"Iron" Mike Tyson Versus the Greats
14.06.05 - By Kevin Kincade: So, this is how it ends: that’s what I was thinking Saturday night when Mike Tyson’s long and winding road finally came to its ultimate conclusion. Oh sure, he might come back and fight again; but after losing to a fighter the quality of Kevin McBride, for all intents and purposes, it’s over. McBride was a second chance, of sorts. Mike had the knee-excuse to fall back upon for his loss to Williams; but against the Irishman, he had no such luxury. There it was, the end, staring Mike dead in the eye, scorching itself into his eye sockets; and you could almost hear him sigh in relief that it had finally arrived.
Article posted on 14.06.2005
Now, here we are, awestruck observers, in the wake of a mighty storm that took our breath away and pierced the very depths of our souls; thrilled us, teased us, exhilarated us, exasperated us, enraged us, and, just as suddenly, it was gone. Those of us who love him wish him well and the inner peace he never seemed to have during his career, while those of us who hate him are laughing in cynical self-righteousness.
We, as boxing fans and members of the human race, could debate unendingly on the personal Mike Tyson; but seeing as how none of us are without sin, let’s cast no stones and stick to what we, collectively, can debate with no personal judgment; the significance of his career and how he measures up to those that came before him.
Obviously, this is purely subjective, since none of these matches can take place; but it is fun to imagine how Mike would have done against the greatest Heavyweight Champions of All Time. To be fair, I’ve picked what I feel are the top five heavyweight champs in their prime and have come up with hypothetical outcomes for each match-up. The Mike Tyson I’ll be using is the one who fought Michael Spinks in 1988. To refresh your memory, Mike was three days shy of his 22nd birthday, 34-0 (30), and weighed in at 218 ¼ Lbs.
The first thing people think about when the name, Mike Tyson, comes up is his punching power; but I submit that it wasn’t only his natural punching ability that made Mike as good as he was, it was a combination of talents. Mike was freakishly fast for a heavyweight, able to unload up to five punches in less than two seconds. In addition to his hand-speed and punching power, Mike had phenomenal head movement, making him extraordinarily difficult to hit while he bobbed and weaved looking for the opportunity to unload not just one; but a whole volley of power shots on his opponent.
Now, here’s the trick; obviously there were things about Mike we hadn’t learned at the time of the Spinks fight that we know now. For example, with Muhammad Ali, his peak was arguably against Cleveland Williams, since we’ll never know how good he could have been during the three years he was banned from fighting. At the time of the Williams fight, nobody knew how good Ali could take a punch because no one had really been able to hit him solid, with the obvious exceptions of Henry Cooper and Sonny Banks. It was only after we saw Ali fight in the second half of his career, that we knew he had a granite jaw. Since granite does not grow overnight and a fighter’s chin does not get better with time, we have to presume Ali could take a punch just as well at 25 as he could at 35, if not better. Cliché, though it is, hindsight is 20/20, so we might as well use it.
Ready? Here we go!
# 5: Mike Tyson vs Jack Johnson
Though Jack Johnson was roughly 32 when he fought the “Boiler Maker” in 1910, there is little doubt that he was in the best shape of his career for that fight, so we’ll use this Johnson to pair with Tyson. At the time, Johnson had a record of 57-6-12 (34) with 17 ND, according to the Cyber Boxing Zone. Johnson was to defense what Tyson was to offense and then some. The “Galveston Giant” had the ability to parry off incoming blows with his gloves while the punches were in mid-flight, a technique that has been lost with the annals of time, or maybe no one else could do it. In addition to his punch-blocking abilities, Jack was not afraid to tie you up on the inside either and was quite strong in the clinches, despite his 190 lb frame. He also had a snake-like jab that he could turn into a powerful hook, should he feel the punch would serve him better. In short, Johnson was everything that would drive Tyson nuts in the ring and cause him to give in to frustration.
Tyson, as always, would start off fast, looking to catch Johnson with a fusillade of hooks and uppercuts; but would run into a major problem with Johnson’s wide stance and ready posture. Johnson would repeatedly reach and unashamedly grab Mike as “Kid Dynamite” bull-rushed him and hold and muscle the younger man around the ring until the referee separated the two. The audience would soon realize this is not going to be an exciting match as Johnson would stop every onslaught as soon as it started. As we saw with the Smith, Tucker, Douglas, and Holyfield bouts, once frustrated, Tyson willingly gives in to being clinched on the inside. It would be no different with Johnson. Over the course of the fight, Johnson would pick and choose his shots and eventually walk away with a relatively easy, if not boring, fifteen-round decision.
# 4: Mike Tyson vs Rocky Marciano
Rocky was only 184 ½ Lbs with a record of 42-0 (37) going into his title winning effort against “Jersey” Joe Walcott in 1952. So, it’s not surprising that many would say this bout would be a statistical mismatch given “The Rock’s” size and lack of speed and presumed defensive inadequacies. What most fail to understand is the toughness and determination that was packed into that 5’ 10” frame. Walcott floored Marciano for the first time in his career in the first round of their match and beat him unmercifully for the bulk of the next 11 rounds; but “The Rock” kept coming. Marciano’s ability to take a punch was unfathomable and he blocked more than one would think.
Part of the reason he was able to sustain amidst heavy incoming was he exquisite physical conditioning; only Evander Holyfield could challenge Rocky’s superiority in this field. He was always in the best shape possible. Add to his conditioning and his toughness the fact that he was an extraordinarily powerful puncher for his size and he would hit you anywhere. If you covered up your head, he’d go to the body. Protect the body and he’d go to your head. Protect both, he’d pound on your arms and shoulders until your limbs were so battered your guard would come down and then he’d take your head off.
Seeing a smaller opponent in front of him, Mike would be frothing at the mouth for a “wam-bam, thank you, sir” kind of knock-out. Once the leather started flying, however, Mike would realize most of his hooks were sailing over the Rock’s head. At 5’ 11”, Mike has very rarely faced an opponent that was shorter than himself, so this situation would require some adjustments. Given Rocky’s willingness to trade, it wouldn’t be long before Mike would be throwing that right to the body, right uppercut to the head combination, sending a spray of sweat from Rocky’s black locks as the on-looking crowd Oooos and Owwws with every bone-jarring shot.
Tough as Rocky is, there is no way he could take this kind of brutal assault for fifteen rounds. Somewhere around the third or fourth, Mike would put together a four-punch combo and drop the Rock with a left hook that would send him sprawling backwards three or four feet. Surprisingly, the Italian would get up, cover himself a little better and survive the remainder of the round as most of Mike’s finishers catch arms and air. Not used to having an opponent come to him, Mike finds his punches being smothered pretty regularly by the crouching in-fighting Marciano, who is constantly pounding Mike’s ribcage and forearms, while most of Mike’s return volley ricochet off the Rock’s shoulders.
Occasionally, Mike will catch Rocky with a good one and the crowd responds, holding their breath for the inevitable; but it doesn’t come. As the fight rages on, Mike’s staccato bursts are fewer and fewer in number as he settles for throwing one or two punches at a time while Marciano labors on in a blue collar-style, catching Mike on the chin more and more as the head-movement becomes all but absent. Finally, somewhere around the 13th, Marciano catches Mike in the ribs with a brutal left hook, sending the bigger man to one knee. Rising at the count of eight, Mike is gasping for air like a fish on a sandbar. Smelling blood, Rocky wades in amidst desperation shots and drops Mike again with a volley of body blows, uppercuts, and overhand rights. Knowing he’s done, the referee rescues Mike from further punishment with thirty seconds to go in the round.
# 3: Mike Tyson vs Larry Holmes
Many will say this is a moot bout, seeing as how Tyson easily did away with Holmes back in 1988; but remember, “The Easton Assassin” was 38 years old by the time “Iron Mike” dispatched him in four rounds. How would Mike have done against the Larry Holmes that stopped Gerry Cooney six years prior? Granted, in June of ‘82, Holmes was already 33 years old; but this fight was his defining moment, so it’s only fair to use this version of Larry. Going into the Cooney fight, Holmes had established himself as a consummate and crafty professional with one of the most devastating jabs the division has ever seen. At the time, he had a record of 39-0 (29) and was in exquisite condition at 212 ½ lbs.
Mike would come out storming and Larry would dance off to his left, away from Mike’s left hook, peppering Tyson with stinging jabs all the while. Occasionally, Larry would stop and try to catch Mike coming in with a solid one-two; but early in the fight he would catch air with the right and be countered well to the body and occasionally with a hook to the head. Suddenly, in the fifth, thunder lands as Larry brings the jab back a little too slow and Mike lands a solid right over the top: “Down goes Holmes, Down Goes Holmes, Down Goes Holmes!” Larry rises on wobbly legs at the count of six and immediately gets on his bicycle.
The crowd is in an uproar as Mike furiously pursues the fleeing Holmes, who occasionally gets cornered and grabs on for dear life. After what seems like an eternity, the bell sounds, giving Larry sixty seconds to clear his head. The sixth round consists of Larry cautiously boxing from a distance as a winded Tyson half-heartedly pursues. Through the remainder of the mid-rounds, the pattern has been established; Larry jabbing and circling to his left and occasionally stopping to catch Mike with the straight right or uppercut, while Tyson attempts to get on the inside, sometimes with success, and pounds on Holmes’ midsection before Larry can tie him up.
By round ten, the tiring Tyson, whose eyes are beginning to show swelling from Larry’s jabs, has a slight lead in the scoring; but Holmes has been catching him more and more frequently with the right hand. Then it happens. Midway though the 11th, Mike casually goes in for the clinch and Holmes steps to his right and fires a huge right-hand uppercut. Tyson’s legs betray his exhaustion and Holmes goes in for the kill. While firing off right hand after right hand, Holmes is occasionally caught by a whistling left hook or right hand; but they don’t seem to have as much steam as earlier in the bout. The round ends with Mike in a defensive posture on the ropes and Holmes firing at long range.
At the beginning of the 12th, Holmes is the one who charges across the ring and after meeting Mike just outside of ring center, he catches the shorter man with a vicious one-two that sends Tyson falling backwards into the ropes. Watching “The Easton Assassin” Fire shot after shot from a distance, well out of the way of Tyson’s sporadic counters, the referee jumps in at the one minute mark to save the spent fighter from any further punishment.
# 2: Mike Tyson vs Joe Louis
The obvious version of Joe Louis to use in this match-up is the one who fought Max Schmeling in 1938. For that fight, Joe was 25 years old when he climbed into the ring with the Black Uhlan for the second time and had compiled a record of 38-1 (32) with Schmeling handing him his sole defeat two years prior. Louis was a shuffling technician who could hit you and hurt you with either hand. Early in his career, Louis’s trainer would tie his right hand to the ropes so to teach Joe how to defend with his left hand alone, the result was one of the most accurate and devastating jabs in history. In addition to his powerful left, Joe had a right hand that was simply deadly. To this day, no one has defended the title more than Louis (25 times) or held it for as long (12 years).
Mike, as always, would come out looking to check Louis’s chin and midway through the opening stanza, a sizzling hook would deposit “The Brown Bomber” on his backside. Slightly stunned, Louis would proceed to fire the jab-right with fury, breaking Tyson’s rhythm and allowing Louis to reach the bell. Now knowing full well the raw power he’s in the ring with, Louis comes out for round two with more intention on dictating the pace, throwing jab after jab to position Mike for the follow-up right hands. On the occasions when Tyson gets past the jab, Louis meets him with uppercuts.
As the rounds mount up, Tyson’s frustration starts to show as do the lumps around his eyes as Louis keeps dictating the pace of the fight. By round 7, Tyson’s left eye is nearly shut from right after right, jab after jab and Mike is increasingly hesitant to get on the inside where Louis is jarring his molars with uppercuts. Late in the 9th, Louis catches a nearly blind Tyson with a crunching right and drops him for a five count. Upon reaching his feet, Tyson is met by the hardest punches he’s ever endured as a professional or amateur; rights, hooks, uppercuts, each one landing exactly where it’s owner meant for it.
Firing back blindly at an opponent he can no longer see, he finds himself stumbling forward to the canvas when his legs disappear from his consciousness as if they were no longer attached to his hips. Unable to rise, Mike finds himself to be a victim of the potent Joe Louis right hand in round 9.
AND Finally #1: Mike Tyson vs Muhammad Ali
On November 14th, 1966, a 24 year old Muhammad Ali climbed into the ring with Clevand Williams in Houston, Texas and showed us what a complete fighter looks like: blinding speed of hand and foot and with that speed, power that belied his frame. Ali would never look so good in the ring again as he did against Williams, so that’s the Ali we’ll use. At the time, he had a record of 26-0 (21) and weighed in at a svelte 212 ¾ lbs. For those that do not know, Ali had a rapier-like jab, and had arguably the fastest hands of any heavyweight who ever lived and most assuredly the fastest feet. Ali could start throwing a punch when he was out of range and his feet would carry him in range to land the shot and out again before his opponent could get off a counter.
When the opening bell sounds, it has to be rung twice because neither fighter can hear it over the roar of the crowd. When the bout does get under way, both men rush to ring center, with Ali, at the last second sidestepping while pulling back to miss a murderous left hook. Tyson, while fast of hand, has to be within range for that hand-speed to amount to anything and Ali is quite content to keep him at the end of a blistering jab, which, to his surprise, isn’t landing as often as he’d like. The whole round consists of Tyson bobbing and weaving very quickly towards Ali, only to be alone when he gets to where Ali was just a second before.
Every time Mike gets close, he is peppered with razor-sharp jabs and rights for his efforts and has no one to get revenge on when the punches stop. At the end of the first round, Tyson motions furiously at Ali, angry that he apparently didn’t come to fight. By the third, Ali has Mike’s timing down and begins to rip in a few hooks of his own amid the jabs and rights. While nothing seems to be affecting Tyson, the points are piling up. When the bell rings for the 8th, there is a visible swelling around Mike’s left eye and he still has yet to connect with anything solid and is starting to swing wildly, lunging out of desperation and frustration at a target that is never in range.
At the start of the 10th, Mike’s right eye is also swollen with a good sized gash above the lid and his left eye is all but closed. Smelling the end, Ali suddenly plants his feet and unloads a blur of straight rights, hooks and uppercuts on a Tyson, who is totally caught off guard by this sudden offensive outburst. By the time he can fire off a counter, Ali is out of the way again. As soon as he thinks Ali’s onslaught is over, Mike’s caught with a solid double hook off the jab, which causes him to visibly wobble.
Lunging for retribution with a whistling left hook, Mike catches nothing but air and is blasted for his trouble with a surprisingly powerful right cross, which knocks him off balance into the ropes. Before he can steady himself, Tyson is caught in a blizzard of punches that seem to be coming from every conceivable angle. Again he lunges forward with an uppercut that misses and catches a solid hook for his trouble, followed by another straight right and drops to the canvas as much out of confusion as out of hurt. Mike reaches his feet at the count of eight and affirms to the referee that he wants to continue. However the ref is now looking at Mike’s right eye, from which is flowing a cascade of crimson and waves the fight off, determining Tyson can no longer see incoming shots. Mike protests to no avail.
Undoubtedly many of you are upset that I don’t see Mike winning one of these match-ups; but think before you spew off a tirade of expletives that would make a sailor blush. The fact of the matter is this: Mike Tyson’s career will ultimately be seen as incomplete. He never achieved his potential because something of finer quality was missing. Once you got past the power and the extraordinary ability, there was a big gaping hole. Said hole, is why he never came back to win a fight he was behind in, said hole is why he bit off Holyfield’s ear when it became obvious to him that Evander was about to embarrass him again, and said hole is why he could never beat the game’s immortals.
Where he was empty as a fighter, they were overflowing with the intangible qualities of heart and will to win, or simply put….belief in one’s self. Tyson exuded arrogance and self-confidence; but I submit it was the equivalent of a scared child whistling in the graveyard. If you look at the amateur Mike Tyson that cried before his bouts out of fear of losing, you will see an athlete filled with self doubt, a man, who as a professional had no answers when plan “A” didn’t work. I’m not hating on Tyson. I’m calling it as I see it. In the end, Mike was an incomplete fighter and no incomplete fighter can beat a complete one. Mike was very good and very close to great; but close only counts in…..well, you know.
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