THE sport of boxing, and in particular its much maligned heavyweight division, received a tremendous boost when young American prodigy Mike Tyson stopped Jamaican-born champion Trevor Berbick in two rounds to win the WBC heavyweight title.
The crushing victory made Tyson, at 20 years and five months, the youngest man ever to claim the world heavyweight title but in the event that was secondary to the fact that the stocky New Yorker brought some much needed life back into a division that had been in danger of losing itself in a welt of confusion and tedium.
Admittedly, that confusion still exists in the form of their being three claimants to the heavyweight crown, something which knocked a lot of gloss off the much-hyped “record” of Tyson, the previous youngest ever heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson, at the age of 21 years 11 months in 1956, having been an undisputed ruler.
But on the evidence of Tyson’s performance against the experienced Berbick, boxing fans may not have to suffer it much longer.
For such was the awesome power Tyson displayed, as well as remarkable maturity and poise for a many who has been a professional for less than two years, that he has now cast a long shadow over the claims of his two rivals, IBF champion Michael Spinks and WBA titleholder Tim Witherspoon.
Spinks is considered by many to have the strongest claim to the heavyweight title as he won his version off the world’s rightful No. 1 Larry Holmes. But the way he struggled twice to outpoint a faded Holmes has done nothing to convince fans that he is really the world’s best.
Witherspoon, winner over our own Frank Bruno in July, can have won few supporters with his habit of coming in overweight for his title fights along with the sloppiness he has shown in them.
It is in such a context that the arrival in the big time of Tyson is being seen as such a breath of fresh air.
He is not arrogant or flash; he has a no-nonsense, business-like style which even extends to coming into the ring without the usual dressing-gown but an ordinary white towel draped across his shoulders instead.
It is perhaps this Spartan, uncompromising attitude that has won over the fans.
Compared to the others Tyson looks as though he really wants to be world champion.
He certainly showed Berbick no mercy in the short time their fight lasted.
Making light of his disadvantage in height and reach the stocky, heavily muscled Tyson (15st 11 1/4lbs) took the fight to the 32-year-old Berbick (15st 8 1/4lbs) from the off and never let up. The champion was never given the chance to get into a rhythm as Tyson stalked him menacingly with gloves held tightly in front of his face. The challenger landed the first significant punch of the fight, a left hook to the head, and then opened up with a flurry.
Berbick fought back and pushed Tyson off him, although the respite was to prove brief for the champion.
Tyson was loading up on his shots and a big overhand right got through, although Berbick took it well. Another right hand from Tyson landed and when they tied up in the centre of the ring, it was the champion who was the more relieved of the two.
When they broke up it was Tyson who scored first, landing a left hand and other punches before the two fell into a prolonged clinch.
Just when one feared it might be going to develop into a grueling maul, the fight exploded into thrilling action as Tyson got through with a succession of big rights to the head that dearly hurt Berbick.
The champion was wobbled badly twice by clubbing blows but managed to stay on his feet and survive until the bell.
But Tyson came out for the second determined not to let his man off the hook. He caught Berbick with a heavy right almost straight away and soon after another right sent the champion reeling across the ring like a drunken man unable to control his legs.
Berbick managed to steady himself for a few seconds as he tried to cover up against the challenger’s thumping blows before a short right from Tyson clipped him on the chin and sent him spinning to the floor.
He scrambled up very quickly at the count of about three without taking all the rest allowed by the mandatory eight count imposed by referee Mills Lane.
Berbick’s legs were clearly unsteady as he tried to survive by hanging on in close and nullifying Tyson’s big punches.
But any respite he gained was only temporary as the challenger was content to bide his time and wait for the chance to land another big punch.
Tyson landed another hard right to the head but Berbick took it and some more lefts and rights as the challenger dominated the action.
Then in-close Tyson connected with a left hook to Berbick’s head. It looked solid rather than sensational but it sent Berbick slumping to the canvas in delayed-action style.
The champion made a brave attempt to get up but his legs were completely gone and he stumbled and fell again. Eventually, he made it up at eight or nine but Mills Lane waved it over without further ado after two minutes 35 seconds of the round.
Berbick protested but he was unable to control his legs and would only have taken further punishment if it had continued.
It was a crushing display of total dominance from Tyson who had been expected by many to have a difficult time. What was impressive about his victory was that although he eventually achieved it through his tremendous punching power – “I was throwing hydrogen bombs out there,” he said afterwards – Tyson also showed great coolness in biding his time before letting the big shots go.
Although his blows were clubbing ones, he wasn’t just a crude slugger. His great power and aggression were channeled so well that he wasted few shots and caused great damage with the ones he did land.
The plan now is for Tyson to meet the winner of the December 12 Witherspoon-Tony Tubbs rematch for the WBA title on March 7. The winner of that match fights Spinks for the undisputed crown next May.
That is a month before Tyson’s 21st birthday.
But there is increasing speculation in America that Spinks, who was at ringside and not impressed with Tyson, may yet pull out and have a fight with Gerry Cooney.
And after what Tyson did to Berbick one can understand Spinks’ reluctance to meet him. Tyson may not have yet proved himself to be the best heavyweight in the world but that supreme consecration does not look far off.
Perhaps what is most significant of all is that whatever happens to Mike Tyson he looks certain to have endowed the depressingly dull heavyweight scene with the kind of excitement and vigour it needs.
ORIGINAL BOXING NEWS RINGSIDE REPORT FROM NOVEMBER 22, 1986