This Day In History: November 22

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On November 22, 1986, 20-year-old Mike Tyson knocks out 33-year-old Trevor Berbick in just five minutes and 35 seconds to become the youngest titleholder ever. “I’m the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in history,” Tyson told his manager after the fight, “and I’m going to be the oldest.”

Tyson’s bravado wasn’t misplaced: When he walked into the ring to face Berbick, he had won all 27 of the matches he’d fought, knocking out 26 of his opponents. He threw unbelievably hard punches–“pineapples,” trainer Angelo Dundee called them. Ref Mills Lane agreed: “Everything he’s got has ‘good night’ written all over it,” he said. Berbick refused to be intimidated by the younger man’s furious arm and decided–unwisely, it turned out–to stand up to Tyson instead of boxing him. He didn’t bob or weave or even throw punches. He just stood there, wanting to show the world that he could take whatever Tyson was dishing out. “I was trying to prove to myself that I could take his best shot,” Berbick said, but “he punches pretty hard.”

Tyson had a plan, too: “I wanted to throw every punch with bad intentions,” he said after the fight. “I was throwing—what can I say—hydrogen bombs.” During the first round, Berbick had fought in such slow motion that he looked like he was underwater; early in the second, Tyson walloped him to the mat with a powerful left hook. The older man bounced up, but Tyson thumped him again. Berbick froze; then his legs buckled and he fell. The ref began to count while the champ struggled to get up. He lifted himself off the mat twice, and twice his legs wobbled so much that he fell again. He finally made it up, but Lane stopped the fight anyway. “Berbick was up,” he said later, “but to allow somebody to get hit in that condition, that’s criminal.”

Tyson kept his title for nine more bouts, until Buster Douglas beat him in 1990. After that, his life unraveled. He was sent to prison for three years for rape. Then, five fights into his comeback in 1997, he bit off a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear and was disqualified. He retired for good in 2005. Berbick didn’t fare much better: He, too, spent time in prison for rape, and was found dead (of “chop wounds” to his head, according to the coroner’s report) in a church courtyard in Jamaica in 2006.

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