Game Film: Mike Tyson’s 1985 Fights (Part Two)

Welcome back to this edition of “Game Film,” where we will finish the remainder of Tyson’s professional fights in 1985 in this article. Last time I only managed to get through six bouts before ending the article, but luckily for us, Tyson finished all but one of this stretch of opponents in the first round. In a roundabout way, we’ll be covering fewer rounds despite covering more matches this time around.

Lorenzo Canady – August 15th, 1985

Canady was 3-0 heading into this bout but ended his career losing nine of his last ten and finished his career with a 7-10-1 record in 1991. Tyson pounced inside quickly, connecting a heavy right hook on Canady’s temple and sending him against the ropes before landing a flurry of hooks to the body and head. Tyson reset within striking distance, circling his opponent as he blocked and slipped three jabs before connecting on a monstrous, wide left hook on Canady’s jaw that sent him into the ropes and onto the floor. Canady used the ropes to get himself up and received a mandatory standing eight count, only to be pushed back around the ring from Tyson’s smothering inside presence. Tyson swung long hooks from range to sneak inside and cause more damage, and he managed to clip Canady a few times, including with a right uppercut that forced Canady into a ring corner. Canady clinched Tyson to get a referee breakage, but all it resulted in was him getting clipped by a straight right and a left hook before backing into the same ring corner he was in just seconds ago. Tyson finally ended the fight with a barrage of punches that staggered Canady to a knee and resulted in the ref stopping the bout. It was pure dominance and a display of great composure, and it was also Tyson’s seventh KO/TKO win in as many fights.

Michael Johnson – September 5th, 1985

Michael “Jack” Johnson was the last opponent under 200 pounds Tyson faced until Lorenzo Boyd the following year. He was also 11-5 heading into this fight, but he had lost his three previous bouts, with two of them coming by knockout. He wouldn’t last long, as Tyson slipped his way inside with a jab and then cut off Johnson’s retreat angle with a left hook to pin him against the ropes and let off two more right hooks to the body. Johnson slipped away further towards Tyson’s ring corner and decided to try exchanging with him, missing a straight right, a jab, and three hooks in 18 seconds as Tyson masterfully evaded his punches and delivered a counter right uppercut and a couple of vicious hooks to the body, with his left one sending Johnson down to the canvas. Johnson got up and received the mandatory standing eight count, but Tyson ended the fight with one more powerful straight right that cracked Johnson on the jaw as he tried throwing his guard up too late. He rolled over facedown onto his stomach, and the ref immediately ended the match, giving Tyson the first-round KO victory.

Donnie Long – October 9th, 1985

Donnie Long already did not belong in the ring with Tyson at this point in the future heavyweight champion’s developing career. Long was 15-3 heading into the fight but had not fought in 1984 after suffering two consecutive defeats, one by knockout, in 1983. The promoters knew Long had no chance as well, considering Tyson himself says in the post-fight interview that, “For some unknowable reason,” they suddenly changed the scheduled eight-rounder to a six-rounder. Why hype Long up as “the first true test” for Tyson? As Tyson himself also says in the post-fight interview, “I love the fight game.”

“The Master of Disaster” came out to meet Tyson in the center of the ring, and while I mean Donnie Long no disrespect, his nickname was fitting for the situation. Already from the opening seconds, you could tell Long wasn’t going to last long, as his wide-open stance offered little protection to his face, and Tyson immediately tried taking advantage of that by rushing inside with powerful, alternating hooks. They both missed but, the left hook slid past Long’s head, perhaps managing to slightly clip him, as Long staggered backward in an attempt to maintain distance between himself and Tyson. Long was utilizing his jab to keep Tyson at bay but could only use his footwork to continue maintaining distance; Tyson twice rushed in with jabs and hooks to make Long retreat without taking damage himself. Tyson then momentarily kept a comfortable, safe distance from Long and popped in and out of Long’s striking range with jabs alternating upstairs and to the body. Long remained defensive, throwing jabs and a hook to keep Tyson from slipping inside, but Tyson continued to stay outside and move his head around, evading Long’s strikes well before he got in range to receive them. Tyson finally managed to back Long near a ring corner and unloaded; a quick left hook that Tyson snapped out and caught Long flush on the jaw.

Long was visibly staggered while getting to his feet but reassured the referee that he was good to continue fighting. Tyson came in with a furious barrage of hooks that missed as Long backed up, but Tyson crouched and sprang up with a heavy left hook that clipped Long on the temple and followed up with a jab that landed on Long’s jaw and chest area. Long landed against the ropes and was staggered by the punishment, losing his balance as he bounced off the ropes and struggled to maintain his balance, looking as if he was going to fall backward over the ropes. Tyson hesitated, probably because Tyson also thought either Long was going down once more or out of the ring, but once Long regained his composure, Tyson bridged the distance between them quickly once more and battered Long with vicious hooks and uppercuts. All Long could do was weakly put an arm around Tyson’s neck and receive brutal punishment until he fell over. He reassured the ref he was still good to continue before he had even risen to his feet, but the bout was over 14 seconds after the referee last allowed Long to continue.

There was no three knockdown rule in effect, but the referee did have the discretion to do so if he thought it appropriate. Nobody could protest the stoppage here as Tyson slid past Long’s jab and forced him to tie Tyson up. Long pushed Tyson away but had to clinch again as he got clipped with a straight right during an exchange with Tyson. Tyson forcefully broke the clinch by slipping a left uppercut up and making Long back up, but all that did was create enough distance for Tyson to land a crisp, compact left hook onto Long’s jaw that snapped his head back and dropped him to the canvas. It was a dominant first-round TKO performance in the last scheduled six-round bout of Tyson’s career.

Robert Colay – October 25th, 1985

This bout was Tyson’s first of three in his next five fights at Latham Coliseum in Latham, New York, and he debuted his third style of trunks; dark blue with white and red trim. Colay was 7-7-1 but listed as 14-5-1 by the ring announcements; Tyson did what one would expect upon Colay’s fraudulent record revelation. To Colay’s credit, he did come to box, as he met Tyson in the center of the ring and kept him at the end of two solid jabs, although Tyson’s head movement proved to be elusive as ever. Unfortunately for Colay, Tyson was much quicker and sharper with his punches; when Tyson pounced inside to unleash furious hooks on the body, and Colay attempted to beat him to the punch with a 3-4 combo of his own, he found himself being overwhelmed and pushed back. Tyson missed a straight left but, Colay missed a right hook as Tyson slipped inside, and the two clinched.

After the referee breakage, Tyson and Colay would miss a jab; and a counter left uppercut, respectively, and clinch once more. Colay would initiate some inside fighting from the clinch with a right hand but, Tyson backed away quickly and snapped off a right hook that landed on Colay’s temple as he contorted his torso over to snap his body around and face the momentarily staggered Colay head-on. Tyson ducked a left hook and forced Colay to clinch as he slipped inside once more, forcing another referee breakage. The bout wouldn’t go on much longer, as Tyson ducked one more hook from Colay and missed a hook of his own, but kept up the chase inside and landed a big left hook square on Colay’s jaw that snapped his head back and saw him collapse straight back onto the canvas. Colay would rise to his feet at nine but on very unsteady legs, and the ref would call the fight, awarding Tyson his 10th consecutive KO/TKO win.

Sterling Benjamin – November 1st, 1985

In what would be Tyson’s final fight in mentor Cus D’Amato’s lifetime, Tyson came out slightly off sync with the bell; his back still turned to his opponent when the bell rang. It didn’t matter much, as he quickly turned and stayed within jab range of Benjamin, who was more active than previous opponents by bobbing inside and remaining active on the outside with his footwork and jab. However, Tyson’s head movement proved to be too elusive for Benjamin; unable to land any clean jabs and even fell short on jabs to the body. Tyson continued slipping jabs, leading with his own and contorting his body around until he managed to slip inside and duck Benjamin’s right hook and deliver a compact left hook square into Benjamin’s face. Benjamin hit the ropes and then fell to the floor, barely beating the count and offering little defense when Tyson followed up with a series of vicious uppercuts and hooks to his body while slipping some through his guard to hit his head. The referee called the fight as Benjamin dropped to the mat, awarding Tyson his second consecutive first-round TKO win in under a minute. Two other interesting facts to point out is that this was Tyson’s second fight in a row wearing his navy blue trunks with red and white trim, as well as Benjamin’s last career fight.

Eddie Richardson – November 13th, 1985

Tyson’s 11th bout would be his first away from New York or New Jersey, as he would fight “Fast” Eddie Richardson in his home state of Texas, who was announced at 12-2 but was, in reality, 10-2; and was also allegedly the Southern Boxing Champion at the time. More notably, it was also his first fight without Cus D’Amato, who passed away nine days prior. Tyson wore his blue trunks with white and red trim for the third fight in a row and demonstrated his signature elusive head movement and raw power. He evaded Richardson’s jabs and kept him within range before stepping up to unload a perfectly timed monstrous right hook on Richardson’s jaw that dropped him. Richardson was hesitant to get back to his feet, giving the referee an incredulous look as he got to his feet at the count of eight and reassured him he was good to continue fighting. Tyson kept the pace up, immediately trying to recreate the knockdown he had just recorded by leaping in with another wide right hook after slipping Richardson’s jabs, but “Fast” Eddie better stayed out of Tyson’s distance this time.

Tyson threw a couple of jabs and attempted to maneuver inside but, Richardson was circling Tyson and trying to keep himself within striking distance with his jab while using his footwork to give himself angles to back up and dodge Tyson’s powerful left hooks. Richardson relied on the clinch here on out, as he tied Tyson up in the center of the ring when he got in too close with a missed left hook and then clinched him again after being forced to retreat around the ring from taking a barrage of hooks and uppercuts from a crouching Tyson. Tyson was pressing forward at all times, swinging wide hooks that kept Richardson on his back foot and allowed Tyson to slip closer inside and follow up with punches to the body while Richardson clinched; the bout could only go on so much longer. Tyson evaded Richardson’s jab and then followed up with a jab to the body and a right hook to the head, forcing Richardson to back up at an angle away from the corner and closer to the ropes, although he did block most of the right hook. Tyson, however, quickly pivoted and reset his position to land a perfectly timed massive left hook on Richardson’s jaw1 that dropped him. The ref counted him out as he was unable to get up, and Tyson yet again won by first-round KO in a bout he was supposed to do just that.

Conroy Nelson – November 22nd, 1985

Nelson was 15-7-2, announced as 19-5-2, but listed on the promotional material2 for the event as 19-5-1. It was clear he wasn’t going to let Tyson get off massive power shots early, as he kept his guard high as Tyson moved in. Tyson evaded Nelson’s jabs and circled him around the ring, controlling the pace of the bout as Nelson did little to apply pressure. Tyson continued staying right on Nelson’s hip, connecting on crisp body shots as Nelson continued keeping his guard high before sneaking a right hook in on Nelson’s temple as he backed away from Tyson. Nelson’s knee buckled for a moment, and Tyson went in for more punishing body shots, but even more memorably, a spectator stood up in front of the camera in what appears to be the only footage of this bout. In the five seconds of camera obfuscation, it appeared that Tyson continued connecting body shots until Nelson could back up and recover enough to straighten himself out.

Nelson shot back and finally tried throwing more than one jab at a time while continuing to move around the ring. However, Tyson proved to be elusive as ever, quickly pivoting and moving his head around to dodge Nelson’s punches before closing the gap and unleashing a crisp right hook to the body. Nelson threw his high guard again and managed to sneak a right uppercut on the inside that snapped Tyson’s head back. However, it seemed to do little to Tyson as he stayed directly in front of Nelson, circling him with jabs and landing another big right hook to the body. This process repeated itself for the duration of the round, Nelson doing little other than keeping a high guard and allowing Tyson to inflict most of the damage during their stretches of inside boxing. There was a brief stoppage as Tyson received a warning for an unintentional low blow, but he received a further lecture to keep his punches up after he swung at Nelson after the bell had rung; still a 10-9 round for Tyson.

The second round began with Tyson quickly slipping inside as Nelson missed a jab but quickly tied Tyson up to get a referee breakage. Tyson would throw out a few jabs to get closer to Nelson, who continued backing up and throwing out a jab in response. It seems Tyson had figured out Nelson’s timing as he stepped forward with a right hook to Nelson’s high guard, stepped back and awaited the counter right straight, slipped it, and delivered a counter left hook that sent Nelson on his back to the canvas. Despite being the first opponent in Tyson’s last six outings to make it past the first round, Nelson couldn’t last the distance, as he failed to beat the count 30 seconds into the second round. It was Tyson’s penultimate scheduled eight-round bout, and his manager, Jimmy Jacobs, expressed confidence in Tyson during the post-fight interview but stated, “Once you break into the top 10, you can’t go backwards. You can’t beat somebody in the top 10 and go back and fight, you know, uh, eight-round fights.” It was clear they would eventually place Tyson in the ring with more seriously considered competition soon based on Jacobs’ predictions of him entering the ring with a top 10 ranked opponent by June 1986. However, that means they were content with letting him build his record and deliver exciting knockout highlights or “staying busy,” if you prefer.

Sammy Scaff – December 6th, 1985

If Tyson should’ve fought Donnie Long before his ninth scheduled fight, then Sammy Scaff should have come right after Donnie. Scaff was 13-6 heading into this fight but had already been TKO’d by Tim Witherspoon in the fourth round of a scheduled 10-rounder just six days shy of two months prior. Expounding on Scaff’s record further shows he had only won three of his previous seven bouts and had been TKO’d in all those four losses, including against Proud Kilimanjaro in 1985, as well as against Mitch Green in 1984. All this to say, Tyson’s fourteenth fight should have been someone more seriously considered; Scaff was a clear journeyman. Of course, this was Tyson’s manager, Jimmy Jacobs, plan the whole time, feed Tyson tomato cans to build up a spectacular record and a highlight reel tape of knockouts to mail to journalists and television stations to build his profile. Scaff’s height could have presented Tyson more problems earlier in the year, but after blowing through most of his fights and tightening his technique, Scaff stood no chance. The announcers even say multiple times something along the lines of, “Scheduled for ten rounds, but no one expects it to go that far.”

Notably, this is the first Tyson bout scheduled for ten rounds, but it was also the first time he wore his black trunks, and his performance is what one came to expect when he donned those trunks. Tyson spent the first ten seconds of the bout staying within distance and attempting to slip jabs through Scaff’s guard, managing to quickly clip Scaff on the chin with a counter left hook after some evasive head movement. A clinch by Scaff would prove ineffective, as Tyson slipped back and delivered another left hook to the temple that staggered Scaff. Backed into Tyson’s corner, Scaff continued missing his hooks as Tyson continuously ducked and countered, this time connecting with a straight right and a right uppercut. Tyson continued stalking the bloody, retreating Scaff around the ring and forcing him into ring corners, where Scaff was able to tie Tyson up once and get a referee break. Unfortunately for Scaff, Tyson continued chasing him down, making him miss his hooks and uppercut with remarkable head movement and trapping him in his ring corner before knocking him down with a flush left hook. Scaff tried getting up but staggered as he reached his feet at the count of nine, awarding Tyson his 10th first-round KO/TKO win.

Mark Young – December 27th, 1985

Tyson’s final fight of the year came, once again, at Latham Coliseum against Mark Young. Tyson’s management’s tactics had begun seeing dividends because the theater was packed full of people who erupted for him upon the fighter introductions. Young had a billed record of 12-4-1, but according to BoxRec, he was 9-5-1. He came out aggressively against Tyson, throwing jabs and forcing Tyson to remain defensive and continue slipping Young’s jabs and hooks as he came in looking to slug it out with Tyson. Tyson quickly figured out his timing and landed clean counterpunches in a flurry between the two before they clinched up. Young continued pressing forward with his head down, landing some shots onto Tyson’s torso as Tyson stepped towards him, forcing Tyson to clinch and receive a referee break. Young continued slipping and out of striking distance, managing to hit Tyson with another right hook to the body as Tyson missed several counterpunches. Tyson was able to move his head around and avoid any significant strikes but finally caught Young inside and pivoted as Young covered up to throw a right uppercut from an unusual angle that clipped Young on the chin as he backed away. Young hit the ropes and then fell facefirst to the canvas, unable to beat the count. It’s one of Tyson’s more scrutinized KO’s, as the punch is, at best, barely seen landing on Young when replayed in slow motion. It’s a questionable KO, to be sure, but when one considers Young’s positioning and the angle of Tyson’s uppercut, he definitely could have received enough force to be knocked out in that fashion; but it is questionable.

Final Analysis

It’s undeniable Mike Tyson was an exciting prospect but, it’s also undoubtedly true that he did not face a high caliber of competition in his first year as a professional boxer. Although Tyson did not debut until March 6th, 1985, he fought 15 times before the end of the year, including a particularly hyperactive period of seven bouts from his October 9th bout with Donnie Long until his December 27th bout with Mark Young. That means he fought seven times in 79 days, or about once every 11 days during that period. Tyson was still a young, developing prospect, reflected by Ring Magazine not including him in their top 10 heavyweights of the year3 during their annual divisional rankings. Of course, this was Tyson’s manager’s savvy plan the entire time, and it worked since he became the youngest heavyweight champion of all time while amassing a significant celebrity status while doing so.

Larry Holmes had cleared out the heavyweight division throughout the late ’70s and early-to-mid ’80s, finally losing his championship to light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks on September 21st, 1985. This event dovetailed with Tyson’s busiest portion of his schedule for the year, as the division was seen as wide-open considering the former light heavyweight champion gained weight and defeated the nearly 36-year-old Holmes, who had ruled the division for seven years. Considering that four of Tyson’s first 15 opponents were essentially either light heavyweights or cruiserweights4 due to the lax and ever-changing divisional limits5 of the ’80s, it adds credence to the criticisms of Tyson beating weaker challengers in a weak era of heavyweight history. Still, he was polishing his skills through his early bouts, and while I think he stuck around taking on lower-ranked challengers longer than he needed to, it was all to make his manager’s marketing strategy more successful. He needed to perform at that level early on to make those highlight-reel KOs and grant him that aura of invincibility he possessed during his championship years.

Editor’s Notes

  1. This shot does land, but some have accused Richardson of acting up the punch’s power considering the fashion in which he leaves his feet. He is clearly seen bracing for impact on the replay, so it’s possible he took the hit and decided to pack it in.
  2. PicClick.com – Mike Tyson vs Conroy Nelson Original Fight Poster
  3. BoxRec – The Ring Magazine’s Annual Ratings: 1985
  4. Fight News – 11/11/2020 – Boxing’s Confusing Weight Divisions
  5. Cruiserweight was only officially introduced as a weight class in 1979 by the WBC, while the WBA waited until 1982. The IBF followed suit a year later, and the WBO hadn’t even formed yet for another five years. Originally established at 190 lbs, the division would then change to a limit of 200 lbs in 2003. The WBC, interestingly enough, discussed changing it back to 190 lbs in 2020.

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