The history of the World Heavyweight Championship in the 1980s is intertwined with former Champs Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. And, there were numerous fighters who fought both (and lost to them), but also fought important other fights against each other for proportions of the title. Two such fighters fought an entertaining battle nearly thirty-five years ago Sunday night.
That’s when Jamaican born Trevor Berbick became the WBC’s World Title Holder via a hard-fought 12-round decision over champion Pinklon Thomas in Las Vegas.
The date was March 22nd, 1986, and the site was the Riviera Hotel & Casino, as Berbick challenged the recently crowned new champ.
Thomas, who came in unbeaten at 26 – 0 – 1 with 21 KOs, had won the portion of the title nearly two years earlier with a 12-round decision over “Terrible Tim” Witherspoon. Thomas had also defended the title successfully in June of 1985 with an 8th round TKO over former champ Mike Weaver.
Meanwhile, Berbick had been a rugged heavyweight contender, who had lost in his challenge for the WBC Championship, when Larry Holmes decisioned him in April of 1981. Berbick amassed several important victories starting with ending the career of the legend, Muhammad Ali, with a 12-round decision in December of 1981.
He later went on to beat fellow contenders Greg Page, Renaldo Snipes, David Bey and Mitch “Blood” Green over the course of a four-year period. That got him to the number one ranking by the World Boxing Council. Berbick entered the ring with a 30 – 4 – 1 record that night.
This one was a spirited slugfest from the beginning with much of the fight being fought in close quarters and the fighters exchanging lots of heavy rights and lefts. Thomas was getting the better of Berbick early on in the fight. And, Bertbick’s right eye was swelling, significantly.
However, as the fight went on Berbick’s corner kept that eye well enough to see, and the challenger seemed to be the fresher of the two. Thomas visibly began to tire has the fight entered the final championship rounds 10 – 12.
Berbick continued to score, especially with wicked left hooks and rocked Thomas in the 11th round. Thomas was staggered twice but Berbick was unable to put him down. Still, Thomas looked like a weary, beaten fighter, as the challenger continued to score with combinations to end round 11 and dominated round 12 the same way.
When the final bell rang, Berbick raised his arms and was lifted in the air, while Thomas had an exhausted expression like he had just lost. The judges agreed unanimously that Berbick had won, but narrowly, by scores of 115 – 113 on two cards and 115 – 114 on the 3rd.
All three judges gave Berbick the last two rounds of the fight, which means that decided the outcome.
The fight was the first in a created elimination series dubbed “The Heavyweight World Series” by promoter Don King and HBO Sports in attempt to reunify the WBC, WBA and IBF championships.
And, Berbick’s reign lasted only 8 months, as Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion of the world that November of 1986 with an easy 2 round destruction of him. As mentioned above, Tyson would eventually gain all three belts, and also, fight Pinklon Thomas the following year in May. And, he scored a sixth-round TKO over the former champion.
Neither Berbick nor Thomas ever fought for the World Heavyweight title again after they both lost to Tyson. Berbick continued to fight on into his mid-40s with his last fight coming in May of 2000. He finished 49 – 11 – 1.
After he lost the Tyson, Thomas still went head-to-head with the likes of Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Tommy Morrison in the early 90s, but did not win any of those fights
Thomas’s career ended in January of 1993 and he finished 43 – 7 + 1.
Yet, both Fighters were World Champs albeit at for a brief time, and they staged a highly entertaining battle in between for a portion of the title that night in Vegas.