Game Film: Mike Tyson’s 1986 Fights (Part Four)

Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton had been expertly implementing Cus D’Amato’s deliberate strategy to get Tyson to become the youngest world heavyweight champion. With Don King’s influence, HBO established a tournament to crown an undisputed heavyweight champion; a perfect storm of circumstance was brewing that eventually led to Tyson’s unraveling, but not before he unified the titles and became the youngest heavyweight champion. After his decision victories over James Tillis and Mitch Green, however, Tyson’s mystique had diminished a bit as people began questioning his stamina and level of his competition. Jacobs and Cayton still had considerable control over Tyson’s managerial role at this point; likely the ones who got Tyson back on track with first-round knockouts after the bout with Green. However, they also knew for Tyson to receive a title shot, he’d have to beat some more seriously considered competition.

Lorenzo Boyd – July 11th, 1986

Lorenzo Boyd was 15-5, although listed as 17-5 on the program cover and announced in the ring at 16-5, and as noted in an earlier Game Film article1, was Tyson’s final opponent weighing under 200 pounds. He was unranked, but perhaps more interestingly, he boxed until 2003 and finished with a record of 30-54-1-5. Boyd’s one draw and three of his five no contest decisions occurred in his final eight fights, with his last win coming over Jeff Warner in 2000. By the way, Warner was a professional wrestler who worked for the Pacific Northwest territory, PWA, WCW, and the-then WWF, best known under the name J.W. Storm, and most of, if not all, his fights are believed to be fixed2. Boyd had an 18-21 record when he went inactive from 1991 until his return in November ’94, but this article is about Tyson, so let’s analyze their bout now.

Tyson was aggressive early, throwing his jab out, and clipped Boyd with either a straight right or right hook as the television graphics detailing it was indeed a scheduled ten-rounder hadn’t been removed from the screen yet. Worse yet, the referee was walking in front of the boxers as the wide camera was zooming in from some distance away, making it hard to see the punch land. To paint this opening in an even more unprofessional manner, I’d like to point out one of the ringside cameramen hadn’t even gotten his leg fully out of the ring when the bell rang. Regardless, Tyson remained aggressive, notably throwing his jab out more as he weaved his head around and stepped in with a right hook to the body. Boyd clinched, but unlike previous opponents, didn’t do so much for the next minute-and-a-half, preferring to duck and meet Tyson head on inside and shove him away.

Tyson was highly animated in the opening minute, bouncing around and firing his jab as he weaved his head around quickly and threw hooks to Boyd’s body. He landed a right uppercut at the 24-second mark as he stepped inside on a ducking Boyd, and Tyson began displaying the right uppercut prominently from then on. Boyd kept his guard high in front of his face, preferring to duck and shove Tyson away as he swarmed him, which in turn opened him up for early right hooks to the body in between missed right uppercuts to the face. Boyd began making his way inside more often to throw punches inside with Tyson after the minute-and-a-half mark, which proved ineffective. The now 20-year-old Tyson weaved his head around and kept his head down when Boyd would get the better inside angle and attempt a 1-2 combo or hook, avoiding any significant strike. Boyd also tried getting inside with a lead uppercut and throwing one inside when Tyson would back off from unfavorable angles, but again, Tyson’s head movement rendered this technique useless.

Boyd’s nose was noticeably bleeding as Tyson leisurely picked at him with his jab, pounced inside for right hooks to the body, and attempted to land more right uppercuts upstairs. Boyd began holding longer and more often after the two-and-a-half-minute mark, and Tyson was content to continue enacting his strategy, ending the round with a jab at Boyd’s guard as the bell rang. It was a clear-cut 10-9 round in Tyson’s favor, and now is the apposite time to mention the somewhat pertinent detail of Tyson’s vague left-hand injury3 suffered during his previous bout with Hosea. It was re-injured during this fight, with Tyson citing it as the reason he couldn’t go headhunting against Boyd. I didn’t mention it in the previous article due to Tyson winning by a first-round KO; I figured now was the better time to bring it up since it’s ostensibly the significant factor in this bout going two rounds.

The stools weren’t even out of the ring as the bell rang to begin the round, leading to it ringing again about four seconds later. Adding to that amateurish delay was the referee holding both boxers up in their corner for a second. Boyd threw the first punch of the second round, a looping overhand right hook that Tyson ducked. Intent on slugging inside, Boyd continued receiving right hooks to the body and jabs to the face as Tyson circled him and let him plod forward. Boyd clinched around 22 seconds into the round before going on the offensive with uppercuts and hooks inside that missed as Tyson covered up and kept weaving his head around as Boyd kept his head low. Due to Boyd keeping his head low as he got inside and threw punches, Tyson landed a good right uppercut while he was against the ropes that forced Boyd to back up and reassess his approach.

However, Tyson followed after him, keeping the pressure on as he jabbed and made his way inside. Boyd went right back to his previous strategy of keeping his head down and throwing punches while Tyson stayed on his back foot without throwing a punch, waiting for his opening. Boyd popped up for some weak-looking punches that Tyson avoided, and then Tyson ripped off two alternating hooks to the body that led to Boyd backing up, jabbing, and then clinching. Tyson’s jab didn’t discourage Boyd from further attempting to make his way inside, but Tyson finally had Boyd’s timing down, as he got clipped with a right uppercut after a right hook at the one-minute and 29-second mark that forced him to back up. Tyson immediately followed up with a jab before repeating this quick 4-6 combination, landing the right uppercut on Boyd’s temple and sending him sprawling across the ring as he landed flat on his back. The referee made it to the count of eight before Boyd even began rolling over to try getting up, but once the referee was able to pull his mouth guard out, he called a stop to the bout at one minute and 43 seconds in the second round.

Marvis Frazier – July 26th, 1986

Marvis Frazier, the oldest son of legendary former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, was 16-1 and ranked No. 9 by the WBC and No. 4 by the IBF when he stepped in the ring against Tyson, who was still ranked No. 2 by the WBC. Marvis’ only loss up to this point was a first-round TKO in his eleventh fight against Larry Holmes in 1983, in what was regarded even then as a significant mismatch4. Marvis had been on the comeback trail since then, picking up six victories between the Holmes and Tyson fights, with only one of them coming by way of KO/TKO. Although he only secured one KO/TKO victory in that time, he did pick up decision victories over James Tillis, José Ribalta, and James Smith; opponents Tyson also faced eventually or had already. Marvis certainly had skills but was viewed as an overmatched underdog by critics5 who said Joe changed Marvis’ style to resemble more of his father’s style, which didn’t suit Marvis, and that Marvis was too small to be fighting at heavyweight.

This bout with Tyson did little to deter those critics. Marvis came out with a jab but had to cover up and slide away as Tyson evaded and followed up with a right uppercut and a series of right hooks. Tyson kept Marvis on the ropes with his jab, hitting him twice with a right hook as Marvis moved further down the ropes to get some space. Tyson hounded him, poking at him with the jab and keeping the pressure in close until Marvis backed away towards the corner he just moved out of when Tyson pursued with his jab and then landed two right uppercuts that knocked Marvis out cold. The first uppercut slid through Marvis’ guard and hurt him as he tried standing tall to get out of his crouch and avoid another uppercut, but the second one came so quickly, and Tyson tracked his movement so well that it didn’t matter, landing square on Marvis’ chin through his guard. Marvis was out before he even hit the canvas, but while he was still on his feet, Tyson hit him with a jab, a left hook, and a right hook before missing another right uppercut as Marvis fell towards the ropes and slumped over. It was over in 30 seconds.

After Tyson achieved the 15th first-round KO/TKO and the quickest knockout win of his career, the crowd began bursting into chants of “Holmes.”6 Jimmy Jacobs then stated in the post-fight interview that he would be meeting with Holmes’ manager on July 29th to discuss a possible fight later in the year. While that fight didn’t happen for another two years, Tyson would capture a title later that year, while Marvis took ten months off from in-ring competition. I remember seeing a clip of Joe Rogan on YouTube once talking about this fight, stating something along the lines of how it was the beginning of Tyson’s ascension while simultaneously being the decline of Marvis Frazier. I’m unable to find the clip now, but this article by The Ring echoes a similar sentiment7. Even a casual glance at their career records would support this statement; Tyson won the WBC heavyweight championship three fights after this one, while Marvis quietly walked away from boxing with a 19-2 record three fights later.


José Ribalta – August 17th, 1986

In Tyson’s final fight at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he went up against José “El Nino” Ribalta. Ribalta had a record of 22-3-1 and was ranked No. 8 by the WBC and No. 10 by the WBA, or vice versa, as every website mentioning his rank at the time of the fight seems to have the order reversed. Tyson was still ranked No. 2 by the WBC but was now ranked No. 1 by the WBA.

Ribalta did try to use his reach and height advantage to keep Tyson at bay, but Tyson immediately swarmed him with hooks from the opening bell. An early clinch led to Tyson landing a good right hook to Ribalta’s face against the ropes, but that led to Ribalta clinching again after escaping and being pinned against the other nearby set of ropes. The remainder of the round played out in this fashion, with Ribalta jabbing on the back foot and trying to hit Tyson with bigger punches like a right uppercut as he approached and then grabbed Tyson when he got inside. Tyson, however, showed great discipline by weaving his head around as he threw punches to get inside, applying pressure or outright landing shots as he avoided Ribalta’s. Tyson also managed to put together two separate five-punch combinations around the one-minute and five-second mark and two-minute and 30-second mark of the round, respectively, with the second combination featuring a right uppercut that snuck through Ribalta’s guard and snapped his head up.

Ribalta, to his credit, absorbed the damage well enough and didn’t appear to be in bad condition when the bell rang to end the round. It was a definite 10-9 round in Tyson’s favor, but Ribalta took some good punches and kept fighting. Tyson remained the aggressor in round two, swarming Ribalta with hooks and continuing to get inside and evade Ribalta’s jab with elusive head movement but was often tied up quickly more often this round. Tyson landed a good left hook within the first ten seconds of the round but then mostly battered away with his jab and hooks at Ribalta’s guard as Ribalta found some success meeting Tyson inside with a punch before quickly tying him up. Still, Tyson hounded Ribalta, getting back in his face quickly after every referee breakage, poking away at Ribalta’s guard with punches to get inside, finding openings, and remaining aggressive. Ribalta wasn’t throwing his jab out with much success, so after a referee breakage at the one-minute and 46-second mark, Tyson instead chose a more patient approach. Tyson circled Ribalta to get the taller man’s back towards the ropes, switched to southpaw, and led with two jabs before meeting Ribalta in a crouch against the ropes; Tyson’s vicious right hook to the body and follow-up right uppercut sent Ribalta to the canvas.

Tyson secured the knockdown at the one-minute and 53-second mark of the round and attempted to end it quickly shortly after Ribalta received the standing eight count8. Tyson rushed in, swinging furiously at Ribalta and forcing the action back towards the nearby corner, and Ribalta began wildly swinging punches back in response. After Tyson ducked a wild swing from Ribalta, the taller boxer slipped away across the ring, and with Tyson in hot pursuit and Ribalta’s back against another set of ropes, he clinched to drain some more clock. The final 25 seconds saw Tyson expertly avoid Ribalta’s strikes with his signature elusive head movement, land a good deal of hooks to the body, and some upstairs through Ribalta’s guard, as well as a short left uppercut on the chin with six seconds remaining. A 10-8 round for Tyson, but Ribalta still didn’t look stirred by the experience thus far and came out jabbing at Tyson to start round three.

Tyson continued swarming Ribalta, however, not allowing him to mount much offense as he chased him around the ring. He clipped Ribalta with a solid right hook to the face and two good left hooks to the body around 26 seconds into the round but spent the next 44 seconds getting tied up as he evaded Ribalta’s punches and slipped his way inside. Tyson did land some stiff solitary body shots in the middle minute of the round; however, his next good combination wouldn’t come until around the two-minute and four-second mark. Tyson landed two left hooks on Ribalta’s body while the taller man was against the ropes, followed up with a right hook to the body and a right uppercut to the chin. Tyson landed a solid extended left hook on Ribalta’s face that Ribalta partially rolled and another good left hook to the body seconds later; otherwise, Ribalta spent the final minute retreating and clinching to avoid Tyson’s inside barrages.

After scoring that last round 10-9 for Tyson, he came out eager to continue inflicting damage in round four. Ribalta had just gotten off his stool when the bell rang; Tyson met him in his corner seconds later. However, Ribalta continued grabbing when Tyson got inside, and while he tied him up effectively and tried throwing punches inside, his jab was ineffective at keeping Tyson at bay. Tyson, for his part, remained active in pursuing Ribalta across and around the ring, swaying his torso around to avoid strikes as he got in close to land body shots. Tyson clipped Ribalta with a solid left hook with 20 seconds left in the round, but Ribalta displayed good defense and grit in this round. Ribalta absorbed most of Tyson’s power punches upstairs on his guard, and although he was missing when attempting to catch Tyson on his way inside, he remained aggressive and threw short punches in the clinch with Tyson. However, Tyson was the clear aggressor and dictated the pace, showcased better defense, and landed the cleaner, bigger shots; another 10-9 round for Tyson on my scorecard.

Ribalta tried landing a left uppercut as Tyson came in with a jab to start the fifth round, but all this did was result in a clinch between the two. The two threw some short punches from the clinch, were broken up, and then Ribalta tried to throw a jab, only for Tyson to slip it and quickly get in close once again. The two clinched up and threw short punches inside once more, effectively wasting 20 seconds with sloppy grappling. Ribalta continued to rely on grabbing Tyson when he got in close as Tyson continued firing back with his jab to get in close and land damaging body shots on Ribalta throughout the round. Ribalta finally landed a couple of uppercuts in the round’s opening minute as Tyson made his way inside; Ribalta even got into a brief skirmish in close with Tyson around the one-minute and 15-second mark until he decided to back away from Tyson’s hooks whizzing by his face. Ribalta, back against the ropes, clinched once more but landed nothing significant for the remainder of the round as Tyson continued patiently landing body shots in between and during clinches. Every time Ribalta was able to land a punch, Tyson crept in and landed one or two cleaner, more damaging hooks to the body, and it began slowing Ribalta down; yet another 10-9 round for Tyson.

Ribalta’s strategy began yielding some dividends in the sixth round, as he made Tyson look a little slow-footed and frustrated in the opening seconds. Ribalta allowed Tyson to come in close with a jab before shoving him and simultaneously sliding away to create some space before resetting. Tyson evaded Ribalta’s jab to step in with a right hook to the body but was clinched and hit by Ribalta, who took a step back after landing the punch. Tyson again approached Ribalta, only to be jabbed and shoulder-shoved by the taller man, which must have fired up Tyson as he unloaded a left uppercut that landed on Ribalta’s chin and snapped his head back before getting clinched again. Tyson continued poking away at Ribalta with his jab and trying to get inside to unleash powerful combinations, landing only a couple of single shots throughout the round as Ribalta effectively tied him up throughout. Ribalta even landed a handful of good punches as Tyson tried stringing combinations together as Ribalta was against the ropes around the one-minute and 15-second mark. Tyson landed the more exciting punches in this round and evaded most of Ribalta’s, but was less busy, less accurate, and outboxed this round, leading me to score this one 10-9 in Ribalta’s favor.

Ribalta landed a short right on Tyson’s face as the bell rang, leading to Tyson throwing a short right of his own back at Ribalta. That prompted Ribalta to tap Tyson in the face again, which caused Tyson to respond with another short right. Ribalta wasn’t willing to let Tyson have the final tap, as he tried throwing one last weak punch at Tyson as the referee stepped in between the two. In tandem with Ribalta’s brief willingness to stand in front of Tyson and try and exchange punches with him while on the ropes just 12 seconds prior, it became apparent to anyone not already paying attention that Ribalta wasn’t willing to let Tyson intimidate him. Tyson was visibly frustrated as he went back to his corner but didn’t alter his game plan in the seventh round.

Tyson continued poking away with his jab, landing a couple in the opening ten seconds and forcing Ribalta against the ropes. Yet, as Tyson continued landing body shots and dictating Ribalta’s direction inside the clinch, Ribalta continued trying to catch Tyson as he came inside with uppercuts. There wasn’t much action for the first two-and-a-half minutes of the round, as Tyson jabbed, swayed, landed body shots, and made his way inside repeatedly, only to be tied up and occasionally hit by Ribalta. Ribalta landed a left uppercut as Tyson ducked on his way inside at the two-minute and 18-second mark, where he then pushed Tyson away and followed up with a right uppercut on an approaching Tyson that missed. To compensate for being off the mark, Ribalta came in with an overhand right that draped over Tyson’s back as he ducked inside, leading to Tyson landing a good right hook on Ribalta’s chin as the taller man backed away from Tyson. After the referee broke the subsequent clinch with 30 seconds left in the round, the only punch of note was a left hook from Tyson to the torso of Ribalta after Tyson expertly evaded a right uppercut from Ribalta with 14 seconds left. I’d score this round 10-9 in Tyson’s favor due to him dictating the pace and landing the more significant strikes, but Ribalta remained active and wasn’t backing down.

Tyson clipped Ribalta as Ribalta tried to go for another uppercut to start the eighth round, leading to another clinch in the opening seconds. It was another uneventful minute of grappling to start the round as the crowd began to burst into chants of “José” before Tyson walked in close with a 4-3-4 combination, starting with a right hook to the body and ending with two quick alternating hooks to Ribalta’s jaw. Ribalta staggered forward, resulting in Tyson’s follow-up left hook clipping the back of his head. Tyson, ever the aggressor, slid back to pursue a better angle and clipped Ribalta with another right hook that knocked out Ribalta’s mouthguard at the one-minute and five-second mark. Ribalta clinched to survive further damage and tried throwing punches as he retreated from an approaching Tyson but had to clinch again as he got caught in the corner. The crowd once again began chanting “José,” as Tyson caught Ribalta’s jab on his gloves, only for them to burst out in cheers when Tyson clipped Ribalta’s chin with a straight right that snapped his head to the side and put him back against the ropes.

Ribalta threw his guard up as he leaned against the ropes, taking a right hook to the body before covering up and having Tyson batter away at his guard with a left and two right hooks. Tyson clipped him on the temple with one of those right hooks and partially landed the follow-up, but Ribalta did absorb most of it with his guard. Tyson tried sliding back a bit to throw two short alternating hooks to Ribalta’s face as the taller man hunched over to lean on him; Ribalata wisely put all his weight forward to walk Tyson across the ring and force a referee breakage. Tyson got Ribalta against the ropes again quickly, and then after evading another uppercut and a straight right, landed one of his signature 4-6 combinations that began with a right hook to Ribalta’s body and snapped Ribalta’s head up once Tyson’s uppercut landed on his chin. Once again, Ribalta staggered forward to save himself from a knockdown, but Tyson quickly pounced on him after the referee breakage, keeping him contained against the ropes. Tyson remained in front of Ribalta, picking his spots with right hooks downstairs and upstairs, even clinching when at an unfavorable angle to reset and get Ribalta back on the ropes. Eventually, after another referee breakage, Tyson threw a left hook to back Ribalta up before pouncing with a wide right hook that landed on Ribalta’s temple and sent him tumbling over into the ropes.

The referee delayed the count once Tyson rushed forward and clipped Ribalta with a right uppercut but didn’t deduct a point as he forced him to a neutral corner. Ribalta was up by the count of five, received the standing eight count, and continued boxing with 18 seconds left in the round. Ribalta ducked a left hook from Tyson and then tried to drain the clock by retreating and clinching but ended up engaging in a quick skirmish with his back against the ropes with three seconds remaining. He tried throwing an uppercut as Tyson approached but was on the losing effort of the exchange as he missed while Tyson landed a left hook to the body and a right hook to the back of Ribalta’s head as he ducked to avoid Tyson’s punch. Ribalta did lean back to dodge an uppercut, throwing a half-hearted hook that fell short and was more like a feint than really attempting a punch as the bell ended. Ribalta leaned up against Tyson as the two exchanged words before heading to their corners, a 10-8 round for Tyson.

There was a seven-second delay to start the ninth round as one of Ribalta’s trainers hadn’t finished wiping him down with a towel, but nobody ever adjusted the intermittent clock display on tv. Hilariously, the display clock showed five seconds remaining at the end of the round, which probably confused audiences when the round went on four seconds longer than the clock had said it would, which was still three seconds too short for a full three-minute round. Tyson landed another wide left hook at the 36-second mark of the round that staggered Ribalta against the ropes and seemingly dazed him as he fell forward and leaned heavily on Tyson for support. Other than those two factors, this round was pretty uneventful as Ribalta clinched often and had no substantial offense. Tyson, meanwhile, was patient throughout the first half of the round, patiently jabbing and waiting for angles to secure a knockout punch, but grew wearier and began missing punches and getting clinched as the round drew to a close. It’s another round I’d score 10-9 in Tyson’s favor; he could have coasted to an easy unanimous decision victory, but he came out determined to collect another knockout in the final round.

Although Tyson did extend his glove to Ribalta at the referee’s insistence, Ribalta refused to touch gloves at the start of the tenth round. Tyson stepped inside to land a right hook to Ribalta’s temple; the taller man hunched down and put a shoulder in Tyson’s face, resulting in Tyson practically clinging onto Ribalta’s side as the two clinched up. Tyson tried stepping in with hooks to batter Ribalta some more, but Ribalta caught Tyson with an uppercut and a short left hook as Tyson connected on a left hook during the exchange as well. Ribalta clinched and pushed Tyson across the ring to get some more space but ended up being backed into a ring corner anyway, where he missed multiple jabs, an uppercut, and a short left hook as Tyson slipped his punches and kept the pressure up. Ribalta clinched, and Tyson momentarily switched to southpaw and clipped Ribalta with a straight left before Ribalta quickly clinched again. Ribalta landed two solid uppercuts between clinch breaks as Tyson was dipping low to approach; however, Tyson once again got inside after a referee breakage with a short right hook that Ribalta ducked. However, Tyson landed a clean follow-up left hook on Ribalta’s chin at the one-minute and 12-second mark that knocked out Ribalta’s mouthguard and sent him staggering backward to the canvas.

Ribalta was getting up by the count of three and on his feet by four, received the standing eight count, and emphatically stated, “Yeah. Hell yeah,” when asked if he wanted to continue fighting. Tyson landed a clean right hook at the minute-and-a-half mark that snapped Ribalta’s head to the side briefly and then landed three more alternating hooks to his jaw before missing the fourth one once Ribalta ducked. Ribalta was against the ropes and not throwing punches, but he very clearly was attempting to stay active and survive; however, the referee stepped in between the two and called a stop to the contest, awarding Tyson the TKO victory at the one-minute and 37-second mark of the final round. The crowd was upset by the outcome and were vocal about it, and it’s hard to disagree as the referee should have let him fight it out and see if he could survive the round. Ribalta complained about the stoppage, and the crowd booed during the initial and official decision. However, it’s worth noting that Tyson followed up what ended up being the quickest stoppage victory of his career with what ended up being the latest stoppage victory of his career, no matter how controversial the decision to stop the bout was.

Final Analysis

After Tyson defeated Ribalta, Jimmy Jacobs revealed during the post-fight interview that Tyson would be looking to join the HBO heavyweight unification series9 rather than take a match against Larry Holmes. Tyson’s managers secured the HBO deal days later10, with Jacobs expounding that he could not get a consistent amount of money from Holmes’ manager during negotiations; as a result, they decided to have Tyson participate in the HBO series. Now all Tyson had to do to challenge Trevor Berbick for the WBC heavyweight championship later that year was defeat former cruiserweight champion, Alfonzo Ratliff. He was standing on the verge of making history.

Editor’s Notes

  1. Havarti – 7/30/2021 – Game Film: Mike Tyson’s 1985 Fights (Part Two)
  2. – 4/1/2000 – Shadow Boxer
  3. The Telegraph-Herald – 6/13/1986 – Tyson stops Boyd in two
  4. The Bryan Times – 11/26/1983 – Holmes crunches Frazier
  5. The New York Times – 7/21/1986 – FOR MARVIS FRAZIER, DOES FATHER KNOW BEST?
  6. The New York Times – 7/27/1986 – TYSON A WINNER OVER FRAZIER IN 0:30
  8. He did make it to his feet by the count of two, however
  9. Schenectady Gazette – 8/18/1986 – Tyson Stops Ribalta, Improves to 26-0
  10. The New York Times – 8/22/1986 – TYSON TO JOIN HBO’S SERIES

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