Introduction - Heavyweights In Despair
15th February 1978 saw Leon Spinks beat Muhammad Ali to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. The rematch saw him being stripped of the WBC version of the crown for not facing mandatory contender Ken Norton, who they installed as their champion. Ali won the return with Spinks and retired, leaving the WBA championship vacant.
Whilst Norton lost his WBC title to Larry Holmes on the 09th June 1978 in his first defence, Holmes was able to hold on to that title. The vacant WBA belt was contested between John Tate and Gerrie Coetzee on the 20th October 1979, in Coetzee's home country of South Africa. Tate took the crown via a fifteen round unanimous decision.
In March 1980 Tate lost his championship when Mike Weaver stopped him in the fifteenth round. October of the same year saw Holmes make his eighth defence, beating Muhammad Ali in the tenth round in what was a sad contest, to become the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.
Weaver did manage to make two successful defences against Gerrie Coetzer, again in South Africa. Weaver stopped his man in the thirteenth round, then took on 20-0 challenger James Tillis, winning a fifteen round unanimous decision. He lost his championship in the first round to Michael Dokes in December 1982. In this time Larry Holmes was still holding on to his WBC title, beating Trevor Berbick, former champ Leon Spinks, the unbeaten Renaldo Snipes, Gerry Cooney and Randall Cobb.
The rematch between Dokes and Weaver ended in a fifteen round draw, before Gerrie Coetzee finally won the WBA strap in the tenth round on the 23rd September 1983. This year saw Holmes make a further three successful defences against Lucien Rodriguez, Tim Witherspoon and Scott Frank.
The fifth round victory over Scott Frank proved to be Holmes' final defence of the World Boxing Council belt, as his fight with Marvis Frazier (former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier's son) wasn't sanctioned by the WBC as Frazier wasn't in their top ten. The contest lasted two minutes and 57 seconds.
According to boxing promotor Don King, before Larry Holmes fought Tim Witherspoon, Holmes had signed an agreement to face Greg Page for $2.55 million. The champion said he only signed to fight Page, but no money was offered. After beating Frazier, Holmes still refused to face Page unless he was paid more than what was originally offered, saying. "I know I have signed for a fight with Greg Page, but I won't fight him unless they come up with more money."
On 10th December 1983 the newly formed International Boxing Federation president, Bob Lee, contacted Holmes and recognised him as their champion. The following day Holmes relinquished the green strap that he defended sixteen times over five years.
Greg Page contested the vacant WBC title on the 09th March 1984 against Tim Witherspoon, dropping a twelve round majority decision. At the end of August the new champion took on Pinklon Thomas, also losing a majority in his first defence.
Holmes made the first defence of the IBF crown against James 'Bonecrusher' Smith, winning by a twelfth round TKO on 09th November 1984. Just under a month later Gerrie Coetzee made the first defence of the WBA bauble against Greg Page in South Africa. Page took the belt in controversial fashion when he knocked out the champion in the eighth round, but according to many the round had gone three minutes and 40 seconds when the knockout occurred.
A Breath of Fresh Air in the Heavyweight Division
The heavyweight division needed a new star to bring law and order. On the 06th March 1985 Mike
Tyson made his professional debut against Hector Mercedes, winning in the first round. Nine days after Tyson made his pro debut, the undefeated David Bey challenged Larry Holmes. The champion put Bey down twice in the eighth round before stopping the challenger in the tenth.
Tyson took his record to 2-0 on the 10th April against Trent Singleton. The World Boxing Association belt changed hands again on the 29th April as Greg Page lost a fifteen rounds unanimous decision to Tony Tubbs.
On the 20th May Holmes was defending his belt again against another unbeaten contender, Carl 'The Truth' Williams. Holmes had to go the full fifteen rounds to retain the title, taking his record to 48-0, one away from equalling Rocky Marciano's record. Three days later Tyson made it three from three, stopping Don Halpin in the fourth and final round.
WBC champion Pinklon Thomas made his first defence on the 15th June against former WBA champion Mike Weaver. The challenger was put down in the first and eighth, getting stopped at the one minute 42 second mark of the round. Five days after Thomas' successful defence, Tyson took 39 seconds to destroy Ricardo Spain.
Tyson won four more fights all by knockout, progressing to 8-0. On the 21st September 1985 Larry Holmes was looking to equal the 49-0 record as he took on 27-0 light-heavyweight champion Michael Spinks. The 6-1 favourite lost his title on a close fifteen round unanimous decision 145-142 and two scores of 143-142.
Mike Tyson was keeping busy, winning two fights in October, three in November and two more in December. Over that period he boxed a total of eight rounds. The new year also started well for him as he blasted out David Jaco, in another first round win on the 11th January 1986. Six days later the WBA crown changed hands again as Tim Witherspoon dethroned Tony Tubbs with a majority fifteen round decision. Tyson finished the month by being extended into the fifth round by Mike Jameson.
February 16th saw Tyson getting taken into the sixth round for the first time by Jesse Ferguson. Tyson put his man down in the fifth and Ferguson was disqualified in the sixth by the referee for excessive holding, but the official result given by the New York Athletic Commission was a TKO victory. This was the fight where Tyson said he was trying to put his opponent's nose through his brain.
10th March Tyson went 19-0 as he beat Steve Zouski in the third round. Twelve days later saw Pinklon Thomas lose a twelve round unanimous decision to Canadian Trevor Berbick, as he surrendered his WBC championship.
The rematch between Spinks and Holmes took place at the Las Vegas Hilton on the 19th April. The fight was even closer as the champion hung on to the IBF strap via a split decision 144-142, 144-141 (Spinks) and 144-141 (Holmes).
Tyson didn't fight until the 03rd May and was taken to points for the first time against former title challenger James 'Quick' Tillis. Tyson floored his man in the fourth on route to a ten round unanimous decision. The 23rd of the same month, Tyson was extended the full ten again, this time by Mitch 'Blood' Green. There were no knockdowns, but the judges unanimously saw Tyson a clear points winner.
June saw Tyson back to his devastating best with two one round wins over Reggie Goss and William Hosea. The start of July looked the same as he took out Lorenzo Boyd in the second, going to 24-0 (22 KO's).
Tim Witherspoon travelled to London and made the first defence of the WBA title against Frank Bruno on the 19th July. The majority of the 40,000 fans were left disappointed as the Brit was stopped in the eleventh round from the champion's big over-hand rights. Seven days later Tyson needed only thirty seconds to KO Marvis Frazier.
Jose Ribalta was up next for Tyson in August and he was floored in the second, eighth and tenth rounds, before being stopped in ten.
Saturday 06th September Michael Spinks made the second defence of the IBF championship against Steffen Tangstad of Norway, who boasted a record of 24-1-2. Spinks kept the belt with a fourth round TKO. On the undercard Tyson took out Alfonso Ratliff at the one-minute 41 seconds mark of the second round. Also on the bill saw victories for James Douglas and Alex Stewart, who was making his professional debut.
On the 22nd November 1986 Mike Tyson entered the ring against Trevor Berbick for the WBC heavyweight championship. The durable title holder had a record of 31-4-1. Tyson was undefeated in twenty-seven bouts with only two going the distance.
The contest, part of Home Box Office's heavyweight unification series, was billed as 'Judgement Day' with the number contender taking the first round by landing left and right hand bombs and badly shaking the champion towards the end of the frame. The second round started with a huge right from the challenger. A few punches later Berbick was on the canvas. He got up quickly and was able to tie Tyson up, but he was still landing bunches of punches. It looked like Berbick would survive the round, but in mid ring, with Berbick covering up, Tyson landed a right to the body, quickly turning it into an uppercut and followed up with a left hook. The champion seemed to fall in slow motion.
The title holder tried to rise but fell back towards the ropes on his knees. He half got up, but his legs weren't having it as he sprawled onto his back. He hit the canvas in frustration with his fist, as he finally stood up right, but his legs were like jelly as he fell into referee's Mills Lane's arms who counted him out at two-minutes 35 seconds.
Not only did the stoppage mean Tyson was the new WBC heavyweight champion of the world; he also became the youngest heavyweight champion, at twenty-years old, beating Floyd Paterson's record of twenty-one years and eleven months. After this bout he became known as 'Iron' Mike Tyson.
Tim Witherspoon put his WBA belt on the line against James 'Bonecrusher' Smith at Madison Square Garden on the 12th December 1986. These two previously met in June 1985 for Witherspoon's NABF heavyweight title, who was making his first defence. The champion won that match in Las Vegas via an unanimous decision.
What looked like a long fight was anything but. Smith came out bombing at the bell and landed his best shots, taking two-minutes and 12 seconds to win the belt and set up a fight with the new WBC champion in the new year.
IBF champion Michael Spinks was stripped of his title on the 28th February 1987, for refusing to face his number one contender Tony Tucker, meaning he was out of HBO's tournament. Spinks elected to face Gerry Cooney for $4,000,000 instead.
Tyson vs Smith took place at the Las Vegas Hilton, Outdoor Arena on the 07th March 1987. In a dire affair Smith was deducted points for excessive holding in rounds two and eight. Smith seemed reluctant to engage until the final ten seconds of the fight. A right hand seemed to rock the 'Iron' one, but it was too little too late as the WBA belt was added to Tyson's WBC crown. The judges scored it 120-106 and two scores of 119-107.
The number one IBF contender Tony Tucker contested the vacant crown against James 'Buster' Douglas on the 30th May. Douglas started well, but after the halfway mark started to run out of gas. Tucker became champion after one-minute 36 seconds of the tenth round via a TKO.
Topping the bill, on the same night as Tucker vs Douglas, was Tyson defending two thirds of the heavyweight championship against former WBC champion Pinklon Thomas. Thomas was the WBC's mandatory challenger and ranked number three by the WBA. After a ferocious first round, the challenger was able to nullify Tyson's work by jabbing and holding. These tactics contained the champion until a barrage of bombs ground Thomas to a halt in the sixth round. The victory meant that Tyson and Tucker would meet for the undisputed heavyweight championship.
Though Michael Spinks didn't hold a belt, he was still seen as the lineal heavyweight champion. On the 15th June 1987 he took on Gerry Cooney in Atlantic City. 'The Great White Hope' Cooney was the bookies favourite, despite not boxing for thirteen months and only fighting three times since losing to Larry Holmes in June 1982. Spinks put his man down twice in the fifth, winning with 9 seconds left in the round.
Tyson and Tucker faced each other on the 01st August 1987. Both men weighed 221lbs and both were unbeaten. Tyson was 30-0 (27 KO'), Tucker's record was 34-0 (29 KO's). Tyson was a 11-1 betting favourite, but he had a surprisingly tough time with Tucker as he took the IBF crown after
another points decision, with the three judges scoring it 118-113, 119-111 and 117-112.
The victory made Tyson the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Leon Spinks beat Muhammad Ali in February 1978, but the defeat for Tucker means he was the shortest reigning heavyweight champion in history (64 days).
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