Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday | “Iron” Mike Tyson vs. Tony “TNT” Tubbs

“If you thought that whale hunting was outlawed in Japan, you just saw Mike Tyson hadn’t heard about it.”

Larry Merchant, calling the action from the Korakuen Stadium, often called the Tokyo Dome, was sitting alongside Sugar Ray Leonard and Jim Lampley. Lampley was working his first Mike Tyson fight for HBO having recently replaced Barry Tompkins.

He didn’t have to work long. The year was 1988.

Nearly two full years before Tyson got himself knocked out in this very arena by one James “Buster” Douglas, he was preparing to check one more item off his bucket list before the long anticipated mega showdown with Michael Spinks slated for June.

HBO would broadcast the bout live, stateside, on a Sunday evening. In Tokyo, Japan, the fighters prepared to enter the ring around 10:00 am on a Monday morning.

The Japanese were visibly excited as they hosted their first Heavyweight championship fight since 1973 when George Foreman stopped Joe Roman inside of one round. Over 55,000 fans poured into the newly built Tokyo Dome, less than a week old, to see the undisputed Heavyweight champion defend his crown.

The undefeated Tyson (33-0, 29 KOs) was on a warpath after knocking out Tyrell Biggs in October then stopping former Heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in January. Co-managers Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton, alongside trainer Kevin Rooney, guided the 21-year-old champion to superstardom while Tyson simply demolished everything in his path.

Tonight’s opponent provided a different look for the young champion. Tubbs (25-1, 16 KOs) weighed in at a rather flabby 238 pounds. Not known for having a sculpted figure, Tubbs, the former WBA Heavyweight champion, was experienced, could box and had very good hand speed. He had not been stopped in his professional career.

When asked if Tubbs had a chance to dethrone the champion, Merchant quipped, “I’d like to say that he has a slim chance of winning, but that would be anatomically inaccurate. It’s a fat chance that he might win.”

While Tyson, who married actress Robin Givens in February, was ready, Tubbs, 30, had a falling out with trainer Richie Giachetti.

Days before the fight, the L.A. Times Earl Gustkey reported that Giachetti was no longer with the Tubbs camp. “Before I went with Tony, he called Larry (Holmes) for advice about me. Larry told him: ‘If you want a yes-man for your trainer, you don’t want Richie. But if you want someone who’ll kick you in the butt, motivate you and force you to get in shape, you want Richie.'”

Giachetti went on to say that he tried, but failed, to get Tubbs in shape. “I tried to kick him in the . . . , get him in shape, and Tony didn’t like that. It’s a shame.”

New trainer Odelle Hadley promised victory. “We want him carried out on a stretcher, with every bone in his body broken. We want him beat up so bad he’ll be cryin’ like a baby when they carry him out.”

So concerned that Tubbs would be ready, Jose Ribalta, whom Tyson defeated in 1986, was flown to Tokyo as an “insurance policy” should Tubbs not be ready.

As the morning of the fight approached, it was apparent that Tubbs was as ready as he was going to be. Tyson, on the other hand, was in tip-top shape at 216 pounds.

Michel Buffer introduced referee Arthur Mercante Sr. and then the fighters.

Scheduled for 12, Round 1 began. Tubbs’ 10-inch reach advantage became quickly apparent. Wearing white trunks with red trim, the challenger looked to extend his left jab and box Tyson.

Tyson, in his usual back trunks, bobbed from side to side and used his own left jab to try to get inside and into punching range. Halfway through the first round, Tyson began opening up and firing power punches to the head and to the body.

Undeterred, Tubbs continued to jab and fire quick combinations. After the first round, Merchant concluded, “I thought Tubbs fought a very effective round. I gave him the round.”

Indeed, the three judges at ringside scored the round 10-9, 9-10 and 10-10. Dead even after three minutes.

Tyson charged across the ring to begin Round 2 firing jabs and hooking to the body. Lampley liked the Tyson aggression, “Look at Tyson with the rapid fire three jabs in a row.”

Tubbs continued to remain fleet on his feet and was gliding from right to left. One minute into the round, Tyson backed up Tubbs and fired a right hook to the body followed by a right uppercut to the head.

Tubbs maneuvered nicely and fired a right uppercut. The crowd reacted as did Lampley, “Good uppercut inside, snapped Tyson’s head back a little!”

While the two wrestled at close quarters, Tyson fired a left hook to the body and a left hook to the head. Again Lampley wailed, “Good left by Tyson, Tubbs reels!”

Tubbs responded with a crisp combination that Tyson evaded by sliding from side to side. The champion then launched a right hook to the body immediately followed by a right uppercut to the head. The echo of the punches landing reverberated loudly around ringside.

With just under 30 seconds remaining in the round, Tubbs seemed to stumble, unsteady on his feet. While Rooney yelled from the corner for Tyson to get on his man, Leonard commented, “I couldn’t tell whether or not that punch hurt Tubbs.”

Tyson Tubbs Hall of Fame Pic
Photo courtesy of the Boxing Hall of Fame

On cue, Tyson fired a sizzling left hook that impaled high on Tubbs temple. As he staggered backward, Lampley exclaimed, “Tubbs is hurt! Tubbs is hurt badly! It was a left hook!”

A swinging Tyson followed Tubbs as he crashed to the canvas. Cut badly over his right eye, as a pool of blood swelled beside him. As Hadley jumped in the ring to save his fighter, Mercante waived his hands to signify the bout was over.

At 2:54 of Round 2, Tyson had defended his undisputed crown by ending the bout with spectacular quickness and power.

Tubbs would take better than a year off and return to the ring in 1989. His career would last into the millennium, fighting for the last time in 2006.

Three months after bombing Tubbs, Tyson went on to blow out Spinks in just 91 seconds. As we all know, he returned to Tokyo in February of 1990. Without any of his original team from 1988, he would leave the boxing world turned upside down while frantically hunting for his mouthpiece.

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