The names of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson will forever be etched in golden letters in the history of heavyweight boxing. However, their accomplishments are not the only things that connect the two boxing legends.
There is a story that not many are aware of, in which Mike Tyson, in a way, avenged the infamous loss Ali suffered at the hands of Larry Holmes in his second-last fight.
It is no secret that Muhammad Ali was a huge source of inspiration for Tyson. Iron Mike has spoken about how Ali helped shape his career in several interviews. The two became lifelong friends and Mike Tyson was one of the pallbearers at Ali's funeral as well.
It all started when a 14-year-old Mike Tyson promised Muhammad Ali that he would beat Larry Holmes and get revenge for him.
Muhammad Ali came out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes
After winning a rematch with a young Leon Spinks in September of 1978 at the Superdome in New Orleans and becoming the first heavyweight boxer to win the title thrice, Muhammad Ali announced retirement from the sport. However, the retirement was short-lived, as he soon came back for a match with Larry Holmes to win the title a fourth time.
By this time, Ali's health had already started to fail him and it is largely rumored that money was the reason why the legend was back in the ring within a year of announcing his retirement. According to boxing reporter Richie Giachetti, Holmes himself did not want to take the fight as he was aware of Ali's condition.
However, the fight did take place on October 2, 1980. Before the match, Muhammad Ali was medically cleared at Mayo Clinic, the details of which would later go public and reveal that Ali already had early signs of Parkinson's. Scheduled for 15 rounds, the match with Larry Holmes could only go 10 rounds as Ali's corner threw in the towel to stop the bout. It was the only time in his decorated career Ali had lost by stoppage.
According to those present at ringside, it was truly painful to see Muhammad Ali being dominated and beaten so brutally. This fight is also said to have contributed to Ali's Parkinson's Syndrome getting worse. After this, Ali would fight only once - a match with Trevor Berbick in 1981 - which he lost via a ten-round decision.
Mike Tyson: I'll get him back for you
While it was clear to everyone that Larry Holmes was simply the better, stronger boxer on the night, the result did not sit well with a 14-year-old Mike Tyson. Tyson had traveled to Albany from Catskill with his mentor and guardian Cus D'Amato and future-longtime friend Jay Bright to watch the match on closed circuit.
In a 2011 interview with ESPN ahead of his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Mike Tyson shared his exact feelings after watching his idol getting destroyed. Seeing him heartbroken and upset, D'Amato got a call through to Ali the next morning and had Mike Tyson talk to the former champ.
"I was offended by how bad he beat up Ali. When we drove home to Catskill [about an hour from Albany], nobody in the car said a word, we were all so upset. The next morning, Cus was on the phone with Muhammad Ali. He said to Ali, 'I have this young black kid who is going to be heavyweight champion someday and I want you to talk to him,'" Tyson revealed.
Mike Tyson remembered exactly what he said to Ali, all those years ago.
"When I grow up, I'll fight Holmes and I'll get him back for you," Mike Tyson told Ali.
It did not take Mike Tyson more than seven years to keep his promise to his idol. 'Iron' Mike got his sweet revenge on Larry Holmes when he faced an already-retired Larry Holmes on January 22, 1988. What made the revenge even sweeter was that Mike Tyson got to do it in front of Muhammad Ali himself.
Ali was invited as a special guest for the bout. Before the fight, Ali went up to Tyson and reminded the champion of his promise. "Remember what you said - get him for me," Ali told a young Mike Tyson.
Making good on his word, Mike Tyson absolutely demolished Larry Holmes throughout the fight. In the fourth round, Holmes was floored by Tyson two times before a final right hook sealed the deal, giving Mike Tyson his 33rd win.
Mike Tyson would later say that defeating Larry Holmes and avenging Ali's loss was one of the greatest moments of his career.