LOWELL — One of the most recognizable men on the planet is coming to the city.
The legendary Mike Tyson, who became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history, will make an appearance at the final night of the Golden Gloves boxing tournament Thursday.
The fights will begin at 7 p.m. at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, not the customary 7:30 p.m. start time.
“He’s coming here and making an appearance at the Golden Gloves because he wants to give back and it’s really cool that he’s doing so,” said Bob Russo, the tournament’s executive director. “That’s huge for us.
“There’s no bigger name than Mike Tyson walking around today. He was a great heavyweight champion,” Russo added. “He was a phenom at a young age, knocking people out.”
It will not be Tyson’s first visit to Lowell and the Auditorium, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In 1983, though he was a New York native, Tyson captured the New England heavyweight championship.
He pulverized Jim Bisson in a semifinal round bout that lasted only 42 seconds. His opponent in the final was a fighter named Jim Rayborn. Tyson won the title by default when Rayborn withdrew with a knee injury, his knee probably worsening when he watched Tyson’s semifinal fight.
This is the 75th year of the Golden Gloves in Lowell.
Thursday marks the ninth and final night of the 2022 Golden Gloves tournament, the New England Open and Novice Championships. Winners will punch their way to nationals.
“I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have him in Lowell, on the 75th anniversary, the height of greatness in boxing. What a way to end our 75th anniversary with Tyson here,” said Kevin Coughlin, the president of Lowell Sun Charities, which stages the Golden Gloves each year.
“Every young fighter dreams of glory and being a world champion and here you get a chance to see a world champion. Amazing. What a way to conclude the season,” Coughlin added.
Tyson’s connection to Lowell goes beyond his Golden Gloves fighting days.
Wearing white shorts and blue shoes, he made his professional debut against a Lowell fighter, Hector Mercedes, on March 6, 1985, at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, N.Y.
It’s likely Mercedes, a native of Puerto Rico, had no idea who Tyson was or that he had compiled a 25-4 amateur record. After all, these were pre-internet days. Tickets were $10, $15 and $20. Tyson was front and center on the promotional poster, but there’s no mention of his opponent.
Prior to the fight, Tyson told a New York sportswriter, “Michael Jackson’s a thriller, I’m a killer.”
A crowd estimated at 2,000 (inside a hall that held 3,000) watched Tyson stop Mercedes in 1 minute and 47 seconds. Mercedes landed a decent left hook early on before Tyson dominated. A seven-punch flurry dropped Mercedes to one knee and Tyson’s pro career was off to a roaring start.
Mercedes fell to 0-3-1 with the loss. As he left the arena that night, Mercedes didn’t know he would become the answer to a trivia question: Who did Mike Tyson fight in his pro debut?
Just 20 months later, the 20-year-old Tyson became the youngest heavyweight world champion when he defeated Trevor Berbick. He became the undisputed world champ in 1988.
Tyson was so tough he was known by several nicknames, including “Iron Mike” and “Kid Dynamite” and, later, “The Baddest Man on the Planet.”
It seemed he would never taste defeat.
Until, that is, a stunning 1990 day when James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world by pinning the first loss on Tyson, who fell to 37-1. More than three decades later, it’s still considered one of sport’s greatest upsets.
“He looked unbeatable. He probably would have stayed that way if he hadn’t lost direction,” Russo said.
Tyson, despite faltering late, won 44 of his 50 victories via knockout, an astonishing percentage.
For a while, it seemed Tyson was front page news every week.
He was convicted of rape in 1992 and sentenced to 10 years in prison; he was released after three years. In 1997, he infamously bit off a portion of Evander Holyfield’s right ear during a loss. He received a face tattoo. He lost a reported $300 million.
But his public image has risen in recent years. He played himself in the 2009 hit comedy “The Hangover.”
He’s a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame.
“It’s a great story because he kind of reinvented himself,” Russo said. “He’s really a pretty intelligent guy. He’s an interesting guy and he’s totally honest about his life. It’s really cool to have him.”
Attendance at the Gloves has been down. Some fans have been reluctant to attend due to the pandemic and mask mandate. Also, scores of Open fighters decided to turn pro when the 2021 tournament was canceled.
The appearance of the 55-year-old Tyson will surely create a buzz — and increase ticket sales — on Thursday.
“Bringing Mike Tyson could be the shot in the arm that we so sorely need,” Russo said.