Mike Tyson picked up the last victory of his career 20 years ago this month – and it was arguably his craziest knockout involving a new face tattoo, a ‘spine’ injury, both boxers trying to pull out during fight week and a 49 second hard stop. .
Clifford ‘The Black Rhino’ Etienne was the opponent and, like Tyson, he was considered a dangerous puncher. Having learned to box in prison for attempted armed robbery, Etienne had built a professional record of 24-1-1 – scoring 17 knockouts including 11 in the first round.
He was chosen as Tyson’s comeback opponent in February 2003, aged 36, after his loss to Lennox Lewis, as Etienne had also suffered 10 knockdowns. The idea being that he wouldn’t be able to cope with the destructive power of the former undisputed heavyweight champion – which proved true with a dramatic, if controversial, end to the fight.
Tyson’s new trainer, Freddie Roach, actually begged his fighter to postpone the event billed as “Back to Business” due to poor conditioning. Tyson went through a messy divorce in January and has since admitted he’s been hanging out in drug dens, taking coke and weed, following his fight with Lewis. Roach feared that a loss to Etienne would end Tyson’s career.
The fact that Tyson got his Maori face tattoo just a week before the fight also cast doubt on the event. Any tattoo close to a fight is not recommended as it may bleed or become infected. Still, Tyson was determined, originally wanting a bunch of hearts on his face (“I was gonna be the heart man, baby”) until his tattoo artist convinced him that Maori warrior ink was more beautiful.
The fight looked set to be called off until Tyson showed up late in the host city of Memphis. Confusion over whether the competition was even taking place then prompted Etienne to withdraw – before changing his mind 24 hours later, perhaps realizing there weren’t too many other paydays left to play. million dollars on the horizon.
The fight itself was incredibly brief. Rather than trying to box and test Tyson’s now-suspect stamina, Etienne came in to try and blast ‘Iron Mike’ – with predictable results. As the two swung wildly at each other, Etienne was taken cleanly with a couple of jabs before the pair hugged and fought against the canvas.
After the fight resumed, Tyson missed with a left hook but then connected with a thunderous right hand to the jaw that sent Etienne crashing, his back leg dramatically twisting out of shape. It was out of the question for him to get up. Etienne only landed a single left hook, failing even to test the tattoo on the left side of Tyson’s face.
It looked like another Tyson KO highlight reel, except for one detail quickly spotted by viewers: Etienne, lying flat on his back on the canvas with his eyes closed, reached for his mouth to pull off his protective gear. half-count teeth.
Was it some weird action of muscle memory? An act of capitulation? Or, as the cynics suggested, was this a sign that Etienne wasn’t really as badly injured as he claimed – that he could have gotten up and fought, but was rather content with his million dollar paycheck and not having to deal with any more incoming bombshells from Tyson.
Regardless, Tyson was in good spirits after the fight, giving a typically bizarre in-ring interview with Showtime’s Jim Gray where he claimed he went into the fight with a broken back.
“Mike, were you really sick this week, what was the problem? inquired Gray of the contest’s recurring buildup. “I broke my back,” Tyson replied. “What do you mean by that, a vertebra or…?” Gray asked, puzzled. Tyson’s famous one-word answer was simply, “Spinal.”
🗣 “I broke my back, my back is broken!”
In 2003 Mike Tyson said he broke his back knocking out black rhino Clifford Etienne 🤨 pic.twitter.com/8aOi1HWHsL
— Sky Sports Boxing (@SkySportsBoxing) April 14, 2020
He added: “I had a motorcycle accident and the doctors found out. I was doing my sit-ups, 2,500 a day with my 20-pound weight, and one day I couldn’t move. I asked the doctor what was wrong and he said, “Believe it or not, your back is slightly broken.”
That’s definitely a lot of sit-ups a day (how exactly did Roach expect him to do to get in shape?). Years later, Tyson laughed off the interview and explained that he actually had a long-standing back injury from years of training.
But in 2003 talk quickly turned to the potential for a profitable rematch with Lewis still the heavyweight champion. Tyson was keen on fighting but wanted other tune-ups to get rid of the rust on his ring.
“I have issues that I have to deal with,” he told the media after the fight. “I’m in pain and I have serious demons that I’m fighting… To be honest, I’m not ready to fight it [Lewis] Right now. I need more fights.
For most boxers, a 49 second knockout would be the fastest on record. But Tyson made a career out of pulverizing enemies who didn’t belong in the ring with him and Etienne’s obliteration was only the sixth fastest knockout of his career.
It was Tyson’s 50th professional victory and his 44th knockout (not counting the stoppage of Andrew Golota, who was replaced with a no contest after Tyson failed the post-fight marijuana drug test). It was also the last victory of his career.
Despite all his talk about getting more active and winning a rematch with Lewis, Tyson’s personal demons were eating him up. In fact, he wouldn’t step back into the ring until July 2004, when 38-year-old Tyson was upset by Britain’s Danny Williams, before a final loss to Kevin McBride in 2005. Two opponents who, with respect, would have been demolished by Tyson at the peak of his powers.
Still, Tyson has at least managed to overcome his personal and professional lows to ultimately emerge as a fitter, happier, and better-adjusted version of himself. Unfortunately, Etienne’s life took a different path. After eight more fights, he went on what was described as a “cocaine-fueled crime spree” in his native Louisiana.
In August 2005, Etienne robbed a local business, attempted to hijack two cars (including one containing a woman and her child), then pointed a gun at police officers. He allegedly tried to fire the gun only to have it jam. After being found guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder of a policeman, Etienne was sentenced to 160 years in prison (later reduced to 105 years due to a technicality).
Etienne’s life tragically spirals out of control in a way that many feared for Tyson after he was done fighting. But at least Etienne got to share the ring with one of the most feared and famous heavyweights of all time – although the whole event is mostly remembered for how bizarre it all was. .
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