Mike Tyson, the former undisputed heavyweight world champion, became a legend because of his awesome punching power. He even had a video game named for him -- the iconic "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!"
That fierce power was often on display, as Tyson -- the onetime "Baddest Man on the Planet," who retired in 2005 with a record of 50-6 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011 -- knocked out 44 of his opponents.
Although I covered several fights at the end of Tyson's career, I was a teenager in the mid-1980s when he was coming up, and because I grew up in upstate New York, where Tyson was based and fought regularly in his early pro career, he was already a celebrity to me long before he became an international figure. At school, my friends and I often talked about his fights and knockouts and looked forward to his next bout.
In honor of Tyson's 50th birthday on Thursday, here are my 10 favorite Tyson KOs.
10. KO1 Michael Johnson (Sept. 5, 1985, Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Tyson scored so many quick and exciting knockouts early in his career that I really could have picked any number of them, but this one is perfectly representative of the young Tyson, who was lightning-fast with his hands and head as he crushed opponents. Tyson came out looking for an early KO and dropped Johnson with a left hook. Johnson survived, and then Tyson ran to him, cocked back with a right hand that landed clean on Johnson's face, and down he went. Over and out.
9. TKO1 Carl Williams (July 21, 1989, Atlantic City, New Jersey)
In his ninth and final title defense before being upset by Buster Douglas, Tyson needed only 93 seconds to blow away Williams and move to 37-0. With Donald Trump, the owner of the host casino, in the ring before the bout, Tyson and Williams came out blazing. But the fight was over quickly, as the first time Tyson landed a solid left hook, he sent Williams staggering into the ropes and to the canvas on his rear end. Although he beat the count -- barely -- Williams was badly dazed, and Tyson had yet another exciting early knockout.
8. TKO2 Tony Tubbs (March 21, 1988, Tokyo)
Before he ventured to Tokyo for the Douglas fight, Tyson first fought there in the prime of his career, and he looked like Godzilla as he chewed up former world titleholder Tubbs. Tubbs made it through the opening round and landed a couple of solid shots in the second, but then Tyson landed a tremendous left hook to the head that took Tubbs' legs away. He staggered cartoonishly and grabbed the top rope to try to keep his balance, but then fell flat on his back.
7. KO1 Clifford Etienne (Feb. 22, 2003, Memphis, Tennessee)
This makes my list because -- in addition to it featuring the pleasing aesthetics of Tyson absolutely drilling "The Black Rhino" with a massive right hand to the chin, sending Etienne to the canvas with his right leg folding beneath him as he went down -- it was the final win and knockout of Tyson's career. Tyson needed just 49 seconds (his sixth-fastest KO) to get rid of Etienne and end what had been a wild buildup, which included the fight nearly being canceled after Tyson unveiled his facial tattoo to the world a few days before the bout.
6. KO5 Francois Botha (Jan. 16, 1999, Las Vegas)
Out of the ring for 19 months following his suspension for biting Evander Holyfield's ears in a disqualification loss, Tyson returned against Botha and showed nothing in the first four rounds. He was down 40-36, 40-36 and 39-36, when suddenly the old Tyson showed up as he hammered Botha with a clean right hand to the chin. Botha went down hard, then struggled to back his knees but could not beat the count, after which he stumbled into the ropes and fell down.
5. KO4 Larry Holmes (Jan. 22, 1988, Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Holmes, the Hall of Fame former world champion, was past his prime and coming off a nearly two-year layoff when he was matched with a prime Tyson in a historic meeting of great heavyweights from different generations. As expected, Tyson destroyed Holmes, finally putting him away with a memorable onslaught leading up to a nasty right hand to the face that dropped Holmes flat on his back.
4. KO1 Henry Tillman (June 16, 1990, Las Vegas)
Four months after Douglas stripped Tyson of his unbeatable aura, Tyson returned with a vicious knockout of Tillman, who had twice defeated Tyson in the amateur ranks and had cost him a spot on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. But their pro fight was a blowout that ended with a classic Tyson overhand right to the head that sent Tillman careening off the ropes and down in a heap. A classic one-punch Tyson KO.
3. KO1 Marvis Frazier (July 26, 1986, Glens Falls, New York)
Four fights before Tyson won the world title, he turned in an electrifying and wickedly violent knockout, needing only 30 seconds -- the fastest knockout of his career -- to destroy Frazier, the son of former heavyweight world champion Joe Frazier. Before the fans had even gotten comfortable in their seats, Tyson hurt Frazier with a right uppercut, a left to the head, another right uppercut and a right-left-right combination that dropped Frazier to his knees. This was the early, pre-prime Tyson at his ferocious finest.
2. TKO2 Trevor Berbick (Nov. 22, 1986, Las Vegas)
At 20 years, 4 months and 22 days old, Tyson fulfilled the prediction of father figure and late trainer Cus D'Amato when he became the youngest heavyweight world champion. As historic as this knockout was, it was equally explosive. Who could forget the image of Berbick flopping around the ring when he tried to get up from a devastating left hook to the jaw? After Berbick survived a knockdown in the first few seconds of the second round, Tyson landed the title-winning left hook, essentially scoring three knockdowns with the single punch: First, Berbick fell from the hook. Then he tried to get up, but he was disoriented and fell down again. Finally, he attempted to get up again, but his legs again betrayed him, and he fell across the ring, crashing into the ropes, at which point the fight was stopped.
1. KO1 Michael Spinks (June 27, 1988, Atlantic City, New Jersey)
This was the apex of Tyson's career, as he retained the undisputed title by blowing away the then-undefeated (and seemingly petrified) Spinks in just 91 seconds in what was, at the time, the richest fight in history. Tyson came to the ring with the hardware (three title belts), but Spinks was lineal champion, even though he had been stripped of his belt. Three days shy of his 22nd birthday, Tyson put aside his mounting personal problems and pulverized Spinks, dropping him twice -- first with a right hand to the body, and then moments later, for good, with a monstrous left-right combination to the jaw. Besides the violence of the KO, I loved Tyson's reaction. He simply spread his arms to receive applause from the crowd, as if he knew the knockout had been preordained. He was never better than on this night.