Since he turned pro on March 6th, 1985 and stopped Hector Mercedes 1:47 into the first round, there have been many superlatives written and said regarding Mike Tyson, the fighter and former undisputed heavyweight champion. The things said about Tyson were usually centered around his physical skill-set and impressive ring accomplishments. This weekend Tyson 50-6 (44) will be officially inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. The case for Tyson is open and shut and Mike is a first ballot hall of fame fighter based on what he brought to the ring as a fighter and what he accomplished during his 20 year boxing career.
Over the past 26 years we've been reminded that Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champ in history at age 20, and that he's also the youngest ex-champ in heavyweight history (both records still stand). Tyson also lost and re-won the title and was the first unified and undisputed champ since Leon Spinks won the WBA/WBC heavyweight title from Muhammad Ali back in February of 1978. Tyson is also the first heavyweight boxer to hold the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles simultaneously. Only Joe Louis scored more first round knockouts than Tyson in title fights and Jack Dempsey is the only heavyweight champ to have scored more career first round knockouts than Mike. Tyson also holds the distinction of being the biggest favorite in a heavyweight title bout when he was upset by James “Buster” Douglas as a 42-1 favorite on February 11th 1990 in Tokyo Japan. These are just some of Tyson's notable accomplishments.
In regards to Tyson the fighter, he may have been the best blend of two-handed power, hand speed and combination punching in heavyweight history. During his first reign as champ Mike exhibited terrific head and upper-body movement and was hard to hit. Standing at just 5'10″ (don't believe the tale of tape listing him at 5'11″) Tyson, like former champ “Smokin” Joe Frazier, made his short reach work to his advantage with his pressure and defense as he worked his way in and forced his opponents to fight him on the inside. It also cannot go without being mentioned that Tyson was the fastest starter in heavyweight history and was his most dangerous during the first two rounds of the bout. However, unlike the two most famous swarmers before him, Rocky Marciano and Frazier, Mike's effectiveness eroded as the fight progressed, whereas Marciano and Frazier grew stronger and became more dangerous as the bout progressed. In reality the only negative thing that can be said about Tyson the fighter is the fact that he was a psychological front runner and tended to come undone when he was met with resistance by an opponent who stood up to him and fought back and wasn't intimidated. And that's a pretty big character flaw to have when you're matching him up with some of the greatest of the greats who've held the heavyweight title.
However, there is one thing that separates Tyson from the other big punchers who have come along both before and after his retirement. And that is Mike could always deliver his power and find the target, win or lose, with the exception of one bout during his career. And that's what made him such an exciting fighter and why most boxing fans were more than willing to shell out $50.00 for a fight that in their heart they believed wouldn't last more than a round or two. There's been a lot of heavyweights during the modern-era who had one-punch fight altering power, such as Max Baer, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Earnie Shavers, Lennox Lewis, David Tua and Tyson. The difference is those fighters had more than one fight during their careers in which for one reason or another they were never able to deliver their Sunday punch and force the opponent to have to withstand the best they had to offer.
That only happened to Tyson once. In every other fight of Tyson's 58 bout career including the two no-contests that he fought, only Lennox Lewis made it through an entire bout against him without really ever having to stand up to the best Mike had to offer. And in fairness to Lewis that didn't happen by accident. It was due to him utilizing his height, reach, jab and power to prevent Mike from landing his Sunday best and getting inside. Then again in fairness to Tyson, he was 38 and past his prime and fighting more from memory and desperation.
The one thing that stands out about Mike Tyson among other heavyweights who could really punch is that it didn't matter who he fought, in order for them to beat him they were going to have to answer and stand up to his power without going down or submitting mentally as a result getting caught by it. In five of the six fights he lost, to Buster Douglas, Evander Holyfield twice, Danny Williams and Kevin McBride, they all had to catch some hell and stand up to Mike's best before they went on to beat him. And that's a testament to Tyson's boxing ability and skill-set. Tyson was certainly no 'walk-in take two or three to land one' brawler. He could box and had terrific punch placement for a heavyweight who was blessed with two-handed power. And in addition to that, Tyson knew when to throw what punch and was outstanding at watching his opponent and what they were open for.
I will not go into where Tyson ranks in the all-time pantheon of the greatest heavyweight champs in boxing history. I will say it's moronic for anyone to say he's not worthy of the hall-of-fame, if any of you exist. Lastly, I'm not sure that there are 10 heavyweight greats who I'd definitely bet on to beat Tyson during his prime or on one of his best nights.
Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com