CATSKILL — Long before Buster Douglas put an end to Mike Tyson’s unprecedented run through the heavyweight division, Al “Chico” Evans laid the blueprint on how to defeat the most feared man on Earth.
Three years before Tyson turned pro — four years before he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history — the Catskill boxer entered an amateur tournament in Indianapolis as the youngest competitor at 16 years old.
Across the ring was Evans, the oldest fighter in the tournament at 27.
Tyson was unbeaten at the time and there was already buzz surrounding the teenager that was barely old enough to drive.
He was a knockout artist with unmatched speed and power. He was the future of the sport.
Evans was something of an afterthought. The elder statesman on the amateur circuit had fought some of the best young boxers in the country. While he had been around the game for a long time he, himself, was making a run at being on the 1984 Olympic team.
“Experience helped in that fight,” Evans said from his home in Chicago. “I didn’t care about how little he was or how hyped he was. I wanted to fight in the Olympics.”GETTING INTO THE GAME
Evans grew up on the south side of Chicago and moved to the west side after his brother was shot and killed.
“I was the oldest at home. When we moved to the projects in the west side, a lot of guys calling me names and wanted to fight me,” he said. “I didn’t really ever stick up for myself because my mother lived on the first floor and I didn’t want anyone to come back and shoot into the windows.
“One guy kept on picking at me so I went with a friend of mine and saw some boxing gloves on sale. I thought if I bought them and fought the guy with gloves on he’d know he’d lost and wouldn’t go get a gun. When I got the gloves, I walked up to the basketball court and he’s the first one that ran up on me. He says he was gonna whoop my ass. We put the gloves on, after about 5, 6, 7 minutes, he told his corner guys to take the gloves off. They wouldn’t do it and he eventually walked away.”
Though it was at its most basic form, it was Evans’ first taste of boxing. He didn’t fall in love with the sport, like many other fighters, but he was good at it.
“When I boxed on the street it was fun,” he said. “I made it fun. I boxed 14 people in one day when I first started. They thought they could beat me. Soon as I got the gloves, I got all of ’em. It was one of the best days of my life. Got the guys I really wanted to hit with a stick.”
Eventually Evans landed at the Windy City Boxing Club and began training under Clarence Griffin.
In his first amateur fight he squared off against Renaldo Snipes — a future top-ranked heavyweight — and knocked him down twice.
A knee injury forced him out of the ring for two years and made him miss an opportunity at the 1980 Olympic Games. With his sights set on the 1984 Olympics, Evans entered the tournament in Indianapolis hungry and ready to make his mark.FIGHTING MIKE
In the opening round of their bout, Tyson was every bit as ferocious as the rumors said.
“He was strong, he came to fight, but he was wild,” Evans said.
Evans weathered the storm of the first two rounds and in the third round he made his move.
According to reports, Tyson tried to throw a right hand and Evans slipped the punch, catching Tyson with a shot that sent him to the canvas.
“More angry than hurt, Tyson took an eight count and then went after Evans,” a report in The Daily Mail stated. “He scored with several body blows and was backing Evans into the ropes when both fighters slipped. Evans hit Tyson with another punch while, according to Tyson’s trainer Kevin Rooney, Tyson was still half on the floor.”
Evans remembers it a bit differently, stating that “the referee told Tyson to fight after the first knockdown. He stepped toward me and fell again before I could even hit him and that was it.”
Evander Holyfield, who would later be forever tied to Tyson with the infamous ear-biting incident, caught the fight, telling the L.A. Times in 1989 that, “I saw him get hit on the chin and fall on his face. He was beating the guy [Evans] from pillar to post and jumped in with a left hook. He got clocked.”
Regardless of how it happened, the two knockdown rule was in effect and Evans was declared the winner of the fight, giving Tyson his first-ever loss, putting him at 9-1 for his amateur career.
Returning to Catskill, Rooney told The Daily Mail, “This loss could be a good thing for Mike. He’ll learn some things and next time he won’t make the same mistake.”
“I did feel bad after the tournament, though,” Evans said. “I remember coming home and telling my mom how good this kid was and that if I didn’t beat him, he would have won the whole thing and went to the Olympics.”
Evans didn’t end up winning the tournament. The fight against Tyson took its toll on the 6-foot-4 Chicago fighter.
“I was hitting him with the jab trying to keep him away the whole fight and it made my hands real sore,” Evans said. “The pain was crazy and in the semifinals I lost a decision to Craig Payne.”
Evans never did make it onto that 1984 Olympic team. While working leading up to the Olympic trials, he broke his forearm.DIFFERENT PATHS
Evans watched over the next few years when Tyson’s fame skyrocketed.
Evans, himself, turned pro in 1986 and won his debut by knockout.
Over the next eight years, he would fight nine more times, finishing his career with a 4-6 record with four knockouts.
“I turned pro too late,” he said. “I should have turned pro way before I beat Tyson.”
Evans would go on to train with Michael Spinks and Tony Tucker as a sparring partner.
“I helped Tony Tucker beat Buster Douglas. I thought Mike Spinks could outbox Mike Tyson, but Mike was too strong,” Evans said.
In that fight Tyson destroyed Spinks in 1 minutes, 31 seconds.
“Mike had that killer instinct,” Evans said. “I never really liked boxing. I didn’t have a killer instinct. I didn’t want to kill somebody’s son or dad just for the audience to clap. Mike had that killer instinct. He’d kill you. I’d never got into the ring mad, except when I fought Payne.
“At that time he was number two in the US. He beat me three times in three semifinal fights. He KO’d three guys before me. Whenever I got to him my hands were sore, but this last time we boxed, I said I got him this time. Took me 42 seconds to finish him. That was the only time I fought mad and I wasn’t even really happy about it after.”
Tyson’s career saw its ups and downs. He was the youngest heavyweight champion, but a rape conviction sent him to prison.
After returning to the ring, a breakup with Rooney led to his first professional defeat at the hands of Buster Douglas in 1990.
By 2005, he retired with a 50-6 record (44 knockouts).
Tyson came back into the spotlight in a big way in recent years, appearing in movies and launching a comedy career.
Evans also had dreams of being a movie star, appearing in the series “Fallen Angels” which starred Gary Busey.
“That’s something I really wanted to do,” Evans said of being an actor. “Maybe my voice or something didn’t work out.”
Tyson became everything Evans wanted to be — a heavyweight champion and successful actor.
He doesn’t hold any grudges, though, and insists that if he had the same killer instinct that Iron Mike had, he would have been on top of the world.
“He’s a really good guy, he just turned evil when he got into the ring. I’d have been the first Mike Tyson if I had that,” Evans said. “I’ve run into Mike four or five times. I tried to fight him early on in his pro career, around 1988-89, but they didn’t want that fight. Now when I see him, we shake hands and laugh and talk like old friends.
“I watched all of his fights,” Evans said of Tyson’s career. “I told my mom when I came home from that tournament in ’82, ‘I fought this young dude, bet he would have won the whole tournament.’ Turns out he was good enough to do a lot more than that.”