The name ‘Mike Tyson’ is a two-word equalizer that demonstrates both what notoriety as a knockout artist gets you, and also, what MMA has yet to offer up to the public—that being, a surpassing star with such recognizable cachet far outside the typical MMA audience that it can seep into every aspect of popular culture. In a recent television interview with Canadian sports talk-show ‘Off-the-Record’ (http://www.tsn.ca/shows/otr), UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre repeated the immortal words of a Fresh Prince song and stated that he too, could beat Mike Tyson.
“If I were to do a boxing match with Mike Tyson, I would lose, St. Pierre told Michael Landsberg, the show host. “In a Mixed Martial Arts match, [or] in a wrestling match, I would win.
The first prediction is worth analyzing simply because of the questions about GSP’s striking prowess itself. Although a stint with Freddie Roach at Wildcard Gym in Las Vegas made headlines, Montreal-based trainer Howard Grant has been the mainstay of GSP’s boxing training since GSP lost to Matt Serra in 2007.
“I’m not a guy to toot my horn, but I’ve helped him a lot, Howard explained to me during a local amateur boxing event—the Otis Grant Invitational (named after his brother who was former WBO middleweight champion).
There are many extremely tough sparring partners at the Grant Brothers boxing gym in Quebec—among them, former champion Joachim Alcine, Walid Smichet, Herman Ngoudjo, Librado Andrade and his brother, Enrique Ornelas. Curious as to how GSP does against professional boxers in sparring sessions, Howard says that St. Pierre is competitive.
“I started to realize how good he was getting because he was doing well with my guys. He does well with the professional boxers, says Howard.
As for which direction the sparring goes in, the trainer says that it is pretty even. Although the participants wear larger gloves, knockouts aren’t uncommon and Georges has to absorb a fair amount of blows, just like everyone else.
“I have all my guys wear 16 or 18 ounces. I’m going to tell you something—I’ve seen guys get knocked out in my place. I mean knocked out, says Howard. “Georges takes his share of licks at my place. This I could guarantee you.
So how would St. Pierre do against Mike Tyson in an MMA match? The parameters of the question matter a great deal—are we talking about Tyson with or without any true MMA training in other disciplines like wrestling or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
For the sake of this argument, we have to give Tyson some time to learn submission defense and how to sprawl. But in that scenario, St. Pierre does not match-up favorably with Tyson anymore than he does against other striker-turned-MMA fighters, like Mirko Cro Cop. The first problem is the weight difference: There’s a good chance that he would put himself at a supreme disadvantage fighting a heavyweight, and until Georges faces fighters outside his weight class as B.J. Penn and Anderson Silva have done, we have to favor the heavyweight.
The second problem is the skill disparity between striking in boxing and striking in MMA. For sure, when you add in takedowns, leg kicks, knees, elbows and other threats, the combatants must chance their stance, stand at a different distance, and the theory goes that a pure boxer would be less effective. But we’re talking about a prime Mike Tyson, who not only had superior punching power and speed, but also extremely tight defense. A younger Tyson also has the discipline to drill dogmatically with the right skill set for MMA to offset any deficiencies inherent in pure boxing.
The final reason why Georges St. Pierre would lose to a prime Mike Tyson in MMA comes down to the fact that St. Pierre is reluctant to overreach in his challenges. Since the Serra fight, he has become a conservative fighter, often criticized as being a mere athletic marvel rather than a fighter. He won’t talk about facing Anderson Silva, so if there was a current heavyweight boxing champion like David Haye or Wladimir Klitschko who transitioned to MMA, notched several wins against credible opposition and wanted to fight a UFC champion, do you think GSP would volunteer to be the first in line to face them? In fact, it’s ironic how Georges would talk about a purely theoretical match with prime-Tyson or a potential bid for Canada’s Olympic wrestling team while he consistently dodges discussion of an Anderson Silva fight.
Even at 170 pounds in MMA, the event that could seal Georges’ legacy forever and ramp up his marketability to the next level is having a fight that resembles a war like Hagler-Hearns. It’s an unlikely to occur with his boxing trainer making comparisons to another legendary fighter.
“Guys like Georges are going to have long careers because what he’s doing is a bit like Bernard Hopkins, says Howard.
While it’s true that Bernard Hopkins made over 20 title defenses and has continued to earn quality wins well into his 40’s, Hopkins has also been reviled for fighting with a boring style. It’s a tradeoff that Howard Grant teaches all his fighters to make.
“I think Georges has defined the art of his work. He’s giving and not receiving. You look at his last four fights, he comes out of the fight unscathed: no marks, no nothing, no bruises, no injuries.
It can be fun to speculate the outcome of a fantasy match-up like GSP vs Tyson, but there’s a danger in ignoring the matches that are realistically possible. For all the hype of Mike Tyson signing a promotional agreement with Pride in 2006, the biggest fish in a Rickson Gracie-Kazushi Sakuraba match slipped away from their mutual primes around 2000.
‘How would Georges St. Pierre do against Mike Tyson?’ isn’t really relevant compared to the question of how GSP could do against Anderson Silva—but unless something changes soon, we might never know the answer to either question.
Brian J. D’Souza is a Toronto-based writer whose work on Mixed Martial Arts has appeared on ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, Heavy.com and in FIGHT! magazine.