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Modern Classics: Tyson-Thomas

By: Sean Crose

The Mike Tyson of the late 1980’s was such a dominant force that it was considered a disappointment if he didn’t get the knockout against an opponent. Tyson was therefore looking to impress after he had won what was actually a boring heavyweight title bout in March of 1987. His opponent, James “Bonecrusher” Smith chose to hold rather than fight, making for a tedious affair. “The misery ended with the bell after Round 12,” wrote the Sun Sentinal. “It could have been worse. It could have been scheduled for 15.” When he stepped into the ring for his next fight, Tyson was under pressure to make up for his sleeper against Smith.

The truth was that Tyson had nothing to worry about. For the 29-1-1 Pinklon Thomas was aiming to actually beat Tyson when they fought on May 30th of 1987. Thomas was undoubtedly a good fighter, with only a single loss on his resume to Trevor Berbick, along with wins over Tim Witherspoon, Mike Weaver and James Tillis respectively. No one figured Michigan native would stand much of a chance against Tyson, however. How could they? Thomas, though, had a potent jab, a great trainer in Angelo Dundee, and determination.

Tyson started strong, very strong. Thomas got himself together, however, and worked at keeping Tyson out off his rhythm. While Thomas held Tyson frequently, he wasn’t doing it simply to keep Tyson at bay, but also to break up Tyson’s momentum. Thomas wasn’t afraid to toss off good shots of his own, either. “The fight didn’t go my way,” Tyson was later quoted as saying. “I can’t make excuses. It was almost two bum fights in a row, which is no good financially.” As the bout headed towards the middle of it’s 12 round limit, members of the HBO broadcast had team started giving a round or two to Thomas.


That, of course, doesn’t sounds like much…but in 1987, it meant a whole lot during a Mike Tyson bout. His record walking in to the Thomas fight was 29-0, after all, with all but three fights having gone the distance. With an opponent actually starting to gain ground on their man, team Tyson knew it was time to up the temperature. After the fifth round, trainer Kevin Rooney told Tyson to start hitting Thomas with “bad intentions.” And Tyson carried out his directions perfectly.

The start of the sixth round was delayed because of a problem with one of Thomas’ gloves. It was simply a delay of the inevitable, however. Thomas got in close on Tyson, but the fighter known as “Iron Mike” was able to land hard on his man with a left moments later. Thomas stumbled back. After a series of shots that can only be described as cinematic in their brutality, Thomas was down and out. Still, there was little doubt that Tyson has met a man who wasn’t willing to be bowled over by the growing Tyson myth. Indeed, Tyson had to bowl Thomas over with only his fists.

“It was my pleasure to give you a shot at the title,” Tyson told his vanquished foes after the battle had ended, “because you deserve it.” 

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