AFTER a 16-month hiatus from the sport, Frank Bruno chose to jump in at the deep end when he returned on February 25, 1989 by challenging a then-undefeated and imperious Mike Tyson for his WBC, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles at The Hilton in Las Vegas. A purse of £3.75m may have had something to do with that decision.
HIS last fight had come in 1987, an eighth-round stoppage of an ageing Joe Bugner, and while his supporters felt his 32-2 (31) record proved he was capable of upsetting the odds, his standing as mandatory challenger became questionable under closer inspection.
AS Harry Mullan put it in his preview of the fight for Boxing News, “He [Bruno] has been one of the most protected contenders in history, and at least 20 of his victims could not have shifted the odds in their favour had they entered the ring in a Sherman tank.”
TYSON, on the other hand, had beaten seven former or current world champions, including the likes of Larry Holmes, Tony Tucker and Michael Spinks, whose undefeated record Tyson shattered in one round.
IT should be noted that Bruno’s lay-off was partly down to Tyson, whose troubles out of the ring, from injuries to a defamation lawsuit from his estranged wife, meant the original date for the fight of October 8 1988 was pushed back several times.
DESPITE his daunting physical presence, Bruno’s limited stamina had let him down in the past, most notably in his 10th round stoppage loss to James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith in 1984. His best chance of beating Tyson appeared to be in hurting the champion, who had been rocked in previous fights by the aforementioned Smith and Tucker, early in the contest.
IN the late stages of an electrifying first round, which had already seen Bruno hit the canvas, a monumental upset looked gut-wrenchingly close as the Brit stunned the champion with a left hook. “It was harder than the punch (a right uppercut) that (Tony) Tucker got me with,” he said, referring to a punch Tucker landed in 1987, when Tyson unified the heavyweight championship
THOSE fleeting seconds were to be Bruno’s only moment of success in the fight, as Tyson found his composure after momentarily losing control of his legs, before swarming Bruno with another assault, which even included an elbow to the face before the bell ended the round.
HAVING spent eight months out of the ring himself, Tyson showed signs of rust as he needed three rounds to hone his timing and begin to put together more clinical combinations on the overmatched Bruno. Early in the fourth, a huge right hand had Bruno teetering, prompting an almost sickening display of punching power and variety from Tyson during the rest of the round, which Bruno somehow survived.
THE fifth continued in the same vein, with Bruno pulling Tyson into clinches at every opportunity. A left hook to the body spelled the beginning of the end, as it sent Bruno back on to the ropes while his manager, Terry Lawless, climbed on to the ring apron to pull his fighter out. Tyson was able to land several full-blooded uppercuts and hooks before referee Richard Steele stepped in and waved the finish, granting Tyson his 36th victory and 32nd stoppage.