Tyson vs Ruddock: Brutality & Controversy
By Daniel Smith
It was a savage, six-punch-combination in the tenth round from James ‘Buster’ Douglas that ruptured and permeated the comic-style, villainous perception which shrouded Mike Tyson’s boxing persona in the late 80s and early 90s.
A feared, tyrant figure of a fighter, in equal measure to that of America’s once upon a time ‘number one menace’, Sonny Liston, just twenty years earlier.
In the run-up to the fight, Douglas had been severely underestimated by everyone and their grandmothers. Boxing journalists, cognoscenti of the noble art, media, promoters, fans, and of course, ‘Iron’ Mike himself.
However, as Buster’s leathered fists crunched and sank their brutality into ‘The Baddest Man on the planet’, the boxing world reeled with consternation as their tenacious darling timbered to the deck in round ten, failing to beat the count, barely scaffolded by his left arm and knees, whilst patting his right glove on the canvas in search for his gumshield like a man feeling for his keys amidst the darkness.
In 1964, Muhammad Ali was the gallous, brash, and handsome, young underdog who defeated Sonny Liston to earn the heavyweight title. In similar fashion to Ali, Buster Douglas demonstrated that the formidable Tyson was just like any other fighter within the heavyweight business, he could be hurt, damaged, bleed, and kayoed like anyone else. And on February 11, 1990, Douglas proved himself by claiming the WBC, WBA, and IBF titles from the former Brownsville “Jolly Stomper” gang member and the youngest heavyweight champion of the world.
By October 1990, the WBC, WBA, and IBF belts had changed hands for a total of eight months and twenty-five days. Following his victory over Tyson, Douglas needed to shed roughly forty-eight pounds of excess mass before defending his titles against Evander Holyfield.
During their brief encounter, it was Holyfield’s punches that wreaked bloody havoc upon the Ohio man after just ten seconds of fisticuffs. Douglas was blowing within the opening minute, and after throwing a wild uppercut that widely missed the breeze, Evander countered with a pounding right-cross that would have floored a rhino. Referee Mills Lane called time on the fight as Buster lay flat on his back, pawing at his bleeding and broken nose.
While the heavyweight division had a new champion in Holyfield, following his defeat to Douglas, Mike Tyson fought twice over a ten-month period, destroying both Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart in less time it takes to scramble a couple of eggs. A combined forty seconds to be precise.
The two less than mediocre tune-up fights had been orchestrated by promoter Don King before Tyson would collide with Jamaica’s Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock for an eliminator bout, with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger for Holyfield.
March 18, 1991, The Mirage Hotel & Casino, Nevada, and Mike Tyson had officially dropped Ruddock twice. Once in round two, and again in the third. Ruddock, however, was proving to be a nuisance who refused to stay down.
By round seven, vicious punches teemed upon Ruddock, prompting referee Richard Steele to call time on the bout, declaring Tyson the winner by-way-of TKO.
The decision was met with controversy and outrage as a mass brawl erupted in the ring. Ruddock’s brother, Tyson’s trainer, Showtime security, and both fighters’ entourage rushed and swarmed the squared circle, exchanging profanities and blows like a bookies’ swapping betting slips for cash.
Amid the chaos, the pupils of Don King’s eyes were replaced with dollar signs, while his internal-imagery manufactured a glorious, prosperous, rematch extravaganza: Tyson vs Ruddock 2 – live from The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. A spectacular, savage, brutal, and bludgeoning heavyweight event is guaranteed for all.
Three months later, Tyson vs Ruddock 2: ‘The Rematch’, was on. During live satellite pressers, Tyson spurted jail slang at his opponent, threatening to make Ruddock his ‘girlfriend’, later stating “You’re dead you pretty little thing you.” This kind of jibbery only added furious momentum to King’s fight promotion and pay-per-view numbers.
As the bell rang for the opener, Tyson and Ruddock met in the centre of the ring; both game, both voracious for blood and knockouts as they traded heavy leather like two overgrown schoolboy foes clobbering each-other in a schoolyard straightener.
Neither boxer could lay claim to any graceful or lateral movements as leather continued to pound and slug against flesh and bone, in hopes their artillery would inflict more damage, more pain, and more spite than the other.
But as the clock dwindled to its last sixteen seconds of round one, Tyson staggered his man with a solid right hook to the temple; Ruddock jived momentarily before clinching to re-kilter his balance. With the sound of the bell drawing round one to a close, Tyson continued to swing an additional two punches before Mills Lane separated the pair.
Round two, and the former heavyweight champ ferociously chased his man across the breadth of the ring, throwing fast, hard, and heavy, finding the target with a nasty overhand right; again, Razor looked for the clinch to stifle the assault.
Towards the close of the round, Mills Lane slapped a warning Tyson’s way for aiming low, instructing the fighter to “keep’em up.” Tyson’s compliance was in the form of an overhand right that smashed like a hammer upon Ruddock’s head.
As the blow struck and Ruddock fell, it was like an invisible chair had been swiped from the unbeknown Jamaican as he prepared to sit down at the dinner table; sweat whipping from his head as Tyson’s fist rescinded its menace.
A few seconds ticked by before Ruddock was back on his feet, still reverberating slightly from the impact of the thud that had just whammed him to the canvass. Lane issued the mandatory eight count, and for the last one minute and twenty seconds left on the clock, Tyson bullied and terrorised Ruddock around the ring, attempting to wallop the stuffing out of him like he would a heavy punch bag. However, Razor survived the round.
In the third, Tyson was rocked by a vicious glut of hooks and uppercuts that blasted against his jaw and middle. Round four, and Ruddock was dropped by a stiff right. Before the referee reached the count of three, Razor was on his feet, and the pair continued to trade leathered damage in the middle of their own square jungle.
Rounds five and six, and the fight was still cooking as both Tyson and Ruddock gritted their teeth and banged away until the clang of the bell.
By the eleventh, Tyson was well ahead on points, however, if he wanted to re-galvanise his image as a knockout merchant with a temper fixed to a hair trigger, then he only had three more minutes to put the fight to bed. But as he trudged to his corner, Mike looked spent of any kayo force.
The twelfth and final round was relentlessly savage, and with blowtorched muscles, heavy boots, and exerted lungs, Ruddock and Tyson rolled the dice for three more minutes, channelling every ounce of power and strength into their punches until the final bell rang loud and clear.
The two fighters embraced, both acknowledging and respecting each-others’ valour and determination. Tyson spoke privately in his heavyweight compatriot’s ear. Ruddock smiled and nodded; his face swollen and disfigured from a broken jaw which he sustained in the fourth round.
The judges awarded Tyson the wide points victory, while Ruddock earned commendable second prize honours, Tyson’s respect, and a visit to the hospital from a fractured jaw.
Mike Tyson would not have the WBC heavyweight belt around his waist again until March 16, 1996, after stopping Frank Bruno in round three at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.