It’s 1987 and nothing and no one can stop heavyweight wrecking machine Mike Tyson. The year before he had blown away Trevor Berbick in two rounds to become the youngest heavyweight champion of all time. This historic victory was followed by one-sided wins over James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Pinklon Thomas and Tony Tucker.
When the dust had settled from these massacres, Tyson stood alone as the undisputed king, the holder of all the major belts. Only 21-years-old, a professional fighter for a mere three years, he had laid waste to the division and assumed its throne with such fury that seasoned boxing scribes were hard pressed to make sensible comparisons. He was so dominant there appeared only two kinds of Tyson fights: the ones in which he demolished his opponents in short order, overwhelming them with his aggression and power, and the ones in which they survived, but in the process lost every round.
Viewed by some as a boxer who could seriously challenge Tyson, Tyrell Biggs certainly sounded confident enough heading into his showdown with “Kid Dynamite.” Some speculated that Biggs — young, quick, skilled and with obvious advantages in height and reach — might have the stuff to neutralize “Iron Mike’s” aggression. After all, he was the super-heavyweight gold medalist from the 1984 Olympics, the same boxing team for which Tyson had failed to qualify. Indeed, many had been just as pumped about Biggs turning pro as they had been about Tyson. He certainly looked like the stuff of champions when he defeated contenders David Bey and Renaldo Snipes, and overcame a broken collarbone to take a decision over Jeff Sims.
But what Biggs’ supporters did not know was that he had a serious drug problem and that it was everything his managers could do to keep him focused on his boxing career. His addiction to cocaine had begun while he was still in high school and he had in fact entered rehab shortly after turning pro, the first of many stints. When Tyson vs Biggs had been signed, some wondered if the challenger wouldn’t have benefited from a bit more seasoning and more matches against top contenders, but the behind-the-scenes reality was that Tyrell’s people saw the writing on the wall and wanted to cash in before it was too late. Despite all this, the contender’s public utterances gave no hint of apprehension.
“I don’t know this Tyson the way you guys talk about him,” sneered Biggs. “I know Tyson from way back when. He’s never fought anyone like me, someone with a strong jab who can box and is not going in there just to survive. He’s going to be throwing big, wild shots at me but I’ll be keeping out of range. But I’m not going to run. When he’s not throwing punches, I’ll be on the attack.”
Suffice to say, Biggs talked a good fight. But when the bell rang, his words proved empty.
For the first three minutes it looked like Tyson would finally face some stiff competition. Biggs emerged from his corner moving with uncommon grace, shifting and dancing as Tyson worked to corner him. The challenger proffered a long left jab as he evaded Tyson’s attack, connecting 19 times, and clinching whenever the champion got close. It was textbook boxing and it won Biggs the opening round.
But Tyrell lacked the stamina, physical or mental, to stick to the game plan. A minute into the second and he was flat-footed, still jabbing but no longer a moving target, and immediately Tyson took advantage, punishing his opponent with powerful shots from either hand. Biggs later claimed he slowed down because he wanted to pace himself to last the distance. If so, the strategy backfired completely; standing still guaranteed he would never make it anywhere close to the final bell.
Near the end of the second a fierce hook tore a gash on the inside of Biggs’ mouth. In the third Tyson ripped open the challenger’s left eyebrow. Indeed, the champion knew the bout was finished as early as round three, though not just because Biggs was now bleeding all over the ring.
“In the third round I knew I had him,” said Tyson afterwards. “He was crying. When I was hitting him to the body, he was making noises, like a woman screaming.”
Any hope for a competitive boxing match had vanished. The fight was a rout and now Biggs suffered for all those brave words. “I could have knocked him out any time after the third,” claimed Tyson, “but I wanted to make him pay for what he said.”
To his credit, Biggs kept throwing punches, albeit without conviction. And his chin was clearly made of solid stuff. Otherwise, it was all “Iron Mike” as he relentlessly walked his man down and battered him. A powerful straight right staggered the challenger in the fifth. More rights connected in the sixth before a left hook to the body doubled him over. A series of hooks at the end of the round had Biggs desperately running and clinching.
Mercifully, the end came in the seventh. A right hand followed by a flush left hook sent Biggs tumbling across the ring. He beat the count but it was obvious he was finished and seconds later he was on the canvas a second time. Biggs’ corner-men were stepping through the ropes as the referee waved it off.
Afterwards, Biggs didn’t have much to say. Neither did anyone else. What was there to discuss except that Mike Tyson was the best heavyweight on the planet? And that as far as one could see, nary a serious challenge was visible? The pundits tried to talk up Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks but in fact few thought either capable of derailing the Tyson Express.
Only 21-years-old. He might reign for a decade or more. A latter-day Joe Louis. Amazing.
Little could anyone know that this was in fact Mike Tyson’s prime. It would last for only three more contests and then all the craziness began and the great unraveling. But that’s a tale for another time. Today is Mike Tyson’s birthday and so we remember him when he was at his fearsome best, when his unique combination of power, quickness, aggression and elusiveness impressed us all, when he appeared on course to become one of the greatest heavyweight champions in boxing history, when “The Baddest Man On The Planet” was at his best. Happy Birthday, Mike.
– Michael Carbert