymakers. Ruddock appeared at ease moving backward and seemed comfortable trading heavy artillery with Tyson.
The bell sounded to end the first yet the action continued. As Albert described, “Both men after the bell! The bad blood carries over!”
As Round 2 unfolded, it didn’t take long for the night’s first questionable call to arise from Steele. As both men stood trading at close quarters, Tyson leapt in with a left hook that sent Ruddock to the canvas. He jumped up indicating it was a slip. Steele gave the standing eight-count and ruled a knockdown.
A left hook from Tyson did land high on the shoulder of Ruddock. The replay showed that both fighters feet became tangled as Ruddock went down.
As Pacheco explained between rounds, “There was a punch, and he tripped over Tyson’s foot it looked like. But still if there’s a punch and he falls… that’s hard, that’s really hard to call.”
The third began with Tyson again on the attack firing away at both Ruddock’s head and body. Ruddock moved in reverse and was throwing strong counter punches trying to catch Tyson on the way in.
With 10 seconds to go in the third both men again stood toe-to-toe and traded bombs. Tyson landed his lethal left hook sending Ruddock to the canvas for a second time.
There was no question about this knockdown. Ruddock sat up, smiling, and rose to his feet to take the standing eight-count from Steele. With just three rounds in the books, it was conceivable that Tyson was up 30-25 on the judges’ scorecards.
As the bell sounded to begin Round 4, Tyson relentlessly pursued Ruddock. Ruddock had no jab to speak of and Tyson continued to work inside. Mid-way thru the round, Tyson unloaded a vicious left hook to Ruddock’s ribs. As Pacheco moaned, he described the crowd reaction, “The crowd groans. That body shot sounded like he lit a drum.”
The round came to a close with both men again exchanging shots after the bell.
Tyson continued pounding away at Ruddock through the fifth and into the sixth round. Then, out of nowhere, lightning struck. With just under half a minute remaining in the sixth, Ruddock caught Tyson flush with a blistering left hook.
Tyson stopped dead in his tracks. He was now on defense as Ruddock attacked. Albert screamed over the thunderous applause of the crowd, “Here comes Razor Ruddock out of nowhere! Combinations by Ruddock. An uppercut by Ruddock! Now a right by Ruddock!”
Tyson grinned, tapping his glove to his chin as if to signify he could take whatever Ruddock could dish out. At that moment Ruddock obliged Tyson and launched another right hand snapping Tyson’s head back. Tyson dug his toes into the canvas and let a four punch combination fly. Ruddock then pushed Tyson back into the ropes as the bell sounded.
The crowd was on its feet. Tyson had all but dominated the first five and a half rounds. Ruddock had connected and turned the tide, winning his first round of the fight.
Albert called the action as the bell sounded, “Coming off an electrifying round, we head into number seven.”
Ruddock appeared to be winded as he didn’t offer much offense in the early going. Again, Tyson carried the action as Ruddock tied up the former champion at close quarters.
With one minute to go in the round, Tyson hammered Ruddock with a devastating overhand right. Ruddock was shaken as Pacheco sensed he was in real danger. “He wavered in the breeze just then. If Tyson applies the pressure he’s got him where he wants him!”
Albert then shouted over the raucous audience as Tyson unloaded a crippling combination snapping the dazed Ruddock’s head back and driving him into the ropes. “Oh! The left, now the right. Steele steps in! Is it over? It’s over! Mike Tyson has defeated Razor Ruddock in the seventh round!”
A stunned Ruddock, seemingly coherent, looked directly at Steele and asked, “What?”
Each fighters corner poured into the ring as Tyson embraced Ruddock. As the fighters hugged, a scuffle broke out between Ruddock’s brother and Giachetti . Both men then crashed to the mat. Murad Muhammad, Ruddock’s promoter, then began kicking Giachetti as he lay on the canvas.
As the fist-a-cuffs escalated, Pacheco immediately identified trouble. “There’s going to be an awful ugly scene here. Big, big riot going on. Security coming in!”
Albert screeched, “There’s a brawl in the ring!”
Security at The Mirage, wearing green jackets, stormed the ring in an effort to regain control. After the action calmed, Steele was led by security out of the ring and to the dressing room. He was booed as some fans tossed trash as he exited.
Both Tyson and Ruddock showed mutual respect for each other after the fight. Tyson declared, “Rematch for Razor Ruddock.”
Ruddock admitted after the fight, “I like Mike Tyson now. He proved a lot to me tonight.”
After all was said and done, Ruddock was still alive. We would soon witness an immediate rematch just three months later where the winner looked to get a crack at Evander Holyfield.
The rematch was both longer and more brutal than the first installment.