Tyson made his professional debut as an 18-year-old on March 6, 1985, in Albany, New York. He defeated Hector Mercedes via a first round knockout. He had 15 bouts in his first year as a professional. Fighting frequently, Tyson won 26 of his first 28 fights by KO/TKO – 16 in the first round. The quality of his opponents gradually increased to journeyman fighters and borderline contenders, like James Tillis, David Jaco, Jesse Ferguson, Mitch Green and Marvis Frazier. His win streak attracted media attention, leading to his being billed as the next great heavyweight champion. D’Amato died in November 1985, relatively early into Tyson’s professional career; some speculate that his death was the genesis of many of the troubles Tyson was to experience later as his life and career progressed.
Tyson’s first nationally televised bout took place on February 16, 1986, at Houston Field House in Troy, New York against journeyman heavyweight Jesse Ferguson. Tyson knocked down Ferguson with an uppercut in the fifth round that broke Ferguson’s nose. During the sixth round, Ferguson began to hold and clinch Tyson in an apparent attempt to avoid further punishment. After admonishing Ferguson several times to obey his commands to box, the referee finally stopped the fight near the middle of the sixth round. Initially ruled a win for Tyson by disqualification (DQ) of his opponent, the ruling was subsequently “adjusted” as a win by technical knockout (TKO) after Tyson’s corner protested that a DQ win would end Tyson’s string of knockout victories, and that a knockout would have been the inevitable result. The rationale offered for the revised outcome was that the fight was actually stopped because Ferguson could not (rather than would not) continue boxing.
On November 22, 1986, Tyson was given his first title fight against Trevor Berbick for the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight championship. Tyson won the title by second round TKO, and at the age of 20 years and 4 months became the youngest heavyweight champion in history.Tyson’s dominant performance brought many accolades. Donald Saunders wrote: “The noble and manly art of boxing can at least cease worrying about its immediate future, now [that] it has discovered a heavyweight champion fit to stand alongside Dempsey, Tunney, Louis, Marciano and Ali.”
Because of Tyson’s strength, many fighters were intimidated by him. This was backed up by his outstanding hand speed, accuracy, coordination, power, and timing. Tyson was also noted for his defensive abilities.Holding his hands high in the Peek-a-Boo style taught by his mentor Cus D’Amato, he slipped and weaved out of the way of the opponent’s punches while closing the distance to deliver his own punches.One of Tyson’s trademark combinations was to throw a right hook to his opponent’s body, then follow it up with a right uppercut to his opponent’s chin; very few boxers would remain standing if caught by this combination. Boxers knocked down with this combination include Jesse Ferguson and Jose Ribalta.