George Forbes had made a deal with Don King to get Mike Tyson to come to town to do a little charity exhibition. He wanted to know if Li’l John and I would spar with him for three rounds. Tyson was the world heavyweight champ, and we had no intention of really “fighting” him, but I thought we could have some fun with it.
We had a month to train, and I started to run and do sit-ups, because I wanted to look halfway decent.
They set up a temporary ring on the John Adams High School football field. John and I were flown in on a helicopter. We had boxing robes and all the right equipment; I wanted it to look like a real fight.
With the “Rocky” theme song blaring, a chain of big guys guided us out toward the ring. Tyson and King were already in the ring, and I felt a rush as I climbed through the ropes. My heart was pounding: I’m sky high. I know I can go three rounds. I think I can really fight … and I’m scared.
We pulled a couple of gags before the fight: They find a hammer in Little John’s shorts, pull a horseshoe out of my glove and King holds up a huge leather jock cup that’s explained as a “Li’l John” low-blow protector. Tyson was smiling through all of this.
Before the first round, John and I finalized our strategy. John’s little, but he’s fast and strong. When the bell rang, he was to charge Tyson and swing low. When Tyson looked down at John, I’d hit him with everything I had. I’m an old guy, but when I was young, I boxed, and I could still hit hard.
Just before the bell, Tyson’s looking at us — still smiling.
When the bell clanged, John charged Tyson. I followed, and my mind slowed just enough to see there was no longer any smile on Tyson’s face — and his eyes were on me. With a flick of his glove, he knocked John out of the way. He’s smiling like, This is good. They want it rough. I don’t have to act.
I started my swing and was going to nail him. I swung big, but he’d already gotten under the punch. From a low crouch he took a half step, and then a tremendous quick jab hit my kidney. It was probably 30 percent of his full load, but it was right on the button.
The pain created a nausea so intense it affected my breathing. I turned and my nose and throat were clogged. I turned my back to find some balance when I became aware the crowd was roaring with laughter. Tyson picked up John and had him on his shoulder and was spinning around in a circle as John tried to hit him. I saw this, but it felt like I wasn’t really there — like I was floating out my body.
While they’re clowning, I smiled like I was OK, but I couldn’t feel my legs. The round ended, and I just wanted to lay down weak and shaking on the floor, but I didn’t.
The next two rounds Tyson played it to script, dancing, clowning, tap jabs. When the third round ended, I never felt so relieved in my life. It was torture. I wanted to pray. My kidney ached for days.
A while later, John ran into Tyson after he lost his title to Buster Douglas. John joked that Tyson was never the same after fighting us.
— as told to Dave O’Karma