Lists can be very difficult to put together. Especially boxing lists. And especially lists that involve such a popular and polarizing figure as Mike Tyson. But I wanted to take on the challenge to compile a list of Tyson’s top 5 knockouts.
Let me start by stating some of the criteria I am using to compile this list. Obviously the knockout win by Tyson has to be eye catching. It had to have at least some kind of buzz around it the moment it happened and also has stood the test of time.
In addition the fight had to be somewhat important. Yes, Tyson scored a lot of devastating knockouts early in his career and some of those I did consider but by and large they were cut out early due to lack of them being a significant event at the time. The more important the fight or event the more weight it deserved in my opinion.
Like scoring a fight, lists can be highly subjective. I am sure I am going to take some flak for at least some of my selections. But that’s okay; it comes with the territory of compiling such a list.
With all that out of the way, here is my list of Mike Tyson’s five greatest knockouts.
5. Buster Mathis Jr. KO 3 (12/16/1995)
Off the bat, I know a lot of people are not going to agree with me on this one. But at least hear me out.
Let’s go back in time to 1995. Boxing was starting to gain serious momentum. The heavyweight division was getting filled with marquee names. Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and Michael Moorer were all recognizable by not just boxing fans but mainstream sports fans. Oscar De La Hoya was a star in the making and working his way toward a super fight with Julio Cesar Chavez. Roy Jones Jr. was in the prime of his career, flashing once in a generational type of talent. I could go on and on. Boxing was getting big.
Into this picture add Mike Tyson who would be making a much anticipated comeback that year. Tyson was by far and away boxings’ biggest star even though he had been out of the ring for four years. The world stopped for his comeback fight against Peter McNeeley in August of 1995. Even people who had no interest in sports or boxing stopped what they were doing to witness this comeback.
And what happened against McNeeley? Well, practically nothing. The fight was of course a pay-per-view event and lasted 89 seconds with very few punches getting landed. Fans felt ripped off. Suddenly all this momentum in boxing came to a screeching halt.
Remember the names I listed above along with Tyson? Well, they were all fighting at this time on either pay-per-view or premium cable. That’s where all of boxing’s biggest events landed. However with the negative backlash to Tyson-McNeeley, promoter Don King found a way to cut a deal with Fox to bring Tyson’s second fight to free TV. Not pay-per-view, not premium cable and not even basic cable. But free for anyone to watch. This was a big deal for the sport as the biggest name now had the biggest platform to perform.
Tyson-Mathis was absolutely huge and watched by millions upon millions of people.
Tyson needed to make a statement to not only rinse out the bad taste from the McNeeley fight but to keep as much of this massive audience interested in his return as possible. Anything other than a devastating knockout performance would underwhelm and do more harm than good for his career and the sport.
Tyson sure did deliver. In round three after not much happened for the first eight minutes of the fight Tyson created the perfect angle off the ropes to land a devastating right uppercut flush on the chin Mathis. Another right followed but it was really that first uppercut that had Mathis out. He would not beat the count. It was the type of highlight reel knockout that made every newscast that night and had people talking for days. Tyson’s career was back on track and the sport of boxing received quite the jolt from that performance.
4. Marvis Frazier TKO 1 (07/26/1986)
Tyson scored his share of highlight reel knockouts throughout his career. The one against Marvis Frazier, though, stands out as the most brutal.
By the time he met Frazier in July of 1986, Tyson was clearly on the road to being fast tracked toward a title shot. Just a little more than a year into his pro career there was something clearly very special about Tyson. He was fighting often, this fight with Frazier was his ninth of 1986, and more often than not making statements that had many thinking he was not only the best heavyweight out there but destined for greatness.
Frazier, the son of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, was 16-1 entering the bout with Tyson. His only loss was an early career step-up against Larry Holmes in 1983. Frazier was coming off his best career win against James “Bonecrusher” Smith and was at least seen by some as being a step up for the ever growing and improving Tyson.
Tyson bull rushed Frazier from the opening bell. Frazier had his back to the ropes for almost the entirety of the fight and ate a crunching body shot in the first few moments.
Tyson poured on the heat from there and landed a devastating right uppercut with Frazier pinned to the ropes. That uppercut froze Frazier, his arms came down and chin stuck straight up in the air. A second uppercut from Tyson then landed that sent Frazier’s head snapping back and body slumping to the canvas. He was out cold 30 seconds after the fight started. As brutal a knockout as I have ever seen. And it resonated that much more, being that his dad, “Smokin’’ Joe Frazier, was in that corner, seeing the vicious sight.
3. Larry Holmes TKO 4 (01/22/1988)
We sometimes forget today how significant some fights were say 30 plus years ago. But Tyson-Holmes was absolutely massive and as big as it got when it happened on January 22, 1988.
At this point in his career Tyson had unified the heavyweight division. As many pointed out though the crop of heavyweights Tyson had defeated on his road to the top may not have even cracked the top 20 in the 60s and 70s. The names he beat were only noticeable to the most ardent of boxing fans. Tyson needed that big name, that name that fans of sports in general could recognize. Thus, enter Larry Holmes.
Holmes of course ruled over the heavyweight division in the post-Ali era. He first won a piece of the heavyweight title in a shootout against Ken Norton in 1978 and was really the recognized heavyweight champion for the first part of the 80s. He had plenty of big fights along the way, including his thirteenth round stoppage of Gerry Cooney in 1982. Undefeated for his first 48 fights, Holmes would finally lose a fifteen round unanimous to Michael Spinks in September of 1985. The rematch would occur in April of 1986 and this time Holmes would lose a fifteen round split decision to Spinks.
Off since that second loss to Spinks, a fight many felt Holmes won, Holmes was called upon to challenge Tyson. He had the name and crossover appeal that Tyson needed in an opponent. But at 38, he was also not seen as much of a threat to Tyson and came into the fight in Atlantic City as a substantial betting underdog.
As I noted earlier, the fight was a very big deal at the time and had much public interest. It was one of those fights that brought in fans that generally did not watch boxing. But from the opening bell too it was apparent this would be a long night for Holmes.
After some clinching and holding for the first three rounds, Tyson found his range in the fourth. A left jab followed by a ferocious right hand by Tyson put Holmes on the canvas halfway thru the round. Tyson soon after scored a second knockdown with an overhand right to Holmes’ head that sent Holmes stumbling across the ring. Holmes, though, came back firing but in doing so exposed himself to more damaging punches from Tyson. Finally, a massive overhand that Tyson launched from far away landed with full impact on Holmes’ chin and put him out for good. This was quite the emphatic statement from Tyson and solidified his status as the baddest man on the planet.
2. Trevor Berbick TKO 2 (11/22/1986)
Mike Tyson was trying to accomplish what was fairly unfathomable and that was become the youngest heavyweight champion at age 20 in just under two years as a pro. Was it too much too soon? The world was watching when he challenged WBC heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick on November 22nd, 1986 in Las Vegas, NV.
Berbick was in the midst of a career resurgence. He had won nine straight, including coming off a career-best victory, lifting the WBC heavyweight crown from Pinklon Thomas that previous March. Now he had the chance to solidify his picture in the division, and send his earning power to another level, by facing the young upstart in Tyson.
The first round provided some exciting action as Berbick showed no fear in willing to exchange with Tyson.
But in doing so, Berbick was exposing himself to Tyson’s lethal power and it just seemed to be a matter of time before Tyson landed something that would alter the course of the fight.
Tyson landed a huge right flush on the jaw of Berbick to start the second round and a follow-up barrage put Berbick on the canvas. Berbick arose bravely but was on shaky legs. Tyson poured on the pressure and started landing some brutal rights to Berbick’s body that brought his hands down. With Berbick’s chin now even more exposed, Tyson landed a short, powerful left hook that landed on Berbick’s temple. In a slightly delayed reaction Berbick fell and his head landed with a thump on the canvas. He tried to get up on two occasions but each time fell back down. Finally, he made it to his feet but the fight was wisely waived off. A brutal knockout performance by Tyson who in the process won a piece of the heavyweight crown at just 20 years of age.
1. Michael Spinks KO 1 (06/27/1988)
When I started thinking about this list it was the Spinks fight first and then figure it out from there. How could this not be number one on any Tyson knockout list?
Boxing has its way of creating moments in history that, well, can only happen in boxing. When Ali fought Frazier the first time that was one of those moments. Two all-time legends who were each undefeated and had a legitimate claim to the title were going to finally meet in an event that was so big that literally everyone to this day remembers where they were when it happened.
Was Tyson-Spinks that big? Well no, but it was close, it can be argued. Again, we had this only-in-boxing scenario where two greats had a claim to sports’ biggest prize in the heavyweight championship. Both were undefeated. Spinks had essentially cleaned out the light heavyweight division before moving up to heavyweight to upset Larry Holmes to win a heavyweight crown. Tyson was looking unbeatable as a heavyweight routinely destroying his opposition. When these two collided in June of 1988 the world again was put on pause to watch.
Yes, we have all watched the tape of this many times.
It frankly doesn’t take long. All of 91 seconds of one’s time is needed to watch this fight from start to finish. But again, go back to when this happened in 1988. Many in boxing thought Spinks had what it took to test and beat Tyson. Spinks was far and away the most credible opponent Tyson would have faced to date. He could be the man to stand down the monster and possibly ask questions that had never been asked of Tyson. At the very least it was widely believed that Spinks could not be intimidated by Tyson.
However, Spinks was intimidated, to the shock of boxing experts.
He was annihilated by Tyson in 91 seconds of fury. The fact that Tyson won by devastating knockout wasn’t surprising. But what was surprising was the ease with which he did. If Spinks couldn’t compete with Tyson then who could? A star was officially born and at that time it was not unrealistic to think that Tyson could never be beaten.