Very rarely has there been a more widely-anticipated moment in boxing history, resulting in such an unsatisfying climax (at least for some), then when Mike Tyson laced up the gloves to fight Michael Spinks for the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1988.
At that point, Tyson was at the zenith of his powers, having run roughshod through almost everyone available in the heavyweight division, and some, like Larry Holmes, who had retired and come back to action. He was unbeaten, and, in the minds of many, unbeatable. However, he was not necessarily undisputed. In the way of that was the determined Michael Spinks, who had joined his brother Leon as the only brother combination to hold a heavyweight title. The younger Spinks, who was also an Olympic gold medalist in 1976, had been a rather dominant light heavyweight champion; after beating Eddie Mustafa Muhammad in 1981 he had made ten successful defenses and unified the title along the way.
Some people were surprised when Spinks announced that he would be abandoning his light heavyweight crown to move up to the heavyweight ranks and challenge Larry Holmes. After all, there was a cruiserweight division as well, but Spinks was jumping right past that. In order to make the transition, Spinks sought some special help, and got it from noted personal trainer Mackie Shilstone, who undertook a program to make Spinks quicker and more explosive while at the same time putting bulk on him. This was certainly a big task when moving up as much as 25 pounds.
The strategy worked. Spinks frustrated Holmes by fighting in spurts, and with fury, and when he wasn’t attacking Holmes he was in retreat. As a result, he landed the meaningful punches, and took home the unanimous decision. This really spoiled the party for Holmes, who had been looking to tie Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 straight wins for a heavyweight champion. Spinks had shocked the world, and he did it again, beating Holmes in a rematch, and then knocked out a beleaguered Gerry Cooney at the Convention Center in Atlantic City. Along the way, though, Spinks had been stripped of his IBF crown by not succumbing to the organization’s demands. Meanwhile, Tyson had won a de facto “tournament” to unify the recognized crown.
The stage was set for what to that time was going to be the biggest fight in history, and there was precedent to call it that, because it was the first time since the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight that two heavyweight champions, who were also undefeated, would meet in a fight.
Atlantic City’s mayor, James Usry, called the fight, scheduled for June 27, 1988, “the greatest sporting event in the history of the planet.” Obviously Donald Trump agreed, at least to some extent. He offered an $11 million site free, which was an all-time record, for the right for his casino to host the fight, and the hype was on. Fueling this hype was the fact that Tyson’s personal life had become the fodder for much gossip and controversy, centering around his ill-fated marriage to TV actress Robin Givens.
Anyone and everyone beat a trail to Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall for the Tyson-Spinks fight, and the crowd of 21,785 generated more revenue than the site fee represented.
Spinks had been progressively gaining weight, and walked into the ring at 212-1/4 pounds, only six less than the more muscular Tyson. Many envisioned extra power for Spinks at this weight, and that he might be able to frustrate, then explode, like he had done against Holmes.
They were wrong.
There is not much to write about the fight. After coming out with some aggression, Spinks got intimidated easily, and while backed against the ropes, took a left hook to the body, then to the head, and promptly went down. It is, for all intents and purposes, over right there. Spinks got up, but was nailed by a right hand that put him down for the ten-count with just 91 seconds having passed. He never fought again.
On that night, the eyes of the sporting world had been on Atlantic City like they never had before.