20 years ago today: Mike Tyson’s last win crushing Clifford Etienne while nursing a ‘broken back’
On this day in 2003, the world witnessed the final knockout scored by one of the most famous knockout artists. Mike Tyson, who returned to the ring after the attack he took from Lennox Lewis in his previous fight, which took place in the same arena, faced Clifford Etienne, also known as the “Black Rhino”.
There were problems leading up to the fight in Memphis, and for a while it looked like the fight might not happen – Tyson’s trainer Freddie Roach advised Tyson not to fight because he was not in top physical condition. Also, incredibly, it took Tyson some time to get his famous face tattooed; This lead assistant coach Jeff Fenech thinks Tyson doesn’t really want to fight. But in the end, the fight dragged on on February 22, and Tyson was able to pull back the years.
Etienne of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was 24-1-1 (17), the 32-year-old having won his first 19 matches before being stopped by Fris Oquendo and later tied with France Botha. Botha’s fight took place seven months before the Tyson fight. This is easily the biggest fight of Etienne’s career.
Tyson, who is 36 and holds a record at 49-4 (43), losses at the hands of Buster Douglas and Evander Holyfield (twice) and Lewis is in poor financial shape and was fighting primarily for the money. But Tyson was still a huge name, and he was still a huge star. And Iron Mike can still strike like nobody’s business. How long is Tyson left?
A massive crowd packed into The Pyramid to find out, as well as to see what kind of insanity the most controversial fighter of his time might be facing in his latest episode of legalized violence. Both men looked in good shape, especially the chiseled Tyson, and Tyson quickly started the fight. When Tyson came out staggering and weaving, he was met by an opponent who was ready to shoot him. The two grabbed. Then he fell to the ground. The action resumed and the two again struck hard.
Then, shortly after another grab, and showing a flash of his former greatness, Tyson whipped his just-missed left hand, followed by a right hand that dropped Etienne flat on his back, his body bent as he fell. Finished in just 49 seconds. Tyson helped the distressed Etienne after the count reached ten. Dubbed the fight “Back in Action,” Tyson really was all business.
Tyson – who told a bemused Jim Gray how he “broke my back” during fight training, this was in one of boxing’s most unintentionally comical in-ring interviews – would only reign twice, losing to Danny Williams and then Kevin McBride. Etienne would fight eight more times, winning five times and losing three times. Etienne’s final in-ring appearance came in May 2005, when he was stopped by Nikolai Valuev.
Etienne was arrested for armed robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder of a police officer in August 2005. He was sentenced to 160 years in prison, the sentence was later changed to 105 years. Étienne is now a painter in prison, while also working as a barber.
Etienne is the last man knocked unconscious by Mike Tyson’s burning fist.
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