“THE fight with Tyson in 1996 was the most satisfying night of my career because everything I had ever done was built up to that moment. Whatever I achieved it was always being compared to Mike Tyson. It was always, “well you can’t beat Tyson” I think there is one person in everyone’s life who you have to face to pass the test. And Mike Tyson was the guy who everyone put before me, “you beat Buster Douglas but you can’t beat Mike Tyson.” But I was able to do that and it kind of got the monkey off my back.
“So when I beat him it gave me a lot of peace.
“We were in camp for about six or seven weeks. I was specific about being fast so we worked on speed in training. The thing is with Mike is that he’ll try and jump on you and hit you with the big shots right from the start. So we practised for everything he may do; he fights in spurts, so we practised in high energy spurts. That is how Mike fought, he would come out crazy, then he would slow down for a while, then he’d come in crazy again. We concentrated everything we did on how Tyson fights. We used short powerful sparring partners with that in mind – Jerry Bell and David Tua.
“Realistically, Mike was the guy who I expected to go to the Olympics with in 1984. We trained together and all that. I had pretty much seen all his fights since then. Ultimately, the two best guys have to fight each other; I know what the game of boxing is and it is fortunate to have somebody as good as you in your division because that is where you make money. You don’t make a lot of money just by beating everybody and I was fortunate enough to have about six or seven people in my division that were very capable fighters.
“I realised that a person like Tyson was like a bully, and all my life, me and bullies just didn’t get along get well. I realise that they can only take from people who they feel they can take advantage of. I’m not taking anything away from his ability, but I realised that I could take his shots, but could he take mine? But bullies don’t like people to fight back, they just like people to get out of the way.
“If you notice in that fight, I am the one who engaged, I made it happen because if you give any sign that you’re caving into him or take a step back, he gets stronger so I realised I wasn’t going to do that.
“He didn’t hurt me. I’m not saying he didn’t hit hard, he did, but I’m not going to say he hit harder than anyone else. I’ve been hit hard by a lot of people and of course, the best thing is not to get hit. The art is not to see how hard he hits, but to see how he reacts when I hit him. Every time he did connect with a punch, I wanted to make sure I got in the last punch. It is important to get in the last punch because it is the last punch that you remember. So in every round, I made sure I landed the last punch so he can think about how hard it was.
“He changed his attitude. Tyson gave off those signs of distress when he kept complaining to the referee. He twisted my arm, so I twisted his arm back and he complains to the referee. Hey, he twisted my arm first! You have to fight fire with fire; you can’t just say ‘okay’ and let it happen. He headbutted me on purpose a couple of times – I didn’t tell the referee. He would push off and put his elbow in my face so I did the same thing back. Whatever he did to me, I did it right back. Shoot, if you want to play that way then we can do it that way. I didn’t try to do it sneaky, if you do it to me, I’ll do it right back. I wasn’t going to involve the referee because to me, it didn’t matter. Mike looked at me and I looked at Mike, I made it clear that whatever he did, however he played, I would do it all night.
“I dropped him in the sixth round with a body shot and to the top of the chest. I realised that a race is not won until you cross that line. I remember when John Tate fought Mike Weaver and he got hit with an uppercut. Tate had won that fight but he got caught in the last round and fell flat on his face. With that in mind, I knew the fight wasn’t over until it’s over. Realistically I knew that Tyson was a man that had to be respected because every time he threw, he was trying to knock you out.
“By the 10th I knew that he was done. I was surprised that he came out for the 11th round because he was still so dazed. I started jabbing because I knew that I didn’t have to get in close because he would be swinging hard, I could stay outside. I wanted him to reach for me with the jab, which he did. He put the jab out and all of a sudden I hit him with the right hand and he went staggering sideways. I knew that was it. Even if I had to keep throwing hard shots for the rest of the round that is what I was going to do.
“After I had won I thought ‘okay, I did it. Everyone said I couldn’t do it.’ Maybe it didn’t happen in 1991, but it happened in 1996. Out of all my victories at heavyweight, that was the most exciting one to me.”