Wow! Mike Tyson’S Unforgettable Year: 13 Fights, 11 Knockouts, And A Journey To Heavyweight Champion Status


In 1986, Mike Tyson had the greatest, most dominant, most explosive year of any heavyweight in boxing history.

He began it as a teenage prospect who’d fought 15 journeymen and whose longest bout had lasted 10 minutes. By the end of 1986, Tyson had won an astonishing 13 fights (11 by knockout) within a single year and was the youngest heavyweight world champion of all time.

Above the statistical supremacy, the ferocity of displays stood out. Tyson demolished foes with devastating combinations, got battle-tested in a few tough outings and delivered some iconic quotes. And he ended it all with the green WBC belt around his waist.

Other heavyweights have scored more impressive one-off wins. Some have put together terrific 12-month runs (Muhammad Ali was dazzling in going 5-0 at the peak of his powers in 1966). But 13 fights, moving from novice to world champ, is unique.


Tyson began the year dealing with intense grief. His trainer and guardian Cus D’Amato, who had officially adopted Tyson, had died in November 1985. Tyson channelled the anguish into his performances however, determined to prove Cus right about his young heavyweight’s potential.

In January, David Jaco and ​​Mike Jameson were cut down as the sawn-off Brooklynite blitzed right through them. Then came Tyson’s first minor test – of sorts – Jesse ‘The Boogieman’ Ferguson (who’d go on to fight for a world title in 1993).

Ferguson held, spoiled and lasted further than any Tyson opponent so far – until an uppercut broke his nose in round five and he was disqualified for holding in round six (the result was soon changed to a TKO). “I wanted to hit him in the nose one more time,” snarled Tyson, “so that the bone of his nose would go up into his brain.”

Tyson’s post-fight words caused controversy – not for the last time – and his management panicked that their rising star was offending his audience. ‘Iron Mike’ didn’t care. He was aiming to create an aura of intimidation, just as D’Amato had taught him.

After pole-axing Steve Zouski with a left hook, Tyson actually had a rare two months without a fight while he recovered from an infected cut on his ear. When he returned to the ring, he experienced his most frustrating fight yet.


The gifted James ‘Quick’ Tillis survived a fourth-round knockdown, spoiled and at times attacked Tyson’s body, lasting the full 10 rounds. Only two weeks later, Tyson fought another 10-rounder, Mitch ‘Blood’ Green holding and running his way to a unanimous decision defeat.

Tyson got back to KO ways just before his 20th birthday in June, taking out mob enforcer Reggie Gross (who at least had a go) in round one, then dishing out the same treatment to hapless William Hosea. Lorenzo Boyd lasted until round two, despite having his nose broken by the first punch Tyson landed. Then came ‘Iron Mike’s fastest ever KO.

Poor Marvis Frazier was pushed a bit too keenly by his proud father, Smokin Joe, and it was Marvis who got smoked in only 30 seconds when Tyson obliterated him with a series of hooks and uppercuts.


If Marvis underwhelmed, journeyman Jose Ribalta over-delivered. Years later, Tyson praised the Cuban as having the best chin and being the physically the strongest heavyweight he ever met. Ribalta got up from three knockdowns to fire back before being stopped in the last round.

Alfonzo Ratliff – Tyson’s 12th opponent of the year by September – literally ran in fear in round one, before being pulverised with hooks in round two.


Next up was the big one: Trevor Berbick, the experienced 32-year-old world champion who’d gone the distance with the great Larry Holmes and upset Pinklon Thomas to claim his title. He was by far Tyson’s best opponent on paper, but the 20-year-old was less than impressed.

“Was that tape in slow motion?” asked Tyson when shown a video of Berbick’s win over Thomas. Berbick attempted to play pre-fight mind games by insisting on wearing all black, meaning the challenger would have to change out of his usual get-up. Instead Tyson just paid a $5,000 fine and wore black anyway, coming to the ring full of rage not helped by his case of gonorrhoea.

Trevor unwisely decided to meet Tyson head-on with predictable results. He barely survived the first round, before a Tyson left hook sent him spectacularly sprawling and collapsing across the ring. ‘Iron Mike’ had achieved his goal in less than six minutes of action.

“Every punch I threw was with bad intentions,” Tyson said afterwards. “My record will last for immortality, it will never be broken.”

This part is more than just hype. It’s likely no heavyweight will ever match Tyson’s 1986, because no promoter would schedule 13 fights for a hot prospect in his second year as a pro. Which is ironic, because there are certain heavyweights who could use the reps.

Anthony Joshua might be a decade older than Tyson was in ’86 but he could almost do with a similar 12-month run right now. Even Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has admitted that AJ – with his limited in-ring experience – would be in a better place if he simply fought more often. The counterargument is that every Joshua fight now has to be an ‘event’.

But does that need to be the case? Would anyone object if AJ spent the next six months just blasting out a few journeymen to rediscover his rhythm and get used to the repeated act of walking to the ring and fighting, so it’s not just a once a year occurrence?

Tyson, like Joshua, had a relatively short amateur career. And while his run in 1986 looked crazy on paper, it was actually perfectly planned. There were several no-hopers for Tyson to crush to boost his confidence and show off his power. Then there were a few crafty pros who could take him a few rounds and help him learn. Then it all finished off with a relatively weak world title-holder for the grand finale.


The Tyson phenomenon would grow ever bigger and he had greater accomplishments to come – unifying the titles the following year, then stopping the previously unbeaten Michael Spinks in only 91 seconds in 1988 to erase any doubts as to who was the world’s best heavyweight.

But in a way, 1986 was also a high point for Tyson. The issues that would plague his peak years were already beginning to rear their heads as fame, money and exploitative individuals formed a dangerous triangle.

“I was lost,” Tyson later reflected. “By the time I won the belt I was a truly wrecked soul because I didn’t have any guidance. I didn’t have Cus.”

But by the end of 1986, Tyson had completed one of boxing’s most remarkable years. The teenage undercard fighter who’d failed to qualify for the Olympics had won 13 fights to catapult himself to the status of world champion and the most exciting – and feared – fighter on the planet.


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