THEY are the most famous 91-seconds in all of boxing, and they took place on this day, a Monday, in June of 1988. 31 years ago this very day, a peak and seemingly unbeatable Mike Tyson took on the man that, in the opinion of a handful of good judges, was the only fighter left who was capable of testing him; maybe even beating him.
Dubbed “Once and For All,” the fight took place at the glitzy hotel owned by a certain Donald Trump, The Trump Plaza. Everyone who was anyone was there – Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Sylvester Stallone and Madonna to name just a handful of the celebrities in attendance – and the fight was the biggest money-spinner in the sport’s history at the time. Unfortunately, anyone who was expecting a great fight was to be disappointed.
The two unbeaten fighters, both of whom had a legitimate claim to the heavyweight throne – Tyson having captured the WBC/WBA and IBF belts, Spinks having won the lineal title with his 1985 upset of Larry Holmes – at last faced one another. Tyson, aged just 21 (he would turn 22 three days after the fight) was sporting a 34-0 (30) record, while Spinks, aged 31, was perfect at 31-0 (21). Despite these respective credentials, the fight proved to be a massive mismatch/anticlimax.
Spinks, a fighter Tyson had admired as a youngster, watching him on TV, appeared totally uninterested in fighting when he climbed through the ropes in Atlantic City. Much has been written about Spinks’ apparent fear, even dread, of what was about to happen to him. He had frozen and Tyson sensed his mystique had gotten to yet another one of his victims. Tyson, who had all manner of outside the ring distractions – chief among them his mess of a marriage to Robin Givens – refused to let any of them bother him; in fact he actually used the chaos as further fuel to his fire. He really wanted to hurt Spinks and everyone has surely read the story of how Tyson was, quite literally, punching holes in his dressing room wall when Spinks’ manager Butch Lewis went in to inspect his gloves before the bout could get underway.
The fight was all over in what seemed like a flash. Tyson, coming out smoking, decked his man with a wicked body shot after just a minute gone; Spinks being forced to take a knee along the ropes. When he got up, the former light-heavyweight king who had made history by becoming the first light-heavyweight ruler to move up and capture heavyweight gold, was put out of his misery. A sizzling left-right combo to the head put Spinks down and almost through the ropes and out of the ring. Spinks tried to rise but he was totally gone and he had been defeated in just 91-seconds.
Tyson barely celebrated, even if his millions of fans did. Spinks later claimed he “came to fight like I said I would,” but he had absolutely nothing to trouble Tyson with. This performance, as it turned out, was Tyson’s last truly great one. He had peaked at the age of almost 22 and though he would keep the undisputed heavyweight championship for almost two years, his skills ever so slowly eroded; finally to the extent that a huge outsider in James Douglas was able to knock him out in 1990.
But that night against Spinks, a Tyson defeat seemed almost impossible. Tyson had achieved all he had set out to do upon turning pro less than three-and-a-half years earlier.