Mike Tyson Exacted Brutal Revenge On Olympic Rival With Crushing Ko To The Temple


One of Mike Tyson’s most brutal one-punch KOs came when he finally gained revenge on the fighter who destroyed his dream of an Olympic gold medal.

Henry Tillman, six years older than Tyson and at least four inches taller, was the standout American amateur heavyweight in the early 1980s. But his position was challenged by a teenage prodigy trained by Cus D’Amato.

Tyson, from the notorious Brownsville neighbourhood in Brooklyn, won gold at the Junior Olympics in 1981 and 1982, His ambition was to go to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, knowing that success there would make him a superstar.

But the US team had only one spot and Tillman outpointed Tyson twice, the second time in an Olympic box-off at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, to earn his place.

Tillman would go on to win Olympic gold but Tyson was infuriated by the result. Many felt the aggressive Tyson had done enough to win the bout against the defensively savvy Tillman, including the majority of the crowd in Vegas who loudly booed the 4-1 judges’ decision.


His blood boiling, Tyson left the ring, walked out of the venue and – with his hands still taped – began pummelling a cedar tree outside the boxing pavilion. D’Amato watched for a minute then came over to stop him when he felt Tyson had worked off his rage.

“When they announced the decision, I couldn’t believe they gave it to Tillman,” Tyson reflected years later. “The whole amateur boxing establishment hated me.

“They didn’t like my cocky Brownsville attitude. I was behaving myself but you could still see that New York swagger coming out.”

Tyson instead chose to turn professional early in 1985. While he had none of the fanfare that later helped Olympic gold medallists such as Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko or Anthony Joshua when they turned pro, Tyson’s spectacular knockouts turned him into a must-see attraction.

Famously Tyson won a world title aged 20, became undisputed champion at 21, eventually extending his unbeaten record to 37-0 (33 KOs). He was ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’, arguably the most famous athlete in the world and Tillman was still the last man to defeat him.

That all changed in Japan in 1990 when a poorly prepared Tyson was stunningly upset by James ‘Buster’ Douglas. Tyson’s promoter Don King tried to lure Douglas into an immediate rematch but the new champion fought Evander Holyfield instead.


Tyson needed a comeback opponent, however, and one name stood out: Tillman – the last fighter before Douglas to score any kind of victory over ‘Iron Mike’.

The venue couldn’t have been more appropriate: Caesars Palace, the arena where Tyson had been controversially outpointed in that Olympic qualifier.

But while Tillman was an elite amateur, his professional career had been a disappointment. After a six-year career his win-loss record read 20-4 and his one challenge for a world title ended in a seventh-round KO by Holyfield at cruiserweight.


At heavyweight, he wasn’t given much chance against a comebacking Tyson.

“Mike was a beast, period,” Tillman said years later. “He could fight at an early age. Some guys are great amateurs but didn’t do well as pros. It all depends on their styles. Mike’s was more suited for the pros.”

Despite the story of Tyson avenging his amateur defeats, it was never personal between the pair. Tyson travelled with the Olympic team in ‘84 to earn experience and it was Tyrell Biggs he really hated, rather than Tillman.

Not that that meant Tyson would show him any mercy in the ring. The idea that the shock defeat by Douglas had forever ruined Tyson’s confidence proved short-lived.

“I’d had too many easy victories, fallen into too many sloppy training habits, and I never took that fight seriously,” Tyson said. Against Tillman, he was determined to make a statement.

Stalking a rapidly backpedalling Tillman, Tyson ate a flush right hand midway through round one – but it did not even register. The 23-year-old kept pressuring his opponent and with less than 30 seconds left, launched a right-hand missile over Tillman’s lazy left hook.

Struck high on the head, Tillman fell to the canvas, slumping over the bottom rope. His eyes were glassy as the referee counted to 10 and a sporting Tyson came over to help his stunned foe to his feet.

“The night of the Tillman fight I was primed,” Tyson wrote in his autobiography, Undisputed Truth. “I’m fighting the man who beat me in the amateurs. It was a great comeback story…

“At the very beginning of the fight, I took a heavy right hand from him and it didn’t even faze me. I slowed him up with a huge right to the body and then finally caught him with an overhand right to the temple with 24 seconds left in the round. He was out on his back.”


However Tyson wished no malice upon Tillman, explaining: “I wanted to get it over real quick. I liked him a lot and I was just glad he got a nice payday. Tillman was one of those fighters who was really great but just didn’t have confidence in himself.

“If he believed in himself, he would have been a legendary fighter; he would have been in the Hall of Fame.”

Instead, Tillman retired two years later. Tyson’s career would go on for another 19 fights across the next 15 years and, while there were more rollercoaster ups and downs to come, against Tillman Tyson proved that he wasn’t finished after the Douglas fight, as he avenged his amateur losses in devastating fashion.


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