Mike Tyson claimed in 2003 that he'd just fought with a broken spine

  • Kat Lucas

Mike Tyson’s enduring reputation as the ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ has never quite gone away.

From biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear to beating up Don King, Iron Mike’s most outrageous behaviour won’t be forgotten.

However, his army of fans also look back on some of his most endearing moments that made him such a unique character in and out of the ring. 

The latter years of the heavyweight’s career saw numerous setbacks and after being knocked out by Lennox Lewis, in 2003 he returned against Clifford Etienne determined to stave off his financial worries.

On that count, he failed and filed for bankruptcy months later, but he did emerge triumphant after just 49 seconds. 

So while there was very little of the bout itself to remember, it’s become iconic in itself for the controversy that surrounded the fight – not least, accusations that Etienne had taken a dive.

Here’s the footage, which you can judge for yourself: 

What made that night all the more bizarre was Tyson’s claim, in an interview with Jim Gray, that he had just fought with a broken back. 

Pre-fight, there had been rumours that he was injured. Others claimed he had spent the run-up partying in Vegas and getting his facial tattoo. Gray decided to ask whether he had really been ‘sick’ and Tyson replied: 

“I broke my back. My back is broken.”

When Grey pressed him on the unlikely claim by asking, “what part, a vertebrae?”, Tyson insisted: 


Tyson really believed he had just boxed with a broken spine suffered in an old motorbike incident after misinterpreting what doctors had told him. 

“I broke my back. I don’t even know how I’m standing. It’s a miracle,” he added later.

“The doctor took me to the pain center and I wasn’t supposed to fight but what am I supposed to do. I’m going to take care of my family.”

Years later, he could at least look back on the incident in good humour. 

“I just said what the doctor told me, he said your back is breaking, you have pieces breaking off your spine. So that’s the only thing I knew, my back was broken!” 

Tyson had insisted he had cancelled too many fights in his career to let the public down again. 

His decision to proceed was vindicated too, flattening Etienne with a brilliant right hand less than a minute after the first bell – his sixth quickest knockout ever. 

Yet for many, that night – and the last professional victory of his career – will be always remembered more for his unlikely claims right at the end. 

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