Kid Dynamite Arrives – “That’s all! It’s over! And we have a new era in boxing!” — HBO’s Barry Tompkins on Mike Tyson knocking out Trevor Berbick to win the WBC heavyweight title and becoming the youngest heavyweight champ in history at age 20 (Nov. 22, 1986).
When 18-year old Cassius Clay turned pro after winning an Olympic gold medal, he proclaimed he was going to break Floyd Patterson’s record by becoming the youngest heavyweight champ in history. Patterson set the record on November 30th, 1956, when at age 21 (21 years, 10 months, 26 days) he knocked out 39-year-old light heavyweight champ Archie Moore in the 5th round to claim the vacant title. Patterson and trainer Cus D’Amato were hoping to fight Rocky Marciano for the title, but Rocky retired after knocking out Moore in his final fight.
Clay fell short of Patterson’s record, taking Sonny Liston’s title on February 25th, 1964, five weeks after he turned 22. And like Patterson versus Moore, Clay was an underdog versus Liston. However, until Mike Tyson arrived, Clay was the youngest heavyweight to dethrone a reigning champion. At the time, it wasn’t known that Clay, who changed his name to Muhammad Ali a little over a week after shocking Liston, would go on to become the biggest heavyweight star since Joe Louis. Then 30 years after Patterson, another heavyweight who was originally trained by D’Amato, Mike Tyson, made his mark. On November 22nd, 1986, at age 20 (20 years, 4 months, 22 days), Tyson stopped WBC champ Trevor Berbick in the second round, breaking Patterson’s record, and then went on to become the biggest star in boxing since Muhammad Ali of the 1970’s.
As a 17-year old, Mike Tyson lost twice to Henry Tillman at the 1984 Olympic Trials. When he turned pro in March of 1985, he was unknown outside of inner boxing circles. After winning his first 19 fights by knockout, with 12 of them in the first round, it didn’t take long for him to build a following. A mere nine months after he made his pro-debut, Tyson, then 19 years old, was on the cover of the January 6, 1986 edition of Sports Illustrated. Next to his picture it read “Kid Dynamite.”
At the time, Tyson was the injection of excitement the heavyweight division needed after the great run of heavyweights named Ali, Frazier and Foreman who preceded him circa 1970-78. Not to be forgotten, Larry Holmes, who took the baton from Ali, was a great fighter and champ through the years 1978-85. However, many observers felt Larry was a cheap intimation of Ali without the natural charisma, whereas Tyson was viewed as being a combination of Joe Frazier and George Foreman molded into one. That would ultimately prove to be an incorrect assumption, but Tyson was an attacker similar to Frazier and was thought to carry the two-handed punching power of Foreman.
Tyson, trained by Cus D’Amato and managed by Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton, was better marketed and managed on the way up than any other heavyweight in history. They didn’t want Tyson to win just by knockout; they wanted him to look like a being from another world in doing it. In fact, a tape of his early knockouts was sent out to the most influential members of the media. Mike’s early opponents were dreadful. They were fighters who were coming off long periods of inactivity and lower-tier journeymen in the midst of long losing streaks. However, they knew what they were up against and that they had no chance to touch Tyson, let alone beat him. But they were paid a lot of money and helped create the Tyson sensation. It also helped that Tyson was a very unique blend of power and speed. His early fights didn’t last long, but they were exciting and explosive while they lasted.
Jim Jacobs was a confidant of Mike’s, and taught him a lot about the great fighters of the past through the renowned fight film collection he owned with Cayton. And it was Tyson’s respect and knowledge of past greats that endeared him to boxing fans. He tried to emulate Jack Dempsey in the ring and was soft spoken like Joe Louis as a rising contender out of it. Tyson blitzed his way to a title shot by fighting sometimes three times in a month. Prior to fighting for the title, the most credentialed fighter he beat was former cruiser-weight title holder Alfonso Ratliff, who he stopped in the second round in his last bout before fighting for the heavyweight title.
In his 28th pro bout, 20 months after his pro-debut and 10 months after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Tyson fought Trevor Berbick for the WBC title. His opponent Trevor Berbick was the first fighter to extend Larry Holmes 15 rounds in a title bout……and also the last fighter to fight and defeat Muhammad Ali. The battle-tested Berbick, 32, had fought other notables before fighting Tyson, such as Renaldo Snipes, Greg Page and Pinklon Thomas, who he won a narrow decision over to win the WBC title in his previous bout before defending it against Tyson.
Tyson-Berbick clashed at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas on HBO. Unlike Moore-Patterson and Liston-Clay, Berbick 31-4-1 (23), the elder and more experienced fighter, was an underdog to the 20-year old Tyson 27-0 (25). By the time Tyson challenged Berbick, he was known for his ring attire — black trunks, black boxing shoes, no robe and no socks. Tradition holds that the champ chooses his colors and the challenger must pick different colors. In an attempt to get into Tyson’s head, Berbick entered the ring in black trunks, black shoes, high black socks and a hooded robe. Instead of changing his colors, Tyson paid a $5,000 fine and entered the ring in his normal black attire.
I’ll say this for the late Trevor Berbick; if he was awed by Tyson, he certainly didn’t fight like he was. Tyson came out in the first round with disruptive side-to-side head movement looking to create an opening. Trevor held his ground and didn’t retreat. He walked Mike back while holding and whacking him to the body and when they broke, he waved Tyson to come and get him. And that was a mistake because by the end of the round, Tyson was landing massive overhand rights and left hooks. One combo towards the end of the round caught Berbick flush and knocked him half way across the ring.
Tyson came out hard and winging big shots at the start of the second round. He was catching Berbick with his best stuff and a minute into the round had Trevor reeling. During a brief clinch Tyson landed a beautiful left hook on Berbick’s temple that didn’t look like much, but Berbick crumbled to the canvas. He tried to get up but his legs gave out, and then he tried again and his equilibrium was scattered and he couldn’t stand. Finally after going down twice from the same shot, he made it to his feet but was in no condition to continue and the fight was correctly stopped.
In Trevor Berbick, you had a fighter who was keen enough to know that he could never out-box Tyson for 12 rounds. So he figured I’ll go out on my shield hoping to catch him coming in with a big shot, and maybe hurt him enough to where maybe if I can flurry on him the ref will stop the fight. This way I’ll give myself a chance to win…and if not the fight won’t last long but I will have given it my best shot. In the end, Tyson was too strong and too accurate of a puncher for Berbick and the better fighter won. Thus, Tyson became the youngest champ in heavyweight history, breaking the record set by Floyd Patterson almost 30 years prior to the very day.
As Barry Tompkins said at the conclusion of the bout…”And we have a new era in boxing.” Yes, he was right. Within two years, Tyson was the undisputed and lineal champ. His fights were events and during his heyday he was the biggest name in sports. As his career progressed, we learned that “Kid Dynamite” was a front-runner and didn’t carry his big power throughout a bout. When he was met with fierce resistance and things didn’t go his way, you could see him lose his confidence. He ranks among the top five heavyweights in history based on skill and raw talent, but his mental constitution wasn’t quite up to par with the greats he immortalized. He was stopped or quit in all six of his career defeats and never got up from the canvas to win a fight……but during his prime, if his head was on right, he was capable of beating almost anybody.
To this day, he is no doubt the biggest star in boxing since Muhammad Ali of the mid-1970’s. If Tyson were around and in his prime today, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao would be fighting on his undercards.
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Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
Kid Dynamite Arrives