In the mid to late 1980s, you didn't want Mike Tyson staring at you from across the ring. He not only knocked people out within seconds, but he did it in such a brutal fashion. There were other sluggers who scored devastating knockouts before Tyson--people like George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, etc--but none of them routinely brutalized people the way young Tyson did. He was the second coming of Jack Dempsey, who, like Tyson, was a relatively small man with a reputation for demolishing his foes within seconds, no matter how big or skilled they were.
By the time Tyson got around to Spinks, he had already unified all three of the heavyweight championships and was the most feared man on the planet. It might be amusing today, but some experts back then thought that Spinks may have been the one guy who stood a chance of beating Iron Mike. Tyson's former trainer Teddy Atlas reportedly went on record picking Spinks to pull off an upset.
Michael Spinks was scared to death. He was one of many Tyson opponents who was beaten long before he ever climbed in the ring. Moments before the fight, you could see on his face that he was a nervous wreck as he plodded around the ring like a zombie in a trance. Meanwhile, Tyson came to the ring looking like a warrior. No theme music, no robe, not even socks. (Another influence from his hero, Jack Dempsey)
A little over a minute into the fight, Spinks fell to a knee after suffering a crucial right hook to the ribs from a ferocious Tyson. He took the standing eight count, and apparently decided to get revenge. Just after the count, he threw a right hand at Tyson, who slipped the punch and countered with a thunderous right hand that landed right on the chin. Spinks fell on his back and was counted out by the referee. The crowd noise was deafening.
This was another example of what made Tyson so special and appealing to the public. With the exception of Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks was the best name on Tyson's resume. This was the fight that confirmed Mike Tyson as The Man on the heavyweight scene. Lennox Lewis didn't turn pro until the following year. Evander Holyfield was not yet a heavyweight, and Riddick Bowe was still a novice. The era was all Tyson's. But as I said before, this was a bittersweet victory.
Just after the fight, trainer Kevin Rooney was fired. It's a shame too, because Rooney and Tyson were an unstoppable force together. It's no coincidence that after Rooney's exit, Tyson's skills began to unravel. He stopped moving his head, he lost his accuracy, and gradually stopped throwing combinations and working the body. He fell in love with his power, and his training habits suffered. By 1989, all of Cus D'Amato's people were out, and Don King's people were in. For those who were in denial about Tyson's decline, they should have been awakened when Tyson was hurt and buckled by Frank Bruno the following year. The cat finally hopped out of the bag when Tyson got humiliated and knocked out by a journeyman heavyweight named James Buster Douglas in 1990.
For all these reasons, I have mixed feelings about this fight. It was a massacre, and I'll admit that it was one of Tyson's best performances. But it signals the beginning of the end because nothing went right in Tyson's life after this fight. I'd like to compare it to Michael Jackson's Thriller album. Yes, it was the peak of M.J.'s popularity, and many people say it was the singer at his best. But it changed his life forever, and he could only go downhill from there. This fight could be considered Mike Tyson's "Thriller."