By: Sean Crose
The ads for the pay per view event were incredible, even by today’s standards. There was Mike Tyson, narrating in a ponderous voice how dangerous Donovan “Razor” Ruddock was. This was accompanied by slow motion footage of Ruddock knocking former heavyweight titlist Michael Dokes out with a single shot. “Ruddock,” Tyson’s voice stated gravely. “Ruddock…Ruddock.” Hence, a fighter largely unknown outside of hardcore fight fan circles was presented as a serious foe for the already iconic Mike Tyson, who was just over a year past his stunning defeat to James “Buster” Douglas. Brilliant marketing aside, the fact that Ruddock proved to be worthy to share the ring with “Iron Mike” is what makes the March 18th, 1991 fight memorable.
As was the case with many, if not most, pay per view fights of the era, Tyson-Ruddock was a weeknight event. Tyson was the number one heavyweight contender in all of boxing’s major divisions, just ahead of Ruddock, who was ranked number two. With Evander Holyfield training to face to George Foreman, it only made sense that the public expected the winner of each fight to eventually face off in a true superbout. It was, to be sure, an exciting time in the heavyweight division.
Tyson came out looking menacing, Public Enemy blaring over the sound systems at Vegas’ Mirage Hotel and Casino as he donned a winter cap. The old look was in the eyes. It was fascinating to see. Yet it soon become clear that something had changed. Tyson was no longer the crouched, combo punching fury fans loved. He was straighter in his stance, now, less fluid. Still, the man could hit, as Ruddock found out when he was dropped in round two, and again in round three. Ruddock could land himself, however, hard and well. As Tyson said after the fight, his opponent hit “like a fucking mule kick.”
Not that it ultimately mattered. Tyson fired off a battery of shots in the seventh, causing referee Richard Steele to step in and stop the fight in favor of the former champion. Ruddock, who was still on his feet, was less than happy, as were many in the public. Indeed, Steele’s decision to save Ruddock from Tyson’s fists ended up being quite controversial, leading Ruddock to appear later in the week on Dennis Miller’s Saturday Night Live comedic “newscast.” Controversial or not, the fight was a huge success, raking in close to a million pay per view buys. A rematch several months later saw Tyson win by convincing decision.
Ironically enough, that first fight between Tyson and Ruddock didn’t allow either man to get a crack at the heavyweight title. Ruddock suffered several more loses after the Tyson fights and, although successful, never got a chance to fight for a major belt. Thanks to his legal issues, Tyson didn’t get a chance to win a world title again for another five years. In a career loaded with interesting, sometimes notorious, fights, however, Tyson can chalk up his first battle with Ruddock as being one of the more fascinating.