Once and for All: Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks

Mike Tyson is among the most popular professional boxer in the world who competed from 1985 to 2005. He was nicknamed Iron Mike and Kid Dynamite during his early career and was later known as the Baddest Man on the Planet. He is considered among the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. He had a lot of great fights, but one of the most iconic, which made him a champion of the world in a direct fashion, was his fight on June 27, 1988, with Michael Spinks. 

During that time, both Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks were undefeated, and each of them had a claim to become the legitimate heavyweight champion. Tyson had the belts of all three of the major sanctioning organizations at that time, including the World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation, and World Boxing Association. Spinks, on the other hand, was the Ring and Boxing Illustrated magazine champion and was regarded as The People’s Champion. 

If you’d like to learn more about this fight, read on as we’re giving you more information about it.

History of Tyson and Spinks

After winning the gold medal at middleweight in the 1976 Summer Olympics, Michael Spinks became a professional boxer. Before, he was more concerned with assisting his brother Leon’s success to the heavyweight championship. However, he was later on convinced to turn pro himself. He fought Eddie Mustafa Muhammad in 1981 for the WBA light heavyweight championship, where he won his first world title. In 1983, he fought Dwight Braxton and won the WBC title, which made him become the undisputed champion. 

Spinks added the recently created IBF title in 1984. In September the following year, he moved up to the heavyweight class after having defended his titles a combined total of ten times to challenge the reigning IBF, Ring, and lineal champion Larry Holmes, who had been a champion since 1978. Spinks won over Holmes again in a rematch and then defended his title successfully against Steffen Tangstad. 

Rather than defending his IBF title against top contender Tony Tucker, Spinks chose to take a more profitable fight in June 1987 with former contender Gerry Cooney, who had fought thrice in five years. The IBF responded to this by stripping him of the title. However, Spinks was still in possession of the lineal and Ring titles. He was also still considered by many as the rightful champion. 

Mike Tyson, on the other hand, became a professional in 1985. He won his first nineteen fights by knockout, which quickly reaped the attention of the media and established an aura of invincibility. He knocked out Trevor Berbick in November 1986 to win the WBC heavyweight title. Tyson, at the age of 20, was the youngest heavyweight champion in history. 

Tyson’s next fight was with James “Bonecrusher” Smith, who won the WBA title in an upset over Tim Witherspoon in 1986 and beaten him by unanimous decision. After that, Tyson took a tune-up fight against Pinklon Thomas, former world champion, and knocked him out in six rounds. Then, he waited for the result of the fight between James “Buster” Douglas and Tucker for the vacant IBF title that had been taken from Spinks. In that fight, Tucker won. 

Tyson faced Tucker in August 1987, where he won by unanimous decision and became the first fighter to unify all three major titles. He then defended his unified title thrice by knocking out Tyrell Biggs, an Olympic gold medalist, in October 1987 within 7 rounds. After that, he faced a returning Larry Holmes in January 1988, whom he knocked out in four rounds. Finally, he knocked out another former world champion Tony Tubbs in two rounds after two months. Mike Tyson, by 1988, had become the most talked-about heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali.

The Build-Up of Tyson and Spinks’ Fight

Michael Spinks in 1987

The interest in a showdown between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks grew to settle the issue of who the real champion was. However, the negotiations were protracted due to the co-managers of Tyson, Bill Cayton, and Jimmy Jacobs, and the manager of Spinks, Butch Lewis, who struggles to agree on terms. The negotiations broke down temporarily when Lewis insisted on a $15 million guarantee for his fighter. Tyson got annoyed at always being asked about the fight. With this, he demanded that his managers reach an agreement with Lewis. 

The agreement has been reached by April. However, another problem arose when the IBF threatened to strip Tyson of his title if the fight was not 15 rounds. Bob Lee, IBF president, then conceded, not wanting his organization to be absent from the biggest fight of the year. With this, he agreed to a 12-round limit. 

The fight was billed as “Once and for All,” and it was a highly anticipated fight. In fact, it earned comparisons with the 1971 fight of the century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Reports about the chaotic personal life of Tyson also increased the interest of people in the fight. 

The Fight

Minutes before Tyson and Spinks were due to enter the ring, a commotion happened in Tyson’s dressing room. It was when Butch Lewis noticed a bump in Tyson’s gloves and demanded his hands to be re-wrapped. The turmoil continued as Lewis was insistent that he would not let the fight begin until the bump was smoothed out. It was only resolved when Spinks’ trainer, Eddie Futch, was called in and accepted that the gloves of Tyson were fine. 

From the opening bell, Tyson attacked Spinks and landed a solid left hook in the first ten seconds, which forced Spinks to cover up. Spinks settled and was driven back to the ropes by another attack from Tyson. He moved off the ropes. However, Tyson trapped him again. A left blow and a right hand to the body from Tyson had forced Spinks to take a knee after a minute. This marked the second time Spinks had been knocked down in his professional career. Before rising, Spinks took a count of four.

As the two moved towards each other, Tyson turned away from the right hand of Spinks and retorted with a left-right combination to the head, which again put Spinks down. This time, Spinks was unable to rise, and the referee counted him out. After 91 seconds, the fight was over and was among the shortest heavyweight title fight in history. It only had ten punches landed, eight from Tyson and two from Spinks. 

After the Fight

Their match became the richest fight in boxing history up to that point. It grossed around $70 million, which was $10 million more than the previous record-holder fight in 1987, which was the Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard. In addition to that, the fight also exceeded the 1987 Super Bowl as the highest-grossing one-day sporting event in history. 

After that fight, Michael Spinks never boxed again. A month later, he announced his retirement from the sport. The fight between him and Tyson was the only loss of his professional career. Tyson also spoke of retiring, as his win over Spinks has been described as the pinnacle of his boxing career. But Tyson made two more successful title defenses before he lost to James Douglas in 1990. He continued fighting until 2005.

Both Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks were inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and as well as in the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Their fight is indeed among the most popular events in the 1980s.

If you’d like to learn more about the top sporting events of the ‘80s, you can check out our list of the Top Iconic Sporting Events of the 80s for more information.