David Ashdown's Classic Sports Picture Diary: Frank Bruno v Mike Tyson 1989

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The Independent Online

It's hard to believe that when The Independent started in 1986, all newspapers were in black and white. In fact, before the year 2000 everything was taken on film and for the first seven years of The Independent all pictures were in black and white.

In 1989 I was sent to Las Vegas to cover British boxer Frank Bruno in his world heavyweight title fight with Mike Tyson.

The venue for the fight was the Hilton Hotel in the huge conference centre. The bouts that night started at about 7.30 p.m. with the Bruno-Tyson fight the last one at about midnight.

The picture you see here was taken from the lighting rig above the ring - but before you ask - no I was not up there at the time!

At fights in the US the organisers tend to be very good at helping photographers. I arrived at the venue at about 4.30 p.m. in order to find the man responsible for the lighting. For twenty dollars he took me up amongst the lighting above the ring in his hydraulic lift. I was then able to bolt a camera to the lighting rig.

I was using a Nikon F3 camera with a 20mm F2.8 lens; the exposure was set on manual at 1/500 second at F2.8 and then I attached a radio receiver.

During the fight I was a long way back, looking down into the ring. I was using a 600mm lens but I must have been at least 150-200 feet away. I knew that if I was going to get a decent shot I was relying on the camera hanging above the ring.

The camera on the rig was set to take a single shot at a time, so every time I pressed the radio transmitter in would only take one shot - if I wanted more I had to keep pressing it. It must also be remembered that back in 1989, radio transmitters were far less reliable than they are now. While they might work when you set them up, there was no guarantee they would still be working when it mattered. Plus, the fact I was such a long way away and the camera was amongst all the lights, I was not overly confident the transmitter would work.

The fight was stopped in the fifth round with Bruno out on his feet and his trainer Terry Lawless about to throw the towel in.

When everyone had cleared off I was able to retrieve my camera. It was with mixed felling of trepidation and excitement (more trepidation I seem to remember) as I looked to see if the camera had gone off. When I looked and saw that it had used about thirty frames I can't tell you the joy I felt. That it had gone off at all was a minor miracle.

A colleague from one of the agencies had also fixed a camera above the ring. I later found out that his camera was set to take six frames a second and that he had used all the film in the first round when Bruno was nearly knocked out. He was most definitely not a happy chap at breakfast the next morning!

Back then I used to take a developing tank with me on these sorts of jobs. I had one set up in my hotel room. It was a different mind set in the days of film - don't ever get too excited until one has seen the images on the film.

As you can imagine from the image above, I was overjoyed when I saw the results. This picture was the only one from above the ring showing the end of the fight and it made going all that way worthwhile.

Although there was an added excitement using film, nowadays I would take digital every time. If they were to invent film I get the feeling it wouldn't catch on, and probably a good job too!