The Iron Years Part Three: The Comeback Trail

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson with new trainer Richie Giachetti

The Road Back

James 'Buster' Douglas was scheduled to face top contender Evander Holyfield in June 1990, but as he was in a legal dispute with Don King, that bout was pushed back to the September. Mike Tyson, however, did return to the ring on the 16th June 1990 against Henry Tillman.

Tillman did manage to beat Tyson twice in the unpaid ranks, for the 1984 Olympic Trials, finally winning gold in the heavyweight division in Los Angeles. But his professional career didn't emulate his amateur resume.

He started out at cruiserweight and won ten in a row, including a heavyweight contest against Tyson foe Reggie Gross, winning a ten round unanimous decision. Tillman then fought Bert Cooper for the NABF cruiserweight title. Cooper knocked him down twice in the second round, firstly by a left hook, then again by an overhand right to the head before going on to winning a twelve unanimous decision.

He went on to win four bouts before taking on WBA cruiserweight champion Evander Holyfield on the 14th February 1987. This was the first time that two American medalists from the LA Olympics (Holyfield was a bronze medal winner in the light-heavyweight division) faced each other in the pro ranks. Holyfield virtually won every round as he knocked Tillman down in the second before retaining his title via the three knockdown rule in the seventh.

Tillman then moved up to the heavyweight division, winning three, then suffering back-to-back losses against Dwain Bonds and Willie de Wit. He won his next three before being Tyson's first opponent since losing his undisputed heavyweight championship.

Tyson had a new chief trainer on board. Richie Giachetti, who helped guide Larry Holmes to the world heavyweight championship, was the man to instil the skills that were missing since Kevin Rooney was sacked. Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright were still there to assist.

The finishing blow Vs Henry Tillman

The fight took place at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. George Foreman beat Adilson Rodrigues in the second round on the undercard, but the jovial air that surrounded 'Big' George, turned to violent menace as Tyson made his way to the ring.

As the bell rang Tyson had to chase the retreating opponent around the ring. Tillman worked behind a jab, but his sole purpose was to stay out of trouble. He did manage to land a right, but it was the man from Catskill, New York who was landing the telling punches. Tillman backed to a ring post and threw a right hand, but Tyson beat him to it and landed a overhand right that caught his man on the temple. Tillman was down and out as referee Richard Steele counted out the glazed-eyed man at two minutes 47 seconds of the first.

Tyson rushed over to help his stricken friend. "We often hang out together in Los Angeles, I've got a home there, me and Henry are good friends, what happened in the ring was just business," explained Tyson.

Douglas Defends the Title

James 'Buster' Douglas, after many months of lawsuits with promotor Don King, finally defended his crown on the 25th October 1990, against the undisputed number one contender Evander Holyfield. Had it not been for Douglas' upset victory, then the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion would've faced off against Tyson in June 1990.

Evander Holyfield stands over the stricken James 'Buster' Douglas

The new champion had put on a lot of weight since beating Tyson and started his training camp really heavy. At the official weigh-in Douglas scaled 246 lbs, 14.5 lbs more than he was in Tokyo. Holyfield, who was always in magnificent condition came in at 208 lbs.

Holyfield controlled the first two rounds, using his speed and taking advantage of the champion's lack of conditioning. Then in the third, Douglas committed the cardinal sin of boxing and fired a lead right uppercut. Holyfield stepped back and countered with a right to the jaw. Douglas fell to the canvas. He lay on his side, wiped his face with his gloves to check for blood, before rolling onto his back with no intention of beating Mills Lane's count of ten. Holyfield became the first cruiserweight to step up and become heavyweight champion of the world.

Douglas made $24,075,000, the largest purse ever at the time compared to Holyfield's $8,025,000, but the championship was far more important to Holyfield than the financial gain, and it looked like the belts were in a safe pair of hands before Tyson got his chance.

Tyson Marches On

Alex Stewart was next for Tyson, scheduled for the September, but that contest was postponed until the 08th December 1990, due to Tyson suffering a cut during sparring.

British born Stewart, who represented Jamaica in he 1984 Olympics, set up home in Brooklyn, New York and in September 1986 turned professional. He won twenty four in a row, all stoppage victories, before having a crack at Evander Holyfield's WBC Continental Americas heavyweight title. In what was Holyfield's fifth heavyweight contest and his second defence of his title, since stepping up a division.