A World Champion at the age of 20, a 3yr prison sentence at the age of 26 and a record of 50 wins of which 44 came by the way of KO. A quick summary of why Mike Tyson was regarding as one of the best, yet most dangerous Heavyweights that have ever entered the Boxing ring. But was he really as good as the legacy he leaves behind say’s he is, or was it just publicity over the years due to ‘Iron Mikes’ personal life and wild antics in the ring.
I appreciate this is an ongoing argument that has thrown about for some time and will never really be settled. But I would like to put across my thoughts on Mike Tyson, and to why we shouldn’t be asking ‘was he really that good?’ But, ‘Could he have been that good?’
For a guy that has stamped one of the biggest marks on the sport, it makes it near impossible to think where to start, so I’m going to jump straight ahead to 1986, and the biggest day of Tyson’s career. Tyson was 27-0 when it was announced he would take on 31-5 Jamaican / Canadian Trevor Berbick, and from the moment Berbick entered the ring you could see the fear in his eyes due to the reputation Tyson had built himself. With 27 of these fights Tyson had entered, he scored a 1st round KO in 15 of them, and Berbick knew as soon as that first bell rang, Tyson would be out of his corner like a greyhound out of its cage and would be hunting for that prolific first round KO again. It wasn’t quite the 1st round but Tyson had won the WBC Crown with a 2nd round TKO, Berbick never knew what hit him.
Tyson was a breath of fresh air, a revelation and exactly what the heavyweight division needed at the time. Tyson took it by the scruff of the neck and made it his own. With wins over James Smith, Tony Tucker, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks and Frank Bruno in his following 8 fights, he had now became the first heavyweight to unite the WBC, WBA and IBF titles, and it was common knowledge that ‘Iron Mike’ was the man to beat and couldn’t be stopped.
But in Boxing we all know, if there’s a good thing to be said, there’s always criticism to be made, and that came thick and fast. Larry Holmes had already lost twice to Michael Spinks before going into the ring with Tyson and many considered him to be past his Boxing Peak, starting the fight working the jab beautifully but quickly came crashing down as Tyson proved to fast and strong for him. When Michael Spinks lost at the hands of Tyson he decided to retire only 3 years after stepping up from Light heavyweight and winning the IBF crown. Critics claim that Spinks never looked interested and not at his best. Frank Bruno looked to have had the upper hand with Tyson as he wobbled him in the first round but Tyson finished strong in Round 5, critics again claiming that Bruno was never tough opposition and was never going to beat Tyson, most of the British nation watching that night would probably tell you otherwise. I will say the same as I do when defending the Klitschko Brothers, he can only beat what is put infront of him, and he did.
Tyson had a lot of in ring ability that has always been over shadowed by his ferocious nature when stepping foot in the ring, his defensive skills have always been overlooked. Using a Peek-a-Boo defensive stance, Tyson was able to move quickly around the ring and not be hurt, but could also switch his hands to his sides and throw some of the most powerful hooks and uppercuts ever seen in boxing.
This was something Tyson had seemed to leave behind when stepping in the ring with James Buster Douglas who beat Tyson in 10 Rounds with a KO punching flurry even Tyson himself would have been proud of. Putting aside all conspiracy theories, motivational stories, Douglas on the day was a better boxer than Tyson, and again critics where soon to jump on Tyson after the 1st loss of his career. Heading for a Divorce and parting with manager Bill Cayton couldn’t have been good for Tyson’s mind set going into the fight, but ultimately choosing to fire trainer Kevin Rooney would prove tough for Tyson to handle. Rooney took Tyson under his wing after the passing Cus D’Amato and turned Tyson into the fighter that the world feared and he was now being relived of his duties. I personally put a lot of this down to Don King’s involvement, but I won’t go into that as I have many opinions on Don King and ill save them for another post. (None of them are nice opinions).
With his first loss on his record the scandals, bad publicity and controversy seemed to follow very quickly. In 1992 after beating tough man Donovan Ruddock Tyson was sentence to Prison, serving 3 of his original 6 year sentence he would be released and eased back into the ring. With his reputation at an all time low and after 4 wins, including a WBC championship win over Frank Bruno, Tyson would have the chance to clear his name of all this criticism when it was announced he would take on Proven Heavyweight Evander Holyfield with the WBA belt up for grabs. In the first of 2 encounters Holyfield Boxed the fight of his life and in round 11 hit Tyson with a combination of punches that the ref thought left Tyson in a state where he couldn’t continue further, Tyson was never able to find his rhythm as Holyfield tied him up any way he could. Frustration would creep in further in the 2nd encounter between these to men. In what is regarded as one of the most memorable fights in boxing history, both men were at the same point as the last fight. With Holyfield holding and leading with the head doing everything he could to stop Tyson from finding his rhythm, Tyson could take it no longer and had 2 points taken from him for biting Holyfield’s ear, getting more and more aggravated Tyson was then Disqualified from the fight for Biting Holyfield a second time.
Watching the fight back you can see why Tyson was getting so frustrated as he was never allowed to box the way he was famous for, Holyfield’s game plan had worked for a second time, albeit at the cost of his ear.
It is at this point of Tyson’s career that I can safely say he is not one of the greatest heavyweights that have entered the ring. Coming up against a fighter that was not scared of him, like Douglas. And had great Boxing ability, just like British Champion Lennox Lewis, Tyson seemed to struggle.
I won’t be going any further with Tyson’s career as I feel there is no point and I feel I have covered Tyson’s best years in Boxing. I understand that the Lewis fight was one of the biggest but certainly not one of his best. Tyson was never at his best and it was a mismatch from the start of the fight being announced. From here on out it was more for promotion and a payday and less about what happened in the ring for Tyson.
The question I asked at the start of this thread was ‘could Tyson have been that good?’ and the answer is yes he really could have been, but for me he was a long way of being great. His dominant years between 1986 and 1990 was through a very weak heavyweight period, and even though Tyson acted as a great ambassador when carrying the division across 2 major periods, but that soon fell away when he stepped in the ring with a fighter that didn’t fear him, or a fighter that could match and better his ability in the ring. I tried to stay clear of his personal life throughout this thread but it seemed near impossible, as ultimately it was his personal life that got in the way of his boxing career. Tyson would have most defiantly been an all time great, he had the punches’ of George Foreman, the hand speed of Muhammad Ali, the power of Rocky Marciano, the defensive ability of Joe Walcott, the hook of Joe Frazier, the ‘Bad Man’ image of Sonny Liston and the Status of Joe Lewis, but for me never quite got close to being as good as these Heavyweights. But I never would have said this to the young 20yr old champion that certified himself as the ‘Baddest man on the planet’.