Butch Lewis picked a lousy time to make heavyweight champion Mike Tyson angry. Just as Tyson prepared to leave his dressing room and make his way to the ring for Monday night's title defense against Michael Spinks at Atlantic City's Convention Center, Lewis, Spinks's promoter and manager, spotted what he thought was a lump on the wrist of Tyson's left glove. "Hold it," said the tuxedoed but bare-chested Lewis. "Get rid of that, or we don't fight."
Tyson's handlers explained that the bulge was simply the knotted laces, but Lewis demanded that it be examined by Larry Hazzard, the chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission. Tyson, sweat dripping from his broad body, began pacing the dressing room in anger. Hazzard examined the glove and found it faultless, but Lewis continued to protest. The impasse wasn't broken until Eddie Futch, Spinks's 77-year-old trainer, said he, too, found the lump harmless. As Lewis left the locker room, Tyson turned to his trainer, Kevin Rooney. "You know," he said softly of Spinks, "I'm gonna hurt this guy."
Unleashed at last, Tyson the Terrible knocked out Spinks in just 91 seconds—four seconds fewer than it took Jeffrey Osborne to sing the prefight national anthem. The finish could have been even more abrupt except that Spinks, a 3�-1 underdog, had the grit to get up the first time Tyson knocked him down, with about a minute gone. As it was, in all of boxing history, only three heavyweight championship fights ended faster.
For his near-record loss, Spinks, the former undisputed light heavyweight and IBF heavyweight champ who came in with a 31-0 record, went out $13.5 million richer. Tyson will make between $18 million and $22 million; the total won't be known until the receipts are in from pay-per-view TV and closed-circuit locations.
Rooney mentioned that magnificent sum to his fighter several hours before the bout. "I just want you to know, Mike, that I bet my share of the purse," said Rooney, "and I bet your share that you would knock him out in the first round." Tyson stared but said nothing. He thought Rooney was joking, but when Rooney didn't smile, Tyson no longer felt certain.
As the challenger, the 31-year-old Spinks entered the ring first after the long delay. When he removed his robe, his 6'2�" body looked trim carrying 212� pounds, his heaviest weight ever, but it was dry. Spinks is a notoriously slow starter; it did not bode well that he hadn't warmed up properly.
By contrast, the 21-year-old Tyson was glistening as he prowled the ring during the introductions, and at the opening bell he pounced and threw a left hook that caught Spinks high on his head. "I noticed the fear come into his eyes then," Tyson said later. Spinks seemed to sag after the punch, a telling bit of body language common to Tyson's opponents the first time they absorb a solid blow from him. At that moment of violent impact, survival suddenly becomes much more important than victory.
Before the fight Futch had warned Spinks not to clinch. "We're not matching strength for strength," Futch had said. "That's his game." But Spinks seemed more interested in trying to wrap Tyson in his arms than in escaping harm with practiced retreat. In their first clinch, referee Frank Capuccino moved in when he spotted the laces of one of Tyson's gloves resting heavily against Spinks's throat.
"All right, stop punching," ordered Capuccino, at which point Tyson's elbow snapped up and his forearm cracked against Spinks's head.
"Hey, Mike, knock it off," Capuccino yelled. "Knock it off."