On This Day: Mike Tyson annihilates Trevor Berbick to become youngest heavyweight champion ever
It was a pre-ordained beating, a historic moment waiting to happen, and the beginning of a new era. Mike Tyson stopped Trevor Berbick to become heavyweight champion on a day like today, 36 years ago.
20-year-old undefeated sensation Mike Tyson was fresh off his failed attempt to make it to the Olympics after dominating the field for years, only to be defeated twice by future Olympic gold medalist Henry Tillman at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials and then the U.S. Olympic Box-Offs and be left out of the team that represented the country in the Los Angeles Olympic games.
Starting a demolishing unbeaten run in the pro ranks on the following year, Tyson became an overnight sensation, scoring knockout after knockout in highlight-reel fashion and quickly becoming a fan favorite.
It was only a matter of time until Tyson managed to land a title bout, and that moment came in late 1986 when HBO decided it didn’t want to wait for the three-way tournament between champions of the three major organizations to give Tyson his chance. The task fell on recently crowned WBC titlist Trevor Berbick, who had defeated Muhammad Ali in “The Greatest’s” last bout and was coming off a narrow points win over Pinklon Thomas in his title-clinching effort.
Berbick was no match for then-superbly trained and confident Tyson. Barely out of his teens but looking every bit the force of nature that he would become later, Tyson was 27-0 with 25 knockouts and had a 12-0 run in that year alone. He was the ample favorite on November 22, 1986, when he climbed the ring wearing his customary white towel and his black trunks and shoes.
It didn’t take long to realize that the 32–year old Berbick had no chance. After winning “round zero” with his stone-cold stare during the pre-fight instructions, Tyson went to work from the very first second of the fight, progressively laying a beating on Berbick and almost sending him to the canvas in a dramatic ending of the first round in which Tyson landed an unanswered four-punch combo that staggered the champion.
That was just the start. Tyson dropped Berbick with the first serious punch that he threw in the next round, and that was the beginning of the end. Barely able to defend himself against Tyson’s furious onslaughts, Berbick held on to dear life throughout the round, drawing numerous warning from the referee until he was dropped towards the end of the second round by a combination capped by a left hook that sent Berbick to the canvas. The champ clownishly attempted to make his stiff legs carry him to an upright position but failed in two attempts, and referee Mills Lane stopped the carnage at the 2:35 mark.
The rest of the story has been documented only all too well. But on that night, Mike Tyson wrote the first chapter of a legend that is still generating rivers of ink, decades after he lifted his first championship belt over his shoulders.
Diego M. Morilla has written for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.