Mike Tyson is a boxing legend who gave us many memorable moments in the ring. And quite naturally, we’re still discussing some of his fights decades later.
Tyson’s epic showdowns with Michael Spinks, Trevor Berbick, Evander Holyfield, Larry Holmes, Lennox Lewis, Buster Douglas, Razor Ruddock, Frank Bruno, Alex Stewart, and even Peter McNeeley are now part of boxing lore.
But there’s one fight, a big one, that flies under the radar – Mike Tyson vs Tony Tucker.
It’s a very significant world heavyweight title bout in the annals of boxing that gets very little buzz today.
Mike Tyson (30-0, 27 KO) vs
Tony Tucker (34-0, 29 KO)
Location: Las Vegas Hilton, Hilton Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Referee: Mills Lane
Promoter: Don King
Ring Announcer: Chuck Hull
Aired On: HBO (Main Event)
World Boxing Council Heavyweight Title (3rd defense by Tyson)
World Boxing Association Heavyweight Title (2nd defense by Tyson)
International Boxing Federation Heavyweight Title (1st defense by Tucker)
Tyson vs Tucker was the final fight of HBO’s heavyweight unification tournament. Mike entered the bout with the WBA and WBC belts while Tucker had the IBF strap, and the winner would be crowned undisputed (WBA, WBC, and IBF) heavyweight champion.
It was a big deal because both fighters were unbeaten heavyweight champions and the winner would become the first undisputed champion in quite some time.
Who was Tony Tucker?
By defeating lineal champion Larry Holmes in 1985 and repeating the same feat in their rematch the following year, Michael Spinks captured and successfully defended the IBF crown in back-to-back fights. Spinks would then win a voluntary defense before being mandated to face the IBF’s top contender, Tony Tucker.
But Spinks had other ideas. Instead of facing Tucker, Spinks relinquished his title in 1987 to fight the more popular Gerry Cooney for a much larger purse. As a result, Tucker KO’d then little-known No 2 contender Buster Douglas to claim the vacated IBF Heavyweight title.
By August, the stage was set. Mike Tyson vs Tony Tucker. Undefeated champion vs undefeated champion for undisputed status.
With a 34-0, 29 KO record, the athletic Tucker was no slouch. And at 6’5″, he towered over the 5’11 Tyson. But aside from Douglas and James Broad, there were no name opponents on Tucker’s resume so this fight didn’t get the buzz it deserved.
Despite still displaying a humble character with the media, the 21-year-old Tyson was slowly starting to break out of his shell.
On June 21, 1987, two months prior to the fight with Tucker, Tyson was accused of bear-hugging a female parking lot attendant, demanding a kiss, and then striking with his open palm a male parking lot supervisor who came to her defense. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon (his hands) and battery, both of which were misdemeanors. Tyson settled the case out of court for $105,000.
Also, a couple of weeks before the fight, there was a report that Tyson had skipped out of his Las Vegas training camp for four days to visit actress Robin Givens in Los Angeles. It was also reported that there was discord in the Tyson camp. Tyson’s managers, Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton had allegedly approached Eddie Futch about replacing Kevin Rooney as Tyson’s trainer. Tyson and his camp denied the reports.
Little by little, Tyson, still adored and well-received by the public is starting to generate commotion outside the ring.
The Fight: Tyson vs Tucker
Mike entered the bout as an 11-1 favorite and many expected to see another Tyson demolition inside three rounds. But, Tyson vs Tucker would go the distance and the underdog would hold his own despite losing a clear unanimous decision.
All three judges scored it for Tyson, 117-112, 118-113 and 119-111. According to CompuBox, Tyson landed 216 of 412 total punches (52 percent), while Tucker connected on 174 of 452 (39 percent).
Fact: Tyson vs Tucker made the cover of the August 10, 1987 issue of Sports Illustrated, a big deal back in the day.
There were no knockdowns and neither fighter appeared to be in great danger.
“… He was very intimidated, and he was freezing every once in a while—I was thinking I would get him with a good right hand, “Mike Tyson said during a post-fight interview with HBO’s Larry Merchant.
“I want to be perfect, and I was trying to use my jab more, and I was just a little confused because he was holding a lot, but I stopped being frustrated, and I just continued jabbing most of the round.”
It was a workman-like performance by Mike who impressively exhibited patience and used his jab skillfully to set up other shots.
And while it may not have been exciting to the casual fan, hardcore fans and connoisseurs of boxing were impressed with the 21-year-old’s ring maturation and development.
However, in Round 1 Tucker connected on a violent uppercut that caught everyone’s attention and buckled Tyson. Back then, opponents didn’t land those kinds of bombs on Tyson who was extremely hard to hit cleanly.
Some might insist Tucker created the blueprint for surviving against, if not defeating, Tyson. He not only circled, but also grabbed, held, and landed some good shots on Mike on occasion.
A boxer/puncher, Tucker didn’t run from the fearsome Tyson nor did he fight scared. However, Tyson was still busier and landed the cleaner and more impactful shots.
“I think words cannot really describe what I feel for that Tony Tucker,” said boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard who was commentating for HBO.
“He did what a lot of us didn’t think he could do, and that’s why I respect the man so much because he boxed, he clinched, he fought a very strategic, a very technical, a very intelligent fight.”
Fact: The fight was originally scheduled for 15 rounds, but was reduced to 12 after the three governing bodies met and approved the change the day before the fight.
“I hurt my right hand, and it was giving me some problems after the second round where I hit him, but I thought I still outboxed him,” Tucker said afterward.
“I was moving good. . . . Everybody came here expecting him to win…. You know, if it was a close fight, I figured they were going to give it to him, anyway, you know, but I still think I beat him, but that’s okay.”
“It was a classic fight between two undefeated guys with punching power. I’m looking for a rematch. Mike is a great fighter. He put on a helluva show.”
Tyson unified the WBC, WBA, and IBF heavyweight titles, becoming the world’s “undisputed” heavyweight boxing champion. However, the RING Magazine / lineal champion was still Michael Spinks. So while Tyson was getting the higher purses and all the attention from the media and the public, it was Spinks, who was also undefeated, who was the ‘man who beat the man.’
After Tyson vs Tucker, the public demanded – and received – Tyson vs Spinks. It would happen 10 months later and Mike, of course, would stop Michael in the first round.
“His own boredom could be a problem,” said Tyson’s trainer, Kevin Rooney., after Tyson vs Tucker.
“He could stay on top a long time—if that’s what he wants. That’s a big ‘if.’ That’s up to him. He’s under a lot of pressure, and the next few years will be a problem. He won’t mature until he’s 25.”