“This is my time, my future, and I can’t wait to fight Mike Tyson.” – Frank Bruno, prior to his 1996 rematch with Mike Tyson
When things go around they come around and seven years after their initial meeting, Frank Bruno would be the defending world champion going in against the challenger, Mike Tyson. In their first encounter in 1989, Bruno gave the undefeated and the perceived to be unbeatable Tyson a very good fight, rattling him in the first round and hanging tough until he ran out of gas in the fifth, succumbing to Iron Mike. The rematch would take place seven years later and a lot had happened in that time.
Mike Tyson would lose the Heavyweight Title in 1990 to James “Buster” Douglas, go to prison after being convicted of rape, return to the ring and destroy two handpicked opponents in Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis, JR., before landing the title shot against Bruno. There was still a big question mark hanging over the head of the returning champion. Four years away from the ring and many argued that he was deteriorating prior to his four year stint in prison as displayed in his struggled with the limited Donovan Razor Ruddock. In his bout with Buster Mathis, JR., he appeared to not be able to find the mark. A man that relied on his reflexes seemed to be more than rusty and that probably wasn’t a good thing going in against the incredible puncher, Frank Bruno.
Bruno had an up down career since his loss to Tyson in 1989. He rebounded with some very impressive wins. He knocked out Jose Ribalta, Pierre Coetzer, and Carl “The Truth” Williams, leading to a crack at WBC Champion, Lennox Lewis. Against Lewis, Bruno showed why he was a title challenger, dominating the fight with his jab and nearly stopping Lennox on several occasions, but one of his major weaknesses came back to bite him: exhaustion. Bruno always ran out of gas and it cost him in many of his fights where he was ahead on the cards. It happened with Bonecrusher Smith and Tim Witherspoon. In the Lewis bout, he was well on his way to a TKO win when a left hook out of nowhere clipped the chin of the tired warrior and the rest was history. Although Bruno’s chin has always been suspect, getting hurt by Lennox Lewis isn’t confirmation. That bout was another example of his lack of stamina.
The loss to Lennox Lewis seemed to be his last moment in the sun. It was his third title attempt, losing his first bid to Tim Witherspoon, the second chance was a KO defeat to Mike Tyson. Outside of those defeats, he shined and typically destroyed his opponent quickly. He looked like a champion, a muscular giant with dynamite in both fists, a menacing glare, and a nation behind him. There has never been a more popular fighter in the United Kingdom, always drawing the masses. Against Lennox Lewis, he was seen as the true Brit and every punch that he landed was met with a roaring ovation.
Retirement was an option that was discussed after his defeat to Lewis, but he would return and give the sport one more go, beginning with former title challenger, Jesse Ferguson. Ferguson, known for his durability, was destroyed quickly, stopped in the first round. He would then stop Rodolfo Marin and another durable heavyweight, Mike Evans. Evans was not accustomed to being stopped and Bruno sent him to the floor in two rounds. Those three victories and his celebrity status in the UK propelled him into another crack at the title, this time facing “The Atomic Bull” Oliver McCall, who shocked the world with a second round stoppage of Lennox Lewis.
McCall – Tyson seemed unavoidable. All McCall had to do was to defeat Frank Bruno, but the unpredictable McCall brought his C game to the ring and paid dearly for it. The moment that Bruno had been waiting for his entire life had come and he began piling up the points with his jab and landed several good right hands, but it almost seemed that we were going to have another late TKO loss as McCall landed late and Bruno held on for dear life. When that bell rang for the final round, the dream had finally come true: winner by unanimous decision and new WBC Heavyweight Champion, Frank Bruno. Amazingly, Bruno would get another crack at Iron Mike.
It was fair to say that Bruno had improved since his loss to Tyson in 1989 and it was also safe to say that Tyson wasn’t the same fighter, so there was drama at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 16, 1996.
Even though there was a great deal of people picking Bruno due to the improvement and the decline of Mike, there were some things that still made “Iron Mike” an obvious favorite. Bruno did not deal with big punchers very well, but more than that and more of a factor was the fact that he was robotic in his style and could not deal with speed and head movement, two things that Tyson was known for. Bruno was a 1-2 fighter also, and most agreed that nobody was going to stop Tyson with one punch and even if he were to build up a lead on the cards, odds were against Bruno being able to last the full twelve with the powerful challenger imposing himself. The hope of the British crowd and Bruno was that this Tyson had fallen so far off the deep end since his four years in prison that he would be more open and less dangerous.
Although this bout happened in Vegas, the loyal British fans filled the stadium and were there to support their man. Bruno was the picture of confidence himself, noting that he would “knock Mike Tyson right into Don King’s lap.” As we got closer to the bout, the buzz surrounding the event became louder and louder. This was turning into a huge event and it was marketed very well.
ESPN Classic used this fight and the surrounding hype to introduce their network, showing many of Mike Tyson’s early fights and some of his other bouts that they acquired the rights to broadcast. Experts from all publications and backgrounds sounded in on the event and gave their opinions on what to expect from this heavyweight title fight. For all of the bad things associated with Don King, it cannot be disputed that he is one hell of a promoter and this match was becoming a big time success before it even began.
The no-nonsense referee, Mills Lane was chosen for the event and it was a good choice. Both boxers were known for questionable tactics in the ring. Bruno, as displayed in his first contest with Tyson, had a tendency to hold and hit and rabbit punch. He also was known to hold his opponent excessively, which was a concern of Team Tyson. Iron Mike had a rap sheet himself when it came to in the ring misdeeds, including elbows, head butts, and low blows, and Team Bruno wanted to make sure that he behaved himself. Mills Lane would keep order in the ring and had no problem approaching a man twice his size and laying down the law.
Frank Bruno and his entire entourage wore the British Flag on their clothing and carried flags to the ring as well. The thousands of British fans were there supporting their man and he was showing the love to them as well. He took several deep breaths as the British national anthem played loudly. Standing across the ring was Iron Mike, staring him down and seeing the man that he once defeated in devastating fashion. How much would that victory help Mike mentally and how much would it hurt Bruno? We were about to find out.
One of the worst things a Mike Tyson opponent can do is to feed into the hype and Bruno had done just that. As he was being announced, he looked as if he was panicking, shaking his arms over and over again at his sides, opening and closing his mouth and looking like he was walking to his execution and maybe that’s what he believed as he was. Tyson had a knack of scaring his opponents to death like Alex Stewart and Michael Spinks and now Frank Bruno could be added to the long list. He was terrified.
Round one began with Tyson immediately attacking and throwing a looping right hand that missed. Bruno began throwing his jab but backing up at the same time, not doing anything to keep the challenger away. As Tyson crowded, Bruno opened up but missed every shot. He was just too robotic to face a fighter like Iron Mike. He was too tense and telegraphed every punch.
Tyson landed a powerful right hand that was immediately met with a hold by Bruno, who was employing the tactic over and over again. As the round went on, Bruno began to find a little bit of success with the right uppercut. Uppercuts have always been one of the best punches that a big man can use against Tyson.
With only twenty seconds remaining, Tyson landed with another powerful right hand that buckled the knees of the champion and he grabbed and held on again, but Iron Mike used his speed to land two more shots before the round was over. Bruno survived the round but was still a bundle of nerves as he walked over to his corner.
Bruno would start round two with a cut over his left eye, courtesy of a Tyson right hand in round one. Round two would be much like the first with Bruno holding on as Tyson swarmed, but the punches that were missing the mark in the initial round were finding the spot in the second and the champion was in a great deal of trouble. With a minute left in round two, without warning, Lane takes a point away from Bruno for excessive holding, which he was guilty of, but the deduction seemed a little premature.
For a split second, Bruno tries his chances as a southpaw with Tyson, but it wasn’t effective. That was a bad sign and a sign of desperation by the British champ. Bruno would find more success with two right uppercuts, but went right back to his holding after they landed. He would not be putting forth a sustained effort.
Round three began and immediately Lane warned Bruno for holding and threatened to disqualify him, despite the fact that the holding was becoming less frequent and that he was fighting more than he was in the first round. A left hook by Tyson hurts Bruno and a combination puts him down against the ropes, prompting Lane to immediately stop it…a surprising move in a championship fight, especially when Bruno wasn’t that hurt. It is arguable that he was looking for the exit but he probably would have risen and fought on. As terrified as he was, he seemed to be fighting better and he is a very proud man and it was a great disservice to Bruno to stop it in that fashion. Lane had an off night for sure.
Mike Tyson immediately drops to his knees and prayed. He was champion again. Immediately the dedication was made by the victor, giving his newfound title to his mentor and trainer, Cus D’Amato. The mooches that surrounded him sang his praises loudly in the background with money signs in their eyes, happy that their meal ticket was successful and that bigger paydays were down the road. Don King had a smile from ear to ear and Tyson played the part of humble champion, just happy to be victorious. It was a great victory for Tyson, stopping a man that had given Lennox Lewis so much trouble and had a title as well. It sent the message to the boxing world that Tyson was back and he was going to resume his role of the terror that he once was. It was wishful thinking by most, but it was safe to say that that Mike Tyson that destroyed Frank Bruno was a major force in the heavyweight division in 1996.
For Frank Bruno, this would mark the end of his career. He would suffer from family problems and mental breakdowns, common to fighters when their careers come to an end. Although he lost this title defense, he accomplished his goal and became a world champion and he was a very good fighter, possessing one of the best right hands in heavyweight history. He was a national hero in England, had a charming personality, and cared deeply for his fans. He never became a great champion but he was a champion nonetheless and in other eras, he may have very well won a string of title defenses. Mike Tyson presented a man that he just couldn’t beat and a man that had mentally damaged him in their first encounter to the point where he was frozen by fear in the rematch.
Mike Tyson would now take aim at WBA Heavyweight Champion, Bruce Seldon, setting up the building blocks to once again become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champ. After the Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis, JR., wins, Tyson now had now beaten a legitimate top big man and looked like the Tyson of old. We all looked and hoped that the Tyson era would begin again and for a brief period of time, it did.