Tyson vs. Spinks—Did He Even Want to Get Back Up?

By Marc Livitz on June 16, 2017
Tyson vs. Spinks—Did He Even Want to Get Back Up?
"Now, we'll see who's the champ," Spinks said. "And who's the chump," Tyson replied.

Less than a minute passed before Michael Spinks was sent to the canvas, to one knee to be precise for the first time in his career…

Remember when Sports Illustrated actually tossed a bone to boxing? Of course, the digital age gave rise to us getting our news much quicker than having to wait for a new issue of “SI” to arrive in our mailboxes. If we’re to look back now at the covers of the popular sports magazine and how it has paid tribute to the ultimate test of will and courage, then we’ll see some familiar names, but that’s pretty much it. Understandably, Muhammad Ali graced the cover last summer upon his passing, as was the case one year earlier. Prior to that, there was a reminder that they still cared about the sport, as evidenced by the stories dedicated to the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao showdown two years ago. They even produced two separate covers for each fighter. Imagine that. Different times apparently meant different priorities because there’s not much else in the past decade.

Over the past 25 years, give or take the only constant boxing face on the cover of Sports Illustrated was the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, “Iron” Mike Tyson. “Kid Dynamite” was featured on the cover four times prior to 1988. The magazine highlighted his entry into the sport in a January 1986 issue. This was followed later after wins over Trevor Berbick (when he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history at the age of 20), Tony Tucker and ultimately, Larry Holmes. However, one particular cover brings back memories for so many us. The headline “K.O. — Mike Tyson Demolishes Michael Spinks in 91 Seconds” that was upon the front cover of the July 4, 1988 issue, which brings us at last to the brief point of this short article.

Later this month, 29 years will have passed since Spinks decided to defend his Ring Magazine lineal heavyweight title for the fourth time since wresting the IBF crown from Larry Holmes in a pair of fights in the Fall of 1985 and Spring of 1986, respectively. Many among the old guard of boxing purists still find it hard to accept both, if not either win as a fair decisions, but that is for another day. Spinks had fought the majority of his time as a champion in the light heavyweight division and after defeating Holmes, he made two defenses of it until that June night in ‘88 rolled around. The buildup to the contest was surreal. Tyson was the carrier of the three major alphabet belts at the time. Ads played across network television. The two men came face to face. “Now, we’ll see who’s the champ,” Spinks said. “And who’s the chump,” Tyson replied.

Indeed and so many thought that the heaviest of classes would be solidified that night in Atlantic City in dramatic fashion. The bout took place at a site owned by the man who is now the President of the United States. Who could’ve imagined this back in the late eighties? Let’s not get sidetracked. The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino was rocking that night and it was a Monday. June 27, 1988. The contest would end up being just as much of a letdown as the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao spectacle two years ago, but in a different way. A very different way.

Tyson came to the ring sans a robe and beyond warmed up, while Spinks wore a classy white robe with black lettering. Muhammad Ali was introduced to the crowd as he stood in the ring. The title situation was perhaps a bit strange. While “Iron” Mike held the WBC, WBA and IBF titles, Spinks was still considered the best heavyweight in the world per two certain monthly boxing publications. This was because he’d been stripped of his IBF title due to his refusal to fight Tony Tucker, who captured that vacant belt in May of 1987 when he beat James “Buster” Douglas, who would later do something quite famous himself. Tucker didn’t hold on to the IBF crown very long, in fact just a pinch over two months before Tyson took it from him that August.

Since he hadn’t actually lost his title in the ring, 1976 Olympic gold medal winner Spinks was still looked at as the top heavyweight by those who’d left their glasses at home. When he climbed into the ring to face Mike, he was undefeated in 31 bouts and held 21 knockouts to his credit. Tyson was also unbeaten with 34 wins and 30 KO’s. Spinks looked terrified when he met his Brooklyn opponent in the center of the squared circle. Less than a minute passed before “Jinx” Spinks was sent to the canvas, to one knee to be precise for the first time in his career. He’d absorbed a load of bombs from Tyson and left uppercut was followed by a right to the body. Spinks would beat the count of referee Frank Cappuccino, but the damage, both physically as well as psychologically appeared to be in full swing.

A few seconds later, a quick one-two from “Iron” Mike ended the night. A hard right connected to Michael’s chin and he fell flat on his back. The camera zoomed in on the fallen champion and his eyes looked as if he was ready to call it a night. He may or may have not tried to get back to his feet, though all he could muster was sitting up slightly to his right and then slumping back to the canvas and through the ropes. Shocked faces filled the New Jersey arena. This writer’s uncle was livid that he’d gone to get a tub of popcorn and missed the entire fight which was being played on a large screen at a local venue.

Different angles of the second and final knockdown show the viciousness of the deciding punch. Spinks had a bit of spaghetti legs and his eyes were in a gaze. Still, had he been able get back to his feet, who among us really thinks he was in the least bit interested in doing so? This may have been a “quit while you’re behind before you’re really behind” type of escape plan. In any case, it was according to some the finest hour of Tyson’s career, which as we all know would go on to leave more in the imagination of fight fans in terms of what could have been. He’d go on to have more knockouts and we watched his fights, no matter the opponent just to see him work. He’s still with us at the age of 50. What do you, the fans remember about this fight? What left the biggest impression?

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  1. tlig 05:19am, 06/21/2017

    Kevin Rooney (Tyson’s trainer) had told Mike before the bout that he’d bet both their purses on Mike winning in the first round. Tyson actually believed him and went at Spinks with that goal in mind. In retrospect this wasn’t as impressive as most thought at the time. Spinks may have dethroned Larry Holmes but he never - at any point - was the best heavyweight in the world. I actually think a few of the guys Mike had beaten earlier (like Bone Crusher Smith and Tony Tucker, who Spinks avoided) would have KO’d Spinks too.

  2. Lucas McCain 07:31am, 06/16/2017

    I’m sure we all have read the tales of Joe Louis’s opponents “croaking” in the dressing room, but a few who stood up (Farr, Conn) showed he was human.  The same, eventually, with Tyson, though he helped it along by becoming completely unraveled.  (And also less accomplished than Louis.)  But today is a special day:  Doo-ran! Doo-ran! Happy Birthday!

  3. nonprophet 06:45am, 06/16/2017

    Agreed.  Spinks was terrified.  Bruce Seldon had the same look as he awaited the start of round one in his fight against Iron Mike.  One boxing writer describe Seldon has having “self-concussed” before the fight even started.

  4. Alt Knight 06:12am, 06/16/2017

    I am amazed at what a total rag Sports Illustrated has become since I since subscribed to it back in the ‘70’s. The magazine of the last couple of decades or so,  is paper thin compared to my old back issues from ‘71-‘83. I even subscribed for one more year in ‘87 and noticed even then how much the magazine had started to slip. I think Spinks pulled a Jersey Joe Walcott vs Marciano II in his fight with Tyson. He took the first chance out and decided there was no use taking a beating when the money was already in the bank. No premeditated dive, just a reasonable and rational decision after tasting Tyson’s power. Hell, 98% of the population would have done the same. Spinks already looked like a beaten man on his walk up to the ring.

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