As the Tyson-Jones exhibition bout looms closer, I figured this would be a good time to discuss what I consider are Mike Tyson’s five most important wins. I had to think long and hard about this. Mike is an oddity in the sense that he’s the only all-time great heavyweight champion who lost most of his legacy fights. I am making my rankings based on his performance, competition, and where Tyson was at that time in his career.
5) Brian Nielson
(Sixth Round Technical Knockout) 10-13-2001
In my opinion, this was the last time Tyson looked relatively good in the ring. He may have had some “good” moments in his later fights with Williams, McBride, etc. But he looked good here throughout and pummeled the big man into submission.
Throughout the six-round encounter, Tyson destroyed Brian with uppercuts and a relentless body attack. This impressed me because Tyson slowly became a headhunter after parting ways with Kevin Rooney in 1988. Tyson is also generally the type of fighter who fights in spurts. He assaults you with a string of thunderous blows, and if you withstand his shots, Tyson will stand there briefly and allow you to attack him back or clinch him. In this fight, however, Tyson maintained a more consistent attack then usual. With his thudding shots and constant assault, he reminded me of Rocky Marciano.
Brian went down in the third round, and Tyson beat on him until the fight was stopped in round six. I was in 10th grade when I watched this fight live and even then I knew Tyson was nothing like his former self. But he beat the hell out of Brian Nielson. After the match he said himself that he “isn’t a first round knockout anymore.”
I realize that Brian Nielson is no all-time great heavyweight. BUT Tyson’s performance here makes the list. This was the last time he looked good, and he actually won.
4) Andrew Golota
Andrew Golota (Second Round No Contest) 10-20-2000
Unlike the Nielson fight, I don’t think Tyson looked good here. But Golota was a big name at the time, so this was an important win. Tyson floored the big man in the first round, but didn’t do much in the second round. No matter. Golota was mentally shattered from that knockdown and went on to quit. Given the fact that Tyson was becoming passive, I think Golota would have beaten him if he had more belief in himself and continued to fight. This was originally a second round TKO for Tyson until he tested positive for marijuna, which prompted the officials to make the fight officially a “no contest.”
3) Razor Ruddock 1 & II
3) Razor Ruddock I and II (Seventh Round Knockout, 12 Round Decision)
Mike was still in his prime years here, but no longer at his peak. Kevin Rooney was gone. When he left, so did Tyson’s head movement, body punching and combinations. Tyson was now most concerned with scoring bell-ringing hooks to the head to destroy his opponents. But the Ruddock fights make this list because they were arguably the toughest fights Tyson had that he actually went on to win. Also, Ruddock was a monster heavyweight at that time with a seemingly bright future at the time. After losing to Tyson, he was destroyed in two rounds by Lennox Lewis and then knocked further into obscurity by a young Tommy Morrison. But in his wars with Tyson, Ruddock cracked Tyson with some real leather. His uppercuts landed hard on Mike’s skull. Ruddock may have hit the ground several times in both fights, but overall he took Tyson’s punches well.
Like I said, Tyson was no longer the perpetual motion machine that he was with Cus D’Amato and Kevin Rooney. That version of Tyson would have had an easier time with Ruddock. Still, considering he was losing his some skill, defense and punch accuracy, Tyson’s wins over Ruddock were impressive. And even in defeat, Ruddock put the heavyweight division on notice. Both men came out looking good, and to this day some people say Mike was never the same after his battles with Ruddock.
2) Larry Holmes
Larry Holmes (Fourth Round Knockout, 1-22-1988)
Ya know, Tyson may have been the betting favorite at the time, but I can understand why some fight fans would have predicted a win for the Eastern Assassin. 38 year-old Larry Holmes had twice the experience of 21 year-old Tyson. Larry had perhaps the best jab in heavyweight history, moved well, and had one of the best chins of all time. Larry was long past his peak here. He was flabby, out of shape, and previously inactive. This is all true, but I think the real problem was that he had an absolute peak Mike Tyson standing in front of him. Larry fought as if he were terrified of Tyson during the first three rounds. He fought Tyson the same way that Mitch Green did - running and holding. In the fourth round, Larry began to pop his signature jab and fight on his toes. This new strategy however, left him open. Tyson feinted a left jab and then sent a right hook crashing against Larry’s chin. Larry hit the deck, and it went downhill from there. After three knockdowns, Larry was counted out, suffering the only knockout loss of his long career.
You could argue that a younger Larry Holmes would have given Tyson a tougher fight. But given Larry's technical flaw of not moving his head and dropping his left arm after flicking the jab, I think he'd always be open for Tyson's knockout bombs. Remember also that during Larry's years as champ, Cus D'Amato was in a quiet Catskill gym training a teenage Tyson on how to beat him. Tyson remembered his mentor's advice and destroyed the former champ.
1) Michael Spinks
Michael Spinks (First round knockout, 6-27-1988)
For my number one pick, it came down to Tyson’s victories over Spinks and Berbrick. I picked Spinks because Spinks was, in my opinion, a better heavyweight than Berbrick. And with his 91-second demolition of Spinks, Tyson won the undisputed heavyweight championship. I realize that Spinks was scared to death and this wasn’t much of a fight. But considering that Spinks was one of the biggest names of the 1980s, was undefeated, and dropped the lineal title to Tyson, I have to put this one at #1.