Mike Tyson’s first fight with Frank Bruno

By Phil Rowson: In 1989 Tyson came into the fight as undefeated champion, Bruno had a decent record but he was more a Bum of the Month figure than serious challenger. Three years earlier he had lost to Tim Witherspoon in the biggest fight of his career when the current WBA champion proved that he could both land a harder punch and take one better too.

Bruno was always carefully managed and England was so desperate for a champion that the fans’ momentum had carried Big Frank on when many thought he should retire as yet another nearly man. Now here he was in Vegas with that same crowd filling the stadium and chanting their “Broono – Broono” anthem.

Frank didn’t look too nervous before the bell. He had hyped himself all the way through training and managed to give Iron Mike a vicious looking stare as the referee briefed them. Although to be fair it wasn’t in the Sonny Liston, Old Stoneface class.

Tyson came out like a wild man and put Bruno down seconds into the fight with the first big right hand he landed. Frank recovered but his fans were wobbling. Then he rocked Tyson with a left hook and the BBC commentator went mad, screaming “You’ve got him Frank, come on!”

That was wishful thinking. Iron Mike was surprised and maybe it was an indication of what was to come later in his career. Against Bruno though he won every round, landing his roundhouse rights with the regularity of a drummer hitting the big bass drum. The referee stopped the fight in the 5th.

It was a disappointment for the British contingent but the after-fight comment was all about the way Bruno had taken Tyson to five rounds. It has to be said he only did it by holding on at every opportunity, grabbing Tyson round the neck and pulling him in. The referee had a hard fight and he deducted a point from Bruno in the first for holding. But this was never going to be a points decision.

A few years later I was working on a promotional film with Frank and asked him what it was like to be in the ring with Tyson. He had a very different view about what went on. “He’s like an octopus,” he said. “He gets hold of you and you can’t get away.” Well, Frank was a lot closer to Tyson than anyone else and if that’s what he thought happened you have to listen!

Frank was a tremendous trainer, he couldn’t get enough of the gym and all through the filming his driver was hovering, ready to take Frank back. Terry Lawless the man who looked after Frank like a father sometimes had to stop him over training. But the dedication and careful handling paid off and in ’95 Frank beat Oliver McCall to take the WBA title.

There couldn’t be a bigger contrast in boxing between Terry Lawless and Don King – who by then had a tighter grip on Iron Mike than even Frank managed. But not even the protective Lawless could fend off King who made sure that Frank’s first defense of the title would be against Tyson. So instead of being able to enjoy his crown and defend against a couple of carefully selected opponents, Frank was pitched in against the Iron Man – who was on an even more dangerous comeback trail.

This time Frank couldn’t hang on and he was knocked out in the third. After that Tyson fought on while King prospered.

Later I worked with Frank on a series of radio commercials and this time it was me who was hanging on. Frank has many talents but reading a script and sounding natural is not one of them. We coached him the best we could, encouraging him, saying you can do it, give it everything you’ve got.

“Nah, it’s no good,” said Frank. “When I’m in trouble like this and sat on a stool I’ve usually got someone slapping me on the face, fanning me with a towel and holding three fingers up, saying how many.”

Well, that didn’t work either but we did get there in the end!

Article posted on 04.01.2011

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