Going into 1990, Mike Tyson was thought to be on top of the world. He was the undisputed heavyweight champion, holding the WBC, WBA, and IBF titles, which he’d started collecting in 1986 when he trounced Trevor Berbick for the WBC title in Las Vegas, becoming history’s youngest recognized heavyweight champion.
He added the WBA title in Mar. 1987 by beating James “Bonecrusher” Smith over 12 rounds, and the IBF came two months after that, when he won another decision, this one over Tony Tucker.
Tyson made successful defenses of his undisputed crown against Tyrell Biggs, a faded Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs, Michael Spinks, Frank Bruno, and Carl Williams, before his legendarily stunning loss to James “Buster” Douglas on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo.
Tyson and his team then had to chart a comeback course, and four months later, he was back in Las Vegas, fighting at Caesars Palace for the first and last time, believe it or not. The opponent was an old amateur rival: Henry Tillman (20-4, 14 KO coming in), a 29-year-old from Los Angeles who had won heavyweight gold at the 1984 Olympics in his hometown, but whose pro career had just never taken off.
Tillman lost a cruiserweight fight to Bert Cooper in 1986, and was dominated in a 1987 cruiserweight title fight against Evander Holyfield.
Tillman had moved up to heavyweight following the loss to Holyfield, and didn’t find the going any easier. He lost back-to-back bouts to club fighter Dwain Bonds and Willie deWit in 1987-88, the latter a rematch of the 1984 Olympic gold medal match. deWit, a Canadian, had home field in Edmonton and won a decision, then never fought again.
Tillman had two amateur wins over Tyson, but this was not the amateurs, and Tillman’s chin had proven to be his downfall in the pro ranks. Even coming off of a bad loss, Tyson was a massive favorite, and he came out stalking aggressively.
Tillman did look to throw some punches, did look to catch Tyson, but Tyson was clearly in his head. Tillman tried to keep moving and stay out of his wheelhouse, tying him up when Mike would get close.
But it was clearly just a matter of time. Tyson (37-1, 33 KO coming in) was in no mood to play around or go rounds. He was in full seek-and-destroy mode, and with 25 seconds left in the first round, Tyson drilled Tillman with a clubbing right to the side of Tillman’s head. Tillman went down, and he was not getting up. After the count reached 10, Tyson wasn’t in a big celebration. He went over to help Tillman up.