March 7

This Day in History

Sports

Mar 7, 1987:

Mike Tyson unifies titles

On March 7, 1987, Mike Tyson defeats James "Bonecrusher" Smith to unify the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles. Already the youngest-ever heavyweight champion after winning the title at just 19 years old the year before, Tyson became the youngest undisputed heavyweight champion in boxing history.

Mike Tyson was born on June 30, 1986, in Brooklyn, New York. He had a troubled childhood in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, an area known for its poverty and high crime. As a child he often skipped school, spending his time on Brownsville’s streets engaging in petty crimes. Tyson responded violently to his peers’ teasing about his high, lisping voice, which led to several stints in juvenile detention centers. After being expelled from junior high school, Tyson was sent to a reform school near Catskill, New York. It was there that he was discovered by legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, who had coached Floyd Patterson, a two-time heavyweight champion. D’Amato became a father figure to "Iron" Mike, whose own father left his family when Mike was just two years old. D’Amato was a stabilizing force in Tyson’s life: He took the young fighter into his home and dedicated himself to Tyson’s training. D’Amato helped Tyson to focus his aggression and develop the discipline to become a champion.

When Tyson entered the professional ranks at 18, he seemed unstoppable. He won his first 19 fights by knockout, 15 of those coming in the first round. It was during this run that D’Amato died, in November 1985, at the age of 77. D’Amato’s associate Kevin Rooney took over as Tyson’s trainer, and one year later, Tyson beat Trevor Berbick for the WBC heavyweight championship in his first title shot. In 1987, Tyson defeated "Bonecrusher" Smith, although he did not knock him out. This won Tyson the WBA championship, making him the undisputed heavyweight champion.

Over the course of the next year, Tyson defeated four other opponents to retain his title and, in 1988, he knocked out Larry Holmes, the only knockout of Holmes’ 76 fights as a pro. Later that year, Tyson fought Michael Spinks, who was thought to be his toughest competition. After Tyson knocked Spinks unconscious 91 seconds into the first round, boxing fans wondered if anyone could beat "Iron" Mike. By the end of the year, however, Tyson had begun his long downward spiral into sports infamy. His erratic behavior included marrying and divorcing actress Robin Givens (after being accused by her of domestic violence), firing and suing his manager, breaking his hand in an early morning street brawl and two car accidents, one of which was reportedly a suicide attempt. Tyson also fired Kevin Rooney, replacing him with notorious promoter Don King.

Unable to keep his focus on boxing, Tyson lost the heavyweight title after being knocked out by James "Buster" Douglas in a stunning upset on February 11, 1990.

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