Who Was The Greatest Heavyweight Champion Of The 1980s - Larry Holmes Or Mike Tyson?

mike tysonby James Slater: The great Larry Holmes dominated the first half of the decade that was the 1980s, the also great Mike Tyson dominated the second half of the decade. But who was the number one heavyweight of that ten year period, Tyson or Holmes? Sure, both men did meet, with "Iron" Mike doing a number on "The Easton Assassin" in just 4 rounds. But Holmes was not only past his best by January of '88, but he had also neglected to engage in a tune-up bout before tangling with the peak Mike Tyson.

Though the fight they had in Atlantic City in early '88 will no doubt persuade many fans that Tyson was the better fighter, in reality it is irrelevant to the question this article asks. Who was the overall king of the big men of the 1980s?

Larry won the title (or at least the WBC version) in June of 1978 and was still both world champion and an unbeaten fighter right up until September of 1985, so it's clear Holmes was the man at heavyweight for the first half of the decade. Tyson won his first world title belt in November of 1986 and was still undisputed champ and an unbeaten fighter right up until the last day of the 1980s. So Holmes was champion for a little longer than was Tyson in the decade in question, but does this make him the dominant heavyweight force of the '80s?

Quality of opposition in the '80s.


Larry met and defeated the following top men during this period; Trevor Berbick - Wpts15, Renaldo Snipes - WTKO11, Gerry Cooney - WTKO13, Randal "Tex" Cobb - Wpts15, Tim Witherspoon - Wpts12, James "Bonecrusher" Smith - WTKO12 and Carl Williams - Wpts15. In total, Larry made 16 successful title defences in the 1980s. There is no-one of obvious note that Holmes ducked during this time either. Clearly, Larry was a great, extremely active, take-on-all-comers kind of champion.


Mike met and defeated the following top guys during his time of fighting in the 1980s; Trevor Berbick - WKO2, James "Bonecrusher" Smith - Wpts12, Pinklon Thomas - WTKO6, Tony Tucker - Wpts12, Larry Holmes - WTKO4, Tony Tubbs - WTKO2, Michael Spinks - WKO1, Carl Williams - WTKO1. Mike made 9 successful retentions during this time and, with the possible exception of Evander Holyfield (who Tyson met and lost to when both men were past their prime) Tyson ducked no-one. Mike was a very fine and active champion, who scored a whole lot more quick KO's than Homes. Also of note is the fact that the two men had a number of common opponents - with Tyson beating Berbick, Spinks and Williams a helluva lot quicker than Larry, and taking slightly longer than Holmes to beat Smith. And, of course, Tyson stopped an old Holmes himself during this period of activity.

So, who of the two was the decade's best big man?

Larry had more fights, made more defences and arguably met slightly better opposition in the '80s. But, of course, Holmes has the advantage in number of fights fought due to the fact that he won the title even before the dawn of the 1980s. Tyson, on the other hand, was barely out of his teens as far into the decade as 1986, so of course he had less fights than Larry. Mike's activity level was high and he scored more devastating KO's of quality names - even though Holmes actually scored more overall KO's than Tyson, at 11 to 8. There is no question, however, as to who the bigger puncher of the two men was. That distinction goes to Tyson, without a doubt. But was Mike the best heavyweight champion the 1980s produced?

It's close, but I think Tyson just clinches it. Mike made short work of men Larry went through hell with (Carl Williams, for an obvious example) and was beaten by, he never had a year long inactive spell during the '80s (as Holmes did, from November of '83 to November of '84) and Tyson more than likely would have destroyed the men he did had he met them even before Holmes had (Michael Spinks, for example).

To this writer's mind, though they were both great during the decade in which they both dominated - Holmes in the first half, Tyson in the second - the overall greatest heavyweight champion of the 1980s was "Iron" Mike Tyson.

Article posted on 19.12.2007

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