From chains to church bells: how a killer soundtrack propelled boxer Mike Tyson to glory

The boxer’s entry music is as legendary as his fighting career

Nov 28, 2020; Los Angeles, CA, USA;  Mike Tyson (black trunks) exits the ring after his split draw against Roy Jones, Jr. (white trunks) during a heavyweight exhibition boxing bout for the WBC Frontline Belt at the Staples Center.  Mandatory Credit: Joe Scarnici/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

It is the moment fans relish and opponents fear: the lights go out and a spotlight beams on boxer Mike Tyson as he enters the arena.

Throughout his career, Tyson underscored that dark imagery with stark and menacing music, warning adversaries of the pain to come.

But for his latest comeback fight, Tyson decided to switch things up.

At the Saturday, November 28 exhibition against Ray Jones Jr, the goosebump-inducing spectacle of Tyson’s arrival was anything but.

Instead of the usual ominous score, we were assaulted with the cheesy EDM sounds of I'm Mike Tyson by US producers Tiki Lau.

It was a bum note. It was too flashy and celebratory – twin attributes that don’t vibe with Tyson’s cold-as-ice approach to combat.

While it is a far stretch to link the musical misfire with the match result (a draw), you can’t overstate the importance Tyson’s entry music has in psychologically spooking his opponents.

Just ask poor Michael Spinks. The US boxer had to witness one of the most chilling entrances in boxing history.

On June 27, 1988, Tyson marauded into Convention Hall in Atlantic City accompanied by a dissonant noise that was occasionally punctured by the clanging of chains.

Composed by Tom Alonso, the piece was as nightmarish as it was effective. Spinks was knocked out in 91 seconds.

While Tyson rarely used that track again, it partly formed the sonic blueprint for future entrances, a tactic that mostly relied on hip-hop tracks.

While out on parole, Tyson looped the thunderous refrain of "it's time for some action" from rapper Redman's Time 4 Sum Aksion for his 1995 comeback fight against US boxer Peter "Hurricane" McNeeley. Tyson fulfilled the track's promise with the fight lasting 89 seconds.

For his knockout of South Africa's Francois Botha in 1999, Tyson went gothic as he entered the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas to the sounds of church bells, dark synths and the growls of rapper DMX in the track Intro (It's Dark & Hell is Hot).

The rare time Tyson picked a lighter music piece – if you can call it that – was for his 1996 bout with veteran British fighter Frank Bruno.

Tyson strode into the MGM Garden Arena to the funky bass lines and, yes, flutes of Tupac's Road to Glory, a piece the rapper wrote specifically for the fight.

It was hard to know which was more intimidating for Bruno: Tyson giving him a cold stare when sliding into the ring, or Tupac hectoring him in the chorus: “Throw your hands up, Mr Bruno / Big Mike Tyson 'bout to brutalise (you) tonight / No hesitation, in front of the whole nation.”

The whole situation unnerved Bruno. The fight was called off by the referee after Bruno received a vicious 13-punch combination. That match might have ended in the fifth round, but according to Tyson, it was another victory he smelt before the sound of the opening bell.

In describing his lead-up to fights, Tyson has explained that all aspects, from the music to his demeanour, are designed to unsettle his opponent.

"A lot of the guys who got intimidated lost the fight before they even got hit," he said. "I never take my eyes off my opponent ... once I see a chink in his armour, like him looking away for one tenth of a second, then I know I have them."

While it can be argued that Tyson lost that killer instinct over the years, he remains a boxer fit for any occasion.

On that note, perhaps the use of the insipid yet catchy I'm Mike Tyson for the Roy Jones Jr fight was a tactical decision after all. With no sporting glory to play for, Tyson wanted the exhibition match to be more fun than furious.

On that score, he can chalk up the event as another victory.

"I'm glad I got this [fight] under my belt,” he said afterwards. “I entertained the crowd.”