Born in Brooklyn in 1966, Michael or ‘Iron Mike’ Tyson, as he was often referred to, is considered one of the most outrageous and controversial boxers of all time. During his prime in the late 1980s, many boxing experts regarded him as one of the greatest heavyweights in the history of the sport. He was the youngest ever boxer to claim a heavyweight title, when he defeated Trevor Berbick in 1986.
Tyson’s downfall was the fact that he had a very deprived upbringing- something which would come back to haunt him later on in his career. His lack of discipline and guidance led to periods in prison and many personal problems, culminating when he filed for bankruptcy in 2003, despite earning over $300 million during his career.
The latter part of his career was marred by controversy, as he was infamously disqualified for biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s right ear. He still remains in the public eye, and is still one of the most recognised sports personalities in the world.
A tough childhood
Tyson was brought up in the notorious Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Tyson’s father left the family when he was just two years old, meaning his mother, Lorna Smith Tyson, had to provide for the family. This led to friction within the family, along with other problems such as hunger.
This had a clear effect on Tyson, and fighting seemed to be his way of channelling his pent up frustration. He earned a reputation on the streets as a brawler, and often beat up anyone who mocked his high-pitched voice.
He mugged his way through life on the streets of New York, and by the time he was 13, he had been arrested 38 times. It was during his time at Tryon School for Boys that former boxer, Bobby Stewart, discovered Tyson’s boxing potential. After training him for a few months, Stewart introduced him to the legendary Cus D’Amato, a Hall of Fame boxing trainer.
D’Amato had already trained former champions, Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres. Tyson often referred to D’Amato as a father figure, and he later became his legal guardian. It was under D’Amato that Tyson began to flourish.
Tyson the professional
In 1985, Tyson made his professional debut against Hector Mercedes in Albany, New York. He won easily, and knocked out his opponent in the first round, something that would become familiar to him over the next couple of years.
Tyson fought regularly during his first couple of years as a professional, and won 19 of his first 22 fights by knockout, 13 of which came in the first round. The media started to take notice of Tyson, and could see a potential heavyweight champion in the making.
Tyson suffered a huge setback in both his career and personal life when D’Amato died later that year. Many believe his death triggered many of the troubles that Tyson would experience later on in life.
Tyson was given his first shot at a title in November 1986, when he fought Trevor Berbick for the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight championship. Tyson cruised to victory, knocking out his opponent in the second round. At just 20 years and 4 months, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in the history of the sport, beating Floyd Patterson’s previous record.
Undisputed Champion of the World
Tyson’s form began to gather pace, and media expectations began to rise. ‘Tyson Mania’ was spreading through the boxing world. He defended his title early on in 1987, defeating James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith by unanimous decision, clinching Smith’s World Boxing Association (WBA) title in the process. Later on in that year, Tyson added another belt to his collection, this time Tony Tucker’s International Boxing Federation (IBF) title, in twelve rounds, by unanimous decision. Tyson made history, becoming the first heavyweight to own all three major belts – WBA, WBC and IBF- at the same time.
Tyson began to have some problems outside the ring. He was heading for divorce, and in 1988, he fired his trainer Kevin Rooney, the man whom many believe saved Tyson’s career after the death of D’Amato. Rooney’s absence was seen immediately. Tyson’s skills began to deteriorate, as he lost many of his defensive skills and began to look for one punch knockouts rather than focusing on his combination punches that had brought him so much success.
By 1990, Tyson lacked guidance, and his personal life and training habits were suffering badly. He lost his undisputed championship to huge underdog James Douglas in Tokyo. Tyson was sent to the canvas for the first time in his career, and was counted out by the referee. Many saw this victory as one of the most shocking upsets in modern sports history.
Over the next couple of years, Tyson battled his way back to set up a fight against Evander Holyfield for the undisputed championship.
Time in prison for rape
The much-anticipated fight against reigning champion Holyfield had to be held back, after Tyson was arrested and convicted for the rape of Desiree Washington, a beauty queen, in an Indianapolis hotel room. He was given a sentence of six years and was released in 1995 after serving three years. It was during his time in prison, that Tyson converted to Islam and adopted the Muslim name, Malik Abdul Aziz.
His comeback fight after imprisonment was a record breaker. It grossed more the $96 million worldwide, including a United States record $63 million for pay-per-view television. The fight was widely criticised, as Tyson won in just 89 seconds, knocking out Peter McNeeley.
He regained the WBC title from English favourite Frank Bruno in March 1996 by knocking him out in the third round. Tyson also won the WBA belt by defeating Bruce Seldon later that year.
The Tyson-Holyfield Era
In November 1996, Tyson faced Holyfield in a title fight named ‘Finally’. Many believed Holyfield was past his best and that Tyson would romp to victory. That was not the case. The referee, Mitch Halpern, stopped the fight in the 11th round, making Holyfield the surprising winner. There was controversy however, with the Tyson camp feeling hard done by, as they felt Holyfield had used illegal head butts to win the match.
They fought again in 1997 at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena. Halpern was once more supposed to be the referee, but after much protest from the Tyson camp, Mills Lane was named as referee. It was a well-paid event for both boxers, with Tyson receiving $30 million and Holyfield $35 million, the highest paid professional boxing purses ever, until 2007. The fight became what is now recognised as one of the most controversial sporting events in history. The fight was stopped after the third round, and Tyson was disqualified for biting Holyfield on both ears, with one bite taking a chunk out of Holyfield’s right ear that was found on the ring floor after the fight. Later the next month, the Nevada State Athletic Commission revoked Tyson’s boxing license with it being restored a year later.
Tyson v Lewis
In one of the most anticipated heavyweight fights in years, Tyson faced his former friend Lennox Lewis in 2002 for his heavyweight championship belts - WBC, IBF and IBO. Prior to the fight, there was some friction between the pair, as they brawled in a press conference in New York. Tyson had famously remarked: “I want your heart, I want to eat your children.”
The fight itself was fairly one sided. Lewis dominated the fight and knocked out Tyson in the eighth round. To great disbelief, Tyson was gracious in defeat and praised Lewis on his victory. Again Tyson had made history in this fight, as it was the highest-grossing event in pay-per-view history at the time, making $106.9 million.
Bankruptcy, retirement and future
Despite earning over $300 million throughout his career, Tyson was never good with his money. He would often waste money on gambling and an extravagant lifestyle. In August 2003, Tyson finally filed for bankruptcy.
Two years later would see Tyson shock the boxing world with the announcement of his retirement from the sport. After losing to journeyman, Kevin McBride, Tyson said he would quit boxing because didn’t have the fighting spirit within himself anymore.
Since retiring from boxing, the American has stayed in the public eye by promoting various websites and companies.
Tyson has six children: Gena, Mikey, Rayna, Amir, Miguel and Exodus. Rayna and Amir are from his second wife, Monica Turner.
Tyson will go down as one of the most controversial athletes of all time. At his prime, he was considered one of the best. The problem was that he was never given much guidance, both as a child, and then as an athlete. It was because of this that he went off the rails, and was imprisoned several times. One thing is for sure; the ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ will not be forgotten.
- National Golden Gloves Champion Heavyweight 1984
- Undisputed Heavyweight champion(WBA, IBF, and WBC) - August 1987 - February 1990
- WBC Heavyweight Champion (1st) - 22 November 1986 - 11 February 1990
- WBA Heavyweight Champion (1st) - 7 March 1987 - 11 February 1990
- IBF Heavyweight Champion - 1 August 1987 - 11 February 1990
- WBC Heavyweight Champion (2nd) - 16 March 1996 - 1997 (vacated)
- WBA Heavyweight Champion (2nd) - 7 September 1996 - 9 November 1996