Ranking Mike Tyson's Greatest Moments
Wanna start a good boxing argument?
Wade into a pool of fight fans and suggest one of two things about Mike Tyson:
1) He was the greatest heavyweight of all time; or
2) He was never as good as what was suggested.
Then stand back and wait for the verbal punches to fly.
But regardless of where you reside on the Tyson spectrum, it's impossible to say the former two-time champion wasn't one of the signature fighters of his era—particularly the late 1980s—and that his run of eye-blink knockouts isn't among the most memorable in the long, colorful history of the sport.
The man known as "Iron Mike" turns 54 today, which prompted this ranking of his top 10 greatest moments.
They're not in chronological order, so we apologize in advance for any spoiler concerns from one slide to the next, and we encourage you to chime in with a comment to let us know where we got it right—or wrong.
10. 'I'm Back'
Say what you will about Tyson and whether his ring feats were truly legendary, but the idea that a man well into his 50s whose last bout—a TKO loss—was 15 years ago can get the public so revved about a possible return speaks volumes for his aura.
And simply by uttering "I'm back" in the age of social media and quarantines, the former champ has certainly done that.
The attached compilation video has been viewed more than 2 million times. Several others are comfortably into six digits as well. So, whether he actually comes back to the ring or not, Tyson has already created a public relations renaissance that rivals all but the very best results of his actual career.
And if a third heavyweight title run doesn't happen, perhaps a gig in crisis communications might.
9. Jesse Ferguson: TKO 6 (Feb. 16, 1986)
OK, the fact that a 19-year-old Tyson dismantled once-beaten Jesse Ferguson over six rounds, prompting the fight's end because of a reluctant foe's persistent clinching, doesn't exactly move the memorable needle.
But as post-fight comments go, it's surely one of his best. And it aptly illustrates the menace that terrified opponents and titillated audiences, particularly precocious stuff for a kid in his 18th professional fight.
"What I always try to do is catch them right on the tip of the nose," Tyson said.
"That's because I try to push the bone of the nose right up into the brain. I hear the doctors and I know that the possibility of him getting up after that is not likely."
Almost can't blame Ferguson for holding on for dear life after all, right?
8. Marvis Frazier: TKO 1 (July 26, 1986)
Even the most ardent supporters would concede Tyson encountered a dubious collection of no-names on his way to heavyweight stardom.
But he faced some recognizable opponents along that road, too.
Among them were Marvis Frazier, better known for a famous father but nevertheless a credible fighter who'd defeated an ex-title challenger (James Tillis), a fringe contender (Jose Ribalta) and a future champion (James Smith) in three fights leading into his Tyson showdown.
After ABC boxing analyst Alex Wallau set the stage by suggesting "it is not a matter of if Mike Tyson knocks out Marvis Frazier, but it's just a matter of when," Tyson delivered. And quickly.
Frazier was rendered defenseless by a right uppercut just 20 seconds in, slumped to his knees moments later and was wholly unresponsive as Joe Cortez's count reached five, prompting the referee to wave it off.
The official time was 30 seconds.
But as it turned out, the resonance lasted nearly 20 years.
7. Tony Tubbs: TKO 2 (March 21, 1988)
By the spring of 1988, Tyson was a star.
He held every significant heavyweight championship belt and was a ratings bonanza in the United States, which meant it made perfect sense to take the show on the road.
So off to the Tokyo Dome he went, officially to engage a former title claimant in Tony Tubbs but in reality to lay the groundwork for boosting his global profile in front of an entranced and hungry audience.
The nearly 240-pound Tubbs didn't go quietly but he did go quickly, eventually succumbing to Tyson's dynamic, thudding combinations with six seconds left in the second round.
Tyson later told The Ring that Tubbs had the fastest hands of any man he fought.
It was the 33rd victory and 29th knockout of Tyson's career and—spoiler alert—immediately preceded his biggest win. But it also set the stage for a return to Japan two years later that didn't go quite so smoothly.
Wait, did someone say 42-1?
6. Razor Ruddock I, II: TKO 7 (March 18, 1991), UD 12 (June 28, 1991)
It's a two-bout series that gets lost in the KO hype.
But considering the stature of the opponent and the circumstances surrounding the fights, there aren't too many instances in which Tyson was more impressive than when he beat Razor Ruddock.
The bouts, in March and June of 1991, finished up the quartet of appearances Tyson made between a stunning loss to Buster Douglas in February 1990 and a four-year ring absence after he was convicted of raping Desiree Washington in Indianapolis.
Ruddock was a once-beaten slugger with a fearsome highlight reel and coming off a fourth-round stoppage of ex-champ Michael Dokes. He was also a muscular 6'3" and towered over Tyson physically, which led some to believe he'd be able to push a now-beatable ex-champ to the limit and beyond.
Though the Jamaican-born Canadian resident did land his share of shots, Tyson was clearly the faster and more complete fighter and was able to dominate with a well-rounded arsenal.
The first bout was stopped by a trigger-happy Richard Steele after a combination sent Ruddock reeling, prompting an intermittently violent rematch three months later that went to a unanimous decision after 12 rounds and left Ruddock with a broken jaw.
5. Stealing Scenes in 'The Hangover' (Warning: NSFW)
Tyson had been out of the ring for four years and looked a few pounds past fighting weight, but it'd be hard to suggest he wasn't a huge comedic success when it came to a 2009 cameo in a major motion picture.
The Hangover had a strong enough cast to stand without the former two-time heavyweight champ, but when he appeared out of nowhere as the owner of the kidnapped tiger, it took the movie to a new level.
Belting out a few lines of a Phil Collins hit and laying out Zach Galifianakis with a devastating overhand right punctuated the appearance, which Tyson later said he made in order to get cash to fund a drug habit.
The gravity of his admission notwithstanding, it adds some dark context to Tyson's final line in which he gives the guys a pass for their under-the-influence behavior.
"Don't worry about it, man," he told Bradley Cooper's character, Phil. "Like you said, we all do dumb s--t when we're f--ked up."
4. Frank Bruno II: TKO 3 (March 16, 1996)
By March 1996, Tyson had proved a couple things.
First, with consecutive erasures of Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr. after a four-year layoff, it was clear he could still fight. And second, based on response to those two walkthroughs, the people wanted more.
So what he needed was a bigger name, and, more importantly, a bigger prize.
Enter Frank Bruno.
Not only was the Englishman recognizable thanks to game efforts in failed title tries against Tim Witherspoon (TKO 11, 1986), Tyson (TKO 5, 1989) and Lennox Lewis (TKO 7, 1993), but he was also by then in possession of the WBC title strap he'd taken from Oliver McCall via unanimous decision the previous September.
In other words, it was a win-win.
Though Bruno stood five inches taller and weighed 27 pounds more, Tyson was again faster, more dynamic and more powerful from the start, and this time prompted heady post-fight words from no less than Gerald Eskenazi of the New York Times after ending Bruno's reign in six minutes, 50 seconds.
"There's nothing left to speculate about," he wrote. "Mike Tyson is back, and dangerous."
3. Tony Tucker: UD 12 (Aug. 1, 1987)
There's something special about the phrase "undisputed heavyweight champion."
So, even though he'd won two title belts, racked up 30 straight victories and stopped all but three of his opponents inside the distance, Tyson still had plenty to fight for when he stepped in with Tony Tucker.
Tucker was also unbeaten in 34 fights and, more importantly, in possession of the final slice of the three-title pie, in the form of the IBF strap he'd claimed by beating Buster Douglas a couple of months earlier.
Douglas was still more than two years down the road for Tyson, who, in Tucker, once again encountered an opponent who was much taller—6'5"—but neither fast enough to hold him at bay from a distance nor willing enough to stand in the pocket to exchange shots that night in August 1987.
In fact, Tucker's summertime strategy was deemed "survivalist" by Phil Berger of the New York Times.
"Tucker lost the snap in his punches after the fourth round and mostly fought to make it through the 12-round distance," Berger wrote. "He did last the distance. He circled and grabbed. He sidestepped Tyson's charges or deflected them by pushing Tyson with his gloves. Sometimes he neutralized his opponent by pressing Tyson's head down as the 21-year-old slugger came forward."
Tyson did say later that Tucker had the best jab and was the best boxer of anyone he'd fought.
And though a unanimous decision granted him the elusive third belt, there was still a relevant title claim being made by Michael Spinks—who'd held the IBF title prior to Tucker but vacated it to earn big money against Gerry Cooney rather than facing Tucker, the No. 1 contender, in a mandatory defense.
But, don't worry...we'll get to that.
2. Trevor Berbick: TKO 2 (Nov. 22, 1986)
It's an iconic scene in boxing.
Tyson, making his first championship appearance, drops WBC heavyweight titleholder Trevor Berbick with a three-punch combination that leaves the heretofore sturdy veteran staggering drunkenly around the ring.
A right hook to the body is followed with a right uppercut to the head and again by a left hook to the head, dumping Berbick flat on his back as Tyson stands by in the second round of their scheduled 12.
Berbick rolls to his knees before tumbling backward into the ropes, then pitches forward to the floor once again before standing wobbly and prompting an instant rescue from referee Mills Lane.
In clock time, the sequence takes all of 15 seconds.
And when it ends, HBO's Barry Tompkins succinctly relays its magnitude on that November 1986 night.
"It's over," he said. "That's all. And we have a new era in boxing."
1. Michael Spinks: KO 1 (June 27, 1988)
He had faster knockouts and beat more ferocious opponents, but no single result encapsulates the Tyson mystique as much as the demolition of Spinks.
To those unaware then or now, Spinks was no joke. He was a gold medalist at the 1976 Olympics, a long-time pro champion at light heavyweight, and he'd made the rise to heavyweight in impressive fashion, ending the seven-year reign of Larry Holmes.
He'd also fought three more times in the 30 months after capturing Holmes' belt, beating Holmes (SD 15) in a rematch before stopping Steffen Tangstad (TKO 4) and Cooney (TKO 5).
And many experts, including Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard, picked him to beat Tyson. Suffice to say, they got it wrong. Big time.
Not only did Spinks not win, he hardly competed. Instead, he was in retreat mode from the outset, barely landed a meaningful punch and was dropped to a knee by a body shot about a minute in.
Upon rising, he went all-in on an overhand right that missed the mark, with the follow-through inconveniently bringing his head directly into the path of a Tyson right hand that left him flat on his back. He'd only rolled onto a knee by the time referee Frank Cappuccino's count reached 10, and subsequently pitched forward into the ropes as Tyson turned to his corner—arms to his sides—as if to say "anything else?"
There were 594 days and two more KOs before Buster shattered the aura.
But on that night in Atlantic City at least, the Tyson legacy was intact.