LEGENDARY: Mike Tyson and Trevor Berbick
MIKE TYSON became the youngest ever world heavyweight champion 30 years ago to the day, and his haunting shadow still looms large over a division that is finally re-finding its feet.
He was aged just 20 yet Tyson, the vicious New Yorker who had torn through 27 opponents in an 18-month career, looked far more street-wise than his tender years suggested. A harsh upbringing in a violent Brooklyn district had spawned a natural fighter, one that would become a boxing icon second only to Muhammad Ali, but the first hurdle to sporting immortality took place on November 22, 1986.
He wore a simplistic, ripped white vest as he strode to the ring to challenge the WBC champion Trevor Berbick, a thuggish appearance that would come to define his particularly aggressive brand of dominance in years to come. On this night, he was a kid with nothing willing to fight for everything.
Berbick had only won his title in his previous fight from Pinklon Thomas, and was the type of forgettable world heavyweight champion that summed up a generation struggling to live up to the glorious era of the 1970s. But Berbick, for his part, had bundles of experience at 32-years-old with a 31-4-1 record - he was the last fighter to defeat the great Ali, albeit a shop-worn version of 'The Greatest' who was a month shy of 40 and had little business elongating his unique career. Berbick had also gone 15 rounds in defeat to Larry Holmes, but neither legend prepared him for the rabid Tyson.
The 20-year-old challenger flung two overhand rights at Berbick within the first 15 seconds of their bout at the Las Vegas Hilton, his trademark bob-and-weave style immediately wreaking havoc. Berbick, to his immense credit but also to his eventual demise, was unimpressed by the intimidating rookie and stood toe-to-toe from the opening bell.
Berbick's facial expression veered from bravado to confusion as the sheer volume of Tyson's powerful left hooks and overhand rights began to creep through his guard. A tornado of a first round concluded with Berbick tumbling around the ring, but somehow maintaining his feet, as the bell saved him.
It was a brief reprieve - Berbick was reduced to sheer survival mode as the explosive Tyson continued to bludgeon him from every angle, flooring him. Mid-way through the second round, the referee called a halt after another knock-down.
The immediate relevance of this stunning accomplishment to Tyson himself was to think of Cus D'Amato, his lifelong trainer, who had passed away just a year prior. D'Amato had spotted a blend of athleticism and ruthlessness in the teenager from the 'hood, and moulded him into the youngest ever world heavyweight champion, although he never saw it himself.
Mike Tyson and boxing promoter Don King
"Cus wouldn't let me leave," Tyson exclusively told Sky Sports four years ago. "He kept building up my confidence. I was just a street kid but he made me believe I could be the best on the planet.
"I wouldn't be denied because it was me and Cus' dream. He believed it, I didn't believe it. I wasn't going to let nobody take that away.
"I couldn't handle it, but I wasn't surprised. I knew I was going to accomplish it. But there was no way I was able to handle the bombardment that came after it. I wasn't prepared to handle any of that stuff."
The record-breaking victory dragged a once-great heavyweight division out of a post-Ali lull. Tyson was slowly becoming a superstar in his own right - the demand to watch a kid who had dragged himself off the streets and into an even more dangerous arena was growing.
Thirty years ago today, the compelling story of Tyson wrote its first major chapter. He had Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis for company during an exciting 1990s run, before another inevitable rot set in.
The heavyweight division, as it always does, has recovered with the WBC belt that Tyson ripped from Berbick now around the waist of Deontay Wilder, this generation's saviour of American big men. Across the pond, Anthony Joshua has Tyson's old IBF belt and has built an allure similar to the New Yorker's heyday - he will put his belt on the line against Eric Molina on December 10, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Today's great heavyweights know they have much to live up to.
CREDIT: Sky Sports