Mike Tyson’s most arrogant opponent was a convicted murderer who was finished with ferocious KO
A teenage Mike Tyson blitzed his way through 15 fights in his first year as a professional – but one opponent stands out: a step-up fight against the swaggering, arrogant Donnie Long.
Tyson was 8-0 when he fought Long, a talented heavyweight with an even murkier back story than ‘Iron Mike’. Long, a street dealer, learned to box while in prison for shooting a man dead in a pool hall. However after his 15-year sentence was cut short on the grounds of a mistrial, Long turned pro and established himself as a popular TV fighter.
Tyson burst onto the scene in explosive fashion as a teenager
Tyson burst onto the scene in explosive fashion as a teenagerCredit: Getty
The 19-year-old Tyson was making waves with a series of violent early KOs but he was far from the phenomenon who would take boxing by storm. There were question marks over the quality of his opponents and around just how good Tyson was given his short amateur career.
So in came Long, the so-called ‘Master of Disaster’ who’d built a respectable 15-3 (10 KOs) record. Long, who described himself as a nightmare growing up – “I was probably every bit of Jason, Chucky and Freddy Krueger all rolled into one” – was known for his cocky attitude and confidence, often winking and smirking to the camera.
The October 1985 bout was billed as Tyson’s toughest test with the US TV broadcast asking: “Do his abilities match his hype?”
Long was full of confidence pre-fight, saying: “I feel like I can outbox Tyson. I’ll keep him in the middle of the ring – and I can punch, if not better than Tyson. This will be a big win to let everybody know that Donnie Long is back.”
Tyson was a fearsome prospect who was dubbed ‘Kid Dynamite’ in his early years
Tyson was a fearsome prospect who was dubbed ‘Kid Dynamite’ in his early yearsCredit: Getty Images Sport Classic – Getty
Tyson, who seemed riled by the questions around whether Long would be his trickiest test, came out in his trademark style: marauding forward, head moving from side to side, behind a sharp jab. Long circled away and fired back his own jab until ‘The Master’ got a taste of ‘disaster’.
“Long had done the distance with both James Broad, a tough heavyweight, and John Tate, the former WBA heavyweight champ,” recalled Tyson years later. “I knew it would make me look good in the boxing world if I dispatched him promptly.
“I went after him fast and ferocious and knocked him down with a lunging left. A little later, a right uppercut dropped him and then I finished him off with a right uppercut/left hook combination.”
‘Iron Mike’ was one of the most intimidating fighters ever and became heavyweight champion at the age of 20
‘Iron Mike’ was one of the most intimidating fighters ever and became heavyweight champion at the age of 20Credit: Getty
All in all, the heavyweight expected to give Tyson his most difficult challenge to date had lasted a not-particularly-Long 88 seconds.
Al Bernstein, the respected TV analyst was full of awe. “This is as bad as I’ve ever seen Donnie Long look – but give Tyson credit!” he enthused. “Wow, make no mistake about it: that was a good performance.”
Afterwards, Tyson blew kisses to the camera while being announced as the winner by a young Michael Buffer (who pre-fight had used “Man your battle stations!” as an introduction, as he was yet to settle on his “Let’s get ready to rumble!” catchphrase).
Speaking to Bernstein in the aftermath, Tyson explained that he wanted to put on a show for the other rising heavyweight prospects who’d come to watch him live in Atlantic City. “Jesse Ferguson came to look, the Fraziers [Joe and his son Marvis] came to look… all of you come get some. Because Mike Tyson is out here, he’s waiting for you.”
A message every bit as chilling as the one ‘Kid Dynamite’ had sent with his demolition of a supposedly durable opponent. If it was any consolation to Long, he actually lasted longer than Tyson’s previous two opponents – and his next three. Each of whom barely survived a minute.
His own memories of his night sharing a ring with Tyson were scarce. “I remember going to the fight, and I remember waking up in the hospital,” Long said. “As far as the actual fight, I can’t tell you a single thing.”
Tyson became a global star and, at one point, even had pet tigers at his mansion
Tyson became a global star and, at one point, even had pet tigers at his mansionCredit: Getty
Long would settle into heavyweight journeyman territory after his crushing defeat by Tyson. He would fight only seven more times and win only one of them. By 1988 he was charged with five counts of drug trafficking and would return to jail.
Tyson’s boxing career continued to skyrocket. By the end of 1985 he was 15-0 (15 KOs). In 1986, he knocked out the aforementioned Ferguson in six rounds, then Marvis Frazier in just 30 seconds.
By November 1986 – one year and one month after he pulverised Long – Tyson was destroying Trevor Berbick in two rounds to become the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history.
His own rollercoaster reign as the biggest star in the sport was just beginning. But even Tyson’s experience of highs and lows wouldn’t have as unlikely an outcome as Long’s.
After his spell back in prison for drug trafficking, Long turned his life around and became a minister at a baptist church in his native Akron, Ohio. He also eventually married the sister of the man he was accused of killing when he was 18.
Long told ESPN in 2005 that his in-ring career had helped him overcome his demons. “Through boxing, I learned to prepare for the battle of life,” he said. “I can withstand any storm. God knows how to put the puzzle together.”
However his experience against Tyson left him awestruck at his opponent’s abilities. “That’s the best I’ve seen [in terms of] punching power,” said Long. “He’s like a little tank. You can’t back him up. No one compares to Mike Tyson.”
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