While a furious Mike Tyson was getting ready to ruin Michael Spinks as if he was the Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve (venue for the worst Crimbo party in history), TV actor Bruce Willis was sitting ringside waging a PR war on behalf of his risky blockbuster: Die Hard.
It went on to become an action classic – and arguably the greatest Christmas film ever made – but in 1988, it was seen as a huge gamble by film studio 20th Century Fox.
So it’s little wonder that a bearded Willis – sitting ringside for Tyson’s long-awaited showdown – was rather shamelessly wearing a Die Hard baseball cap and sunglasses as he chatted to Sean Penn and Madonna. If Willis was nervous about his film’s release the following month in July, he probably wasn’t as intimidated as one Michael Spinks.
The 31-year-old former light-heavyweight champion and lineal heavyweight champ was being paid £13.5 million to face the headline attraction: Iron Mike. When Spinks’s manager Butch Lewis decided to play pre-fight mind games on Tyson by insisting that his hands needed to be re-wrapped, causing a lengthy delay, it backfired. The move only seemed to agitate his fighter and fire-up an already bad-tempered Tyson.
At least the delay for the main event gave c ameras plenty of time to focus in on Willis and his unsubtle hat among a star-studded ringside crowd that included Jack Nicholson, Stallone, Donald Trump, Chuck Norris and ex-heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.
The bout itself offered minimal airtime for Willis’s baseball cap as it lasted only 91 seconds. A shaken Spinks – instead of using his jab to try to disrupt his opponent’s rhythm, which was his usual tactic – instead tried to stand his ground and gain Tyson’s respect early on.
This proved an error. Instead Spinks earned a series of concussing bombs that quickly hammered him to the canvas. ‘The Jinx’ gamely got up but Tyson was on him with a short left hook-right uppercut combo that left Spinks falling backwards like Hans Gruber off the side of a skyscraper.
Was it all to do with that garish hat ploy at the Tyson fight? Only the wisest among us can say. However, Die Hard’s influence extended well beyond the four (and counting) sequels.
Both Tyson and Willis would go on to cash even bigger cheques than they did in the summer of 1988, but in terms of their ongoing legacy, both had reached an early-career peak. Yet spare a thought for Mike Spinks.
A hall of fame boxer who that June was trapped in the scariest disaster movie of all: Die Hard trapped in a boxing ring with Iron Mike Tyson.