Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday | Mike Tyson vs. Frank Bruno

As a new year rolled in and the world approached the end of a decade, the news media and sports world were abuzz with a myriad of different stories.

On January 2, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish secured their 11th College Football National Championship by dominating West Virginia 34-21.

George H.W. Bush, the first sitting Vice President to be elected to the Oval Office since Martin Van Buren in 1836, was inaugurated as the 41st President of the United States on January 20.

Just three days later, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII. The 49ers cemented themselves at the team of the 80’s with their third Super Bowl title.

The year was 1989.

The reigning Heavyweight champion of the world, “Iron” Mike Tyson (35-0, 31 KOs), was preparing to defend his titles against No. 1 ranked Frank Bruno (32-2, 30 KOs) of London, England. At stake was Tyson’s undisputed Heavyweight crown.

At 22, Tyson fought out of Catskill, New York. As champion, he was the most feared fighter on the planet and was being compared to the likes of Joe Louis, Sonny Liston and George Foreman.

Tyson’s last action in the ring was on June 28 in Atlantic City when he issued a horrific beat down of Michael Spinks in just 91 seconds. He was now preparing to come off the longest layoff of his career, nearly eight months.

The Tyson-Bruno bout, scheduled for February 25 in Las Vegas, had a long history behind it prior to the fighters even having stepped into the ring.

Originally planned to take place at Wembley Stadium on October 8, 1988, the bout was pushed back to October 22 after Tyson wound up in a street fight and broke his right hand on former opponent Mitch “Blood” Green’s face. Green was the worse for wear as his face looked like hamburger meat and received five stitches above his nose.

The two had met early in 1986 during Tyson’s meteoric rise. “Blood” was no stranger to street confrontations as he purportedly once led a gang with over 100 members. With that in mind, Larry Merchant noted in that one-sided loss to Tyson, “Right now, he needs some them.”

After the postponement and rescheduling, additional events began to unfold again requiring the Bruno v.s Tyson fight to be pushed back. Tyson was involved in a car accident that left him unconscious. Then, just a few weeks later, his wife, Robin Givens, filed for divorce.

His life had become a firestorm of drama and front page headlines.

After the accident, the fight was rescheduled yet again to January 14, 1989. More issues arose as there was a managerial and promotional war being waged between Tyson’s longtime manager Bill Cayton and Don King.

As Cayton and King fought for control of Tyson’s future, many fans and writers were keenly interested in how Tyson would perform and prepare under ominous circumstances.

Tyson would fight, for the first time in his professional career, without longtime trainer and Cus D’Amato disciple, Kevin Rooney.

Rooney had been fired by Tyson and replaced by Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright.

Finally, the bout was scheduled for February 25 at the Las Vegas Hilton. Referring to the history and countries of each fighter, promotional posters exclaimed, “Last Time It Was A Revolution, This Time It’s War!”

February 25 was a memorable date in boxing history. That night 25 years before, a young and brash Cassius Clay thoroughly whipped Sonny Liston to win the Heavyweight title at a time when many saw Liston as invincible.

Could Bruno cash in on Tyson’s distractions and pull off the improbable upset on the Clay-Liston anniversary?

Bruno, 28, was England’s favorite son. Beloved by his countrymen and coming off quite a long layoff himself, he hadn’t fought in 488 days.

Aside from having an entire country in his corner, Bruno would also enjoy several thousand fans rooting for him as supporters jumped the pond to stand by their man.

In his only two losses, Bruno had come up short against former champions James Smith and Tim Witherspoon. He was big, strong and fiercely determined to win the titles.

Broadcast live on HBO, Merchant, Jim Lampley and Sugar Ray Leonard sat ringside to call the night’s action.

Just hours prior to the bout, the two engaged in a long stare down at the weigh in. Both men looked to be in sensational shape as Tyson arrived at 218 pounds and Bruno at 228.

Bruno exited his dressing room first. Draped in a long red robe and wearing red trunks, Bruno stood 6’3” tall. He was greeted with a roar as supporters waived the Union Jack and made their presence heard.

The champion entered next. At just over 5’11”, Tyson arrived in his trademark fashion, no socks, no robe and donned in black trunks with black shoes. He ripped the towel with hole in the middle from around his neck as he strode towards Bruno.

After ring announcer Chuck Hull introduced the fighters, referee Richard Steele provided instructions at mid ring. The height discrepancy was instantly apparent as Tyson stared up at the chiseled Bruno.

The crowd was electric as Bruno was finally getting his chance and Tyson was finally back in the ring.

The bell sounded and Tyson charged from his corner, immediately attacking Bruno. The champion unloaded thundering right and left hooks that backed Bruno into a corner. The crowd was already on its feet as Lampley screamed over them, “Bruno down after a right hand!”

Seconds into the fight, a shocked Bruno took the standing eight count from Steele. Tyson wasted no time and again jumped all over his foe. It was already apparent that Bruno was simply trying to survive the early assault and was holding on for dear life.

After again breaking the fighters from a clinch, Steele penalized Bruno one point for holding.

With less than a minute to go in the round, a wobbled Bruno reared back and hammered Tyson coming in with a short, crisp, lethal left hook.

Tyson stopped dead in his tracks. His legs buckled as he stumbled forward into Bruno.

A stunned Lampley’s voice rose, “Now Bruno lands a short left inside! And Tyson wobbled for a second! And now, another left hand from Bruno! The crowd here stunned by the early fury of this action!”

The bell sounded to end the round and both fighters paused to stare at each other. An exuberant Merchant proclaimed, “One man down! Another man wobbled! I’ll take it!”

The second round saw Tyson again attacking the taller Bruno, trying desperately to get inside of the 11-inch reach advantage that the challenger possessed.

With just under 30 seconds to go in the round, Tyson stepped forward and launched a thunderous overhand right. As the sound of the punch reverberated through the Hilton, Lampley shouted, “Right hand by Tyson landed flush in the jaw! Bruno in trouble again!”

The challenger reeled backward against the ropes before the bell sounded to end Round 2, temporarily halting the assault. Tyson’s corner pleaded with him to continue to attack and work inside while Bruno’s corner was now trying to stop the flow of blood from his nose.

Bruno fought valiantly in Rounds 3 and 4, unwavering in his desire to keep Tyson at bay with his long left jab. As he slowly moved backward and pumped the jab, Tyson continued to march forward and close the distance. His knees bent and hands held high in a peek-a-boo style of defense, the champion bobbed and weaved while trying to work his way in.

After the third round, Lampley praised Bruno for his determination as he could have easily been done after being floored in the first 15 seconds of the fight. Merchant agreed, “If he makes it through another couple of rounds they’ll give him Scotland!”

Round 5 began with Tyson’s corner hollering, “Mean intentions!”

Early in the fifth, Tyson began backing Bruno into the ropes. With just over a minute remaining in the round, Tyson landed a devastating left hook to Bruno’s jaw. Again the sound of the punch echoed around ringside.

The challenger’s body crumbled and Bruno instantly went into full retreat.

Sensing that Bruno was indeed badly hurt, Tyson went in for the kill.

Now bleeding from his nose and mouth, Bruno tried to hold and survive to no avail. Lampley screamed, “Uppercut, uppercut, right hand! Bruno’s in serious trouble! Only guts keeping Bruno up at this moment!”

As the seconds ticked down, Tyson went for the coup de grace.

No longer able to hold on, Bruno leaned back against the ropes with his hands held high feverishly trying to protect himself. Tyson fired a right hook to the body and a right uppercut to the head. Bruno’s head rolled back as the blood streamed down his face.

Incredibly, Bruno was still standing as Tyson landed another ferocious right uppercut followed by a sizzling left hook to Bruno’s jaw. As screams flowed through the crowd, Lampley pronounced, “This is vicious punishment. And Richard Steele has seen enough!”

While Bruno’s corner was waiving the white towel, Steele had already decided to stop the bout at 2:55 of the fifth round. Tyson remained the “baddest man on the planet” and retained his undisputed stranglehold on the division.

Tyson immediately sought out the bloody Bruno, hugging him and kissing him on the cheek. A game Bruno smiled and winked at the champion, a sign that both men had earned one another’s respect.

The two would meet again seven years later. The roles would be flipped as Tyson would come in as the challenger and Bruno as the champion.

The outcome, however, was much like the first. The bout again ended in brutal fashion as Tyson stopped Bruno in three.

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