Butch Lewis picked a lousy time to make heavyweight champion Mike Tyson angry. Just as Tyson prepared to leave his dressing room and make his way to the ring for Monday night's title defense against Michael Spinks at Atlantic City's Convention Center, Lewis, Spinks's promoter and manager, spotted what he thought was a lump on the wrist of Tyson's left glove. "Hold it," said the tuxedoed but bare-chested Lewis. "Get rid of that, or we don't fight."
This is an article from the July 4, 1988 issue
Tyson's handlers explained that the bulge was simply the knotted laces, but Lewis demanded that it be examined by Larry Hazzard, the chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission. Tyson, sweat dripping from his broad body, began pacing the dressing room in anger. Hazzard examined the glove and found it faultless, but Lewis continued to protest. The impasse wasn't broken until Eddie Futch, Spinks's 77-year-old trainer, said he, too, found the lump harmless. As Lewis left the locker room, Tyson turned to his trainer, Kevin Rooney. "You know," he said softly of Spinks, "I'm gonna hurt this guy."
Unleashed at last, Tyson the Terrible knocked out Spinks in just 91 seconds—four seconds fewer than it took Jeffrey Osborne to sing the prefight national anthem. The finish could have been even more abrupt except that Spinks, a 3½-1 underdog, had the grit to get up the first time Tyson knocked him down, with about a minute gone. As it was, in all of boxing history, only three heavyweight championship fights ended faster.
For his near-record loss, Spinks, the former undisputed light heavyweight and IBF heavyweight champ who came in with a 31-0 record, went out $13.5 million richer. Tyson will make between $18 million and $22 million; the total won't be known until the receipts are in from pay-per-view TV and closed-circuit locations.
Rooney mentioned that magnificent sum to his fighter several hours before the bout. "I just want you to know, Mike, that I bet my share of the purse," said Rooney, "and I bet your share that you would knock him out in the first round." Tyson stared but said nothing. He thought Rooney was joking, but when Rooney didn't smile, Tyson no longer felt certain.
As the challenger, the 31-year-old Spinks entered the ring first after the long delay. When he removed his robe, his 6'2½" body looked trim carrying 212¼ pounds, his heaviest weight ever, but it was dry. Spinks is a notoriously slow starter; it did not bode well that he hadn't warmed up properly.
By contrast, the 21-year-old Tyson was glistening as he prowled the ring during the introductions, and at the opening bell he pounced and threw a left hook that caught Spinks high on his head. "I noticed the fear come into his eyes then," Tyson said later. Spinks seemed to sag after the punch, a telling bit of body language common to Tyson's opponents the first time they absorb a solid blow from him. At that moment of violent impact, survival suddenly becomes much more important than victory.
Before the fight Futch had warned Spinks not to clinch. "We're not matching strength for strength," Futch had said. "That's his game." But Spinks seemed more interested in trying to wrap Tyson in his arms than in escaping harm with practiced retreat. In their first clinch, referee Frank Capuccino moved in when he spotted the laces of one of Tyson's gloves resting heavily against Spinks's throat.
"All right, stop punching," ordered Capuccino, at which point Tyson's elbow snapped up and his forearm cracked against Spinks's head.
"Hey, Mike, knock it off," Capuccino yelled. "Knock it off."
A moment later, as Spinks tried to back away, Tyson snapped his head back with a left uppercut. Spinks was still reacting from that when a short, twisting right hook caught him just below the heart. He dropped to one knee, the first knockdown of his professional career. Spinks was up at four as Capuccino counted to the mandatory eight. "You O.K.?" Capuccino asked, staring into Spinks's eyes.
Spinks peered down at Capuccino. "I'm all right," he said. When Tyson renewed his attack, Spinks tried to fend him off with a right, but it was too soft and moved too slowly. Tyson fired a left hook, shoulder high, over the uncertain right hand. The momentum of Spinks's own punch carried his head forward and down, and Tyson met it with a sweeping right hand. The punch traveled on a waist-high arc and caught Spinks at its most powerful point flush against his jaw. No man could have withstood it.
Spinks's eyes rolled up; his legs quivered. Then he fell straight back, arms outstretched. When Capuccino began to count, Spinks tried to force himself to his feet, but as he began to rise he crashed over on his right side. His head was resting against the bottom rope when Capuccino reached 10.
For Tyson, his brief fight with Spinks—the 35th win of his undefeated pro career—may have been his most peaceful moment in weeks. As the battle for control of his growing fortune escalated, Tyson proved that he comes to fight, and there seems little that anyone can do to distract him. Surely a lot of folks have tried. Even at the weigh-in, Tyson's wife, Robin Givens, was attacking Bill Cayton, Tyson's manager. After this fight, said Givens, the Cayton-Tyson partnership would be history; never mind that the two men are bound by a contract that runs until 1992. Regardless of her motives, Givens's timing was appalling, and she added to the chaos on fight day by filing a suit on Tyson's behalf to dissolve the partnership.
Through it all Cayton, who, with his partner, the late Jimmy Jacobs, made Tyson rich beyond imagining, quietly parried the verbal blows from Givens and her mother, Ruth Roper. "I have no idea what they're doing or why they're doing it," he said. "All I can say is, I'm in no way an enemy of Robin or Ruth. I would do everything I can to keep Mike happily married."
When pressed, Tyson gallantly defended his wife and indicated he was ready to jettison his manager. But later, before a small gathering of writers, Tyson said he thought his relationship with Cayton could be saved. "We'll talk after the fight," he said. Then his voice grew hard. "I don't want to be treated like a commodity. I respected Cayton for a long time. He should respect me."
At the postfight press conference, with his victory barely an hour old, Tyson's mind was back on the turmoil in his camp. He protested when asked if the fight had been an easy one. "They're never easy," he said. "I put in eight hard weeks of training to make it easy. You guys have been trying to embarrass me and embarrass my family. As far as I know this might be my last fight."
And then Tyson and his bride took their leave. On his way out of the press conference, Tyson remembered Rooney's mention of a rather sizable wager. "Hey, Kevin," he said. "Where's our $49 million?"
Rooney started to laugh and then said, "Hey, I never made the bet. Honest, I never made the bet."