Skip to main content

On June 27, 1988, Mike Tyson took on Michael Spinks in a highly-anticipated showdown for the world heavyweight championship. Tyson was 34-0 with 30 knockouts coming into the bout and held the WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight crowns. Spinks, who spent much of his career in the light heavyweight division, also came in undefeated with a 31-0 record, 21 victories coming by way of knockout.

The fight was billed as a “once and for all” matchup to decide the real heavyweight champion of the world as Spinks held The Ring title and was considered the lineal heavyweight champion, seeing as how he had never lost the IBF title, which Tyson later won. At the time, this was the richest fight in boxing history and fans were hoping to see a great matchup, with some experts and former fighters, including Muhammad Ali, truly believing that Spinks could beat Tyson.

But as it turns out, Michael Spinks himself didn’t even believe that he could beat Mike Tyson, even not wanting to come out of the dressing room prior to the fight.

The build to Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks

Mike Tyson rose through the heavyweight ranks quickly, decimating opponents en route to a 27-0 record, 26 coming via knockout, many of them extremely vicious, before defeating Trevor Berbick for the WBC heavyweight title as a 20-year-old on November 22, 1986. Just a few months later, he earned a unanimous decision victory over James Smith to win the WBA crown.

Michael Spinks was a gold medalist in the middleweight division at the 1976 Summer Olympics and turned pro in 1977. He won the WBA light heavyweight title in 1981 and enjoyed four years at the top of the division before moving up to the heavyweight division in 1985, defeating Larry Holmes for The Ring and IBF titles, as well as the lineal heavyweight crown. After defeating Holmes in a rematch and defeating Steffen Tangstad in 1986, Spinks was stripped of the IBF title for refusing to fight the number one contender, Tony Tucker, who was given the title. Spinks wanted a bigger payday to fight Gerry Cooney and defeated him on June 15, 1987, his final fight before the Tyson bout more than a year later.

Tyson defended the WBA and WBC crowns against Pinklon Thomas in 1987, knocking him out in the sixth round, and then won the IBF title from Tucker to become the undisputed champion. After thrashing Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, and Tony Tubbs, the fight with Spinks was set.

Spinks didn’t want to come out of his dressing room and his manager didn’t help matters

Michael Spinks came in as a 4-1 underdog, pretty much the best odds you could have in a fight with Mike Tyson at that time. Spinks’ manager, Butch Lewis, believed in his fighter but was still looking for a psychological edge on Iron Mike. He sent his assistant to Tyson’s dressing room and there was said to be a bump in Tyson’s left glove, which turned out to be nothing. Lewis became adamant that Tyson’s hands be re-wrapped, causing quite a scene in the process and even refused to let the fight happen until things were resolved. It wasn’t until Spinks’ trainer, Eddie Futch, got involved that things calmed down. Futch said that the glove was fine but the damage had been done. Tyson was hot over the matter and told his own trainer, Kevin Rooney, that he was going to hurt Michael Spinks.

It’s easy to take more than $13 million to fight Mike Tyson but it’s a little more difficult when reality sets in and you have to go out and actually fight a 22-year-old wrecking ball, especially one that’s just been angered by your own people. So when it came time to fight, as recounted in the book “One Punch from the Promised Land” by authors John and Ouisie Shapiro, a story all about the Spinks brothers, Michael Spinks didn’t even want to leave his dressing room because he was so afraid of what Tyson could do to him.

“Emanuel Steward had flown to Atlantic City to see the fight and went to check on Michael (Spinks). I went into his dressing room; they couldn’t even get him to come out, he was so scared. He was a nervous wreck, really freaking out. Michael didn’t have the personality to come out.

“Not until 11:20 did Michael finally make his way to the ring, snaking through a celebrity-studded audience that included Norman Mailer, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Sean Penn, Madonna, and, of course, Donald Trump. The fighter gave a hesitant wave to the crowd, acknowledging his family and friends. He entered the ring in a gleaming white robe as Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald sang “This Is It” through the PA speakers. Sweat glistened on his cheeks and forehead. He had the look of a rabbit that had just spotted a hunter’s rifle.”

Excerpt from “One Punch from the Promised Land” on Michael Spinks not wanting to face Mike Tyson

It wouldn’t take long for Michael Spinks’ worst fears to come true.

Tyson wins in 91 seconds and Spinks never fought again

Michael Spinks looked absolutely terrified standing across from Mike Tyson. Tyson had that look in his eye that he was ready to kill somebody and the fight was over before it started.

When the opening bell rang, any plan that Spinks had about keeping Tyson away from him vanished. As Tyson swarmed, Spinks tried to tie him up and ate a forearm for his troubles. After a quick warning from the referee, Tyson went back to work, cutting off every escape route that Spinks tried to find and trapped him in the ropes. Tyson hit a left uppercut, followed it up with a body shot and Spinks hit the canvas for the first time in his professional career. After a standing eight count, Tyson came back with a quick 1-2 combo that ended with one of the biggest right hands of his career and Spinks was done. His arms flailed as he headed toward the ground, landing flat on his back on the canvas as Iron Mike stood over him and stared. Following the count of 10, Spinks nearly fell out of the ring, dazed and confused as the real heavyweight champion of the world celebrated his victory.

Just 91 seconds. That’s how long it took for Mike Tyson to knock out an undefeated heavyweight champion that had never before been knocked down. It was Mike Tyson at the height of his career and it’s no wonder why Michael Spinks never wanted to leave his dressing room. Spinks never fought again.