Mike Tyson: How 'The Baddest Man on the Planet' built his reputation

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Mike Tyson earned and wasted millions of dollars during an historic, chaotic career in the ring.

But an unnecessary expenditure of a mere $5000 tells us most about the menacing profile he wished to portray.

It was November 22, 1986, and ‘Iron Mike’ was on the cusp of greatness. A troubled man-child from Brooklyn whose internal anger found a release in boxing, he had been created by legendary trainer Cus D’Amato and hyped as the ‘baddest man on the planet’ by the infamous Don King.

After laying siege to the division on the way up, only WBC champion Trevor Berbick stood in the way of him becoming the youngest heavyweight title-holder in history at just 20 years old.

Even those with only a passing interest in boxing will have seen famous footage of the tall, rangy Berbick tumbling over backwards and then forwards as he tried to clamber to his feet after being felled in the second round. But few will have noticed a boxing oddity - both men were wearing plain, jet black shorts.

Berbick’s trainer was Angelo Dundee, a wily old ringsmith who had trained no less than Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. He knew Tyson’s brand – black boots, black shorts.

It was about as subtle as those old cowboy films where the bad guy rode into town wearing a black hat. But, as champion, Berbick had the first choice so Dundee tried to play a little mind game. Tyson paid the fine rather than change his colour.

As ever, he had entered the ring with no robe. He was stripped, sweating and ready to go. Tyson was no fills, no fuss and took no steps back. He stalked the canvas during the pre-fight announcements like a coiled spring, eyeing his opponent with malevolence.

This man was a specialist in violence and, in the early days, he plied his trade to perfection. His pre-fight press conferences were sometimes angry and monosyllabic, other times articulate and lucid.

His lisp had been a taunt for playground bullies, now it was his trademark. While other fighters likened themselves to Ali, he talked of Sonny Liston, a similarly powerful fighter yet damaged individual that boxing had tried hard to forget.

In the next two years, Tyson would demolish the division. Standing just 5ft 10in but with power packed into every sinew, he rolled under the guard of the traditional taller, more statuesque heavyweights of the time like Tony Tubbs, Tyrell Biggs, James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, Tony Tucker and Pinklon Thomas with devastating effect.

Soon, Tyson had all three major belts and, so the theory went, a more mobile challenger was needed.

Unbeaten Michael Spinks had achieved the same treble at light-heavyweight and was regarded as the lineal heavyweight champion having taken the title from Larry Holmes and never lost it in the ring.

By 1988, he was considered the biggest test yet for Tyson. But, when they met, the champion had prepared the most intimidating ring walk of all time.

The music, if you can call it that, has long been an issue of dispute. For years it was thought the low, industrial drone, described by one commentator “as just noise with the occasional clanking of chains”, was a track by experimental outfits SPK or Coil.

Actually, it was written by Tom Alonso, who composed music for Donald Trump. This bout was held at the plaza owned by the former US president in Atlantic City. ‘The Don’ was even introduced in the ring before the bout.

Dressed in a clean white robe, Spinks was bouncing around on the canvas as the light struck the entrance of the Conference Hall to signify the champion was set to arrive. Then a slow-moving convoy of bodies flanked by television cameras slowly snaked toward the middle as the rumbling soundtrack built.

The journey took two-and-a-half eerie, intense minutes, around 150 seconds. It only took Tyson 91 seconds to knockdown Spinks twice. The second time was conclusive.

Even after his defeat to Buster Douglas two years later and serving jail-time for rape, Tyson still maintained his aura. When he won back the title in 1996, WBC champion Frank Bruno crossed himself more than a dozen times on his way to the ring.

Tyson had one more successful defence against Bruce Seldon before he was dismantled by Evander Holyfield in 11 rounds in November 1996. He never held the world title again.

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Many would argue Tyson’s inability to cope with adversity in and out of the ring tarnishes his legacy as a true heavyweight great. He never won after being knocked down and, in the rematch, his inability to handle Holyfield lead him to escape by biting his opponent’s ear.

Tyson had all the attributes of a bully. Using all his tools of intimidation to overpower his opponents, physically and mentally. But struggling to cope when matters started to turn against him.

At times, his demeanour and rhetoric were abhorrent but this was encouraged and enfranchised by many of those whose finances were dependent on his success.

His reputation was constructed and nurtured. Tyson was complicit but his upbringing deprived him of the tools to change the narrative.

Yet, as his recent comeback proves, he remains boxing’s biggest name since Muhammad Ali.

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