It’s official: ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, the man who represented heavyweight boxing in the 80’s and 90’s, was officially inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on December 7, 2010. The class of 2011 features some of the most esteemed names in boxing, such as Julio Cesar Chavez, Kostya Tszyu, trainer Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Beristain and Rocky Balboa himself, Sylvester Stallone. From rape convictions to chewed bodyparts, Mike Tyson is undoubtedly one of the most famous names in boxing. But for all his fame and misfortune, questions linger as to his lasting legacy in the sport. Was ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ a true legend or a product of media hype? How does he fare against past legends, like Ali or Marciano? The following analysis of the Tyson myth is based on three criteria:
Style: How would he have fared against other heavyweight legends?
Title Reign and Quality of Opposition: Long? Short? Did he fight other legends?
Impact: Both in and out of boxing.
At a mere 5’10”, Tyson was relatively short for a heavyweight. However, his peek-a-boo, bobbing and weaving style suited his stocky frame perfectly. A product of the late Cus D’Amato, the prime Tyson was equally adept at defence and offence, which is often forgotten due to his tremendous punching power. Tyson utilised his height disadvantage to the fullest, slipping and weaving under an opponent’s jab to land crushing hooks and uppercuts on the inside. His two-handed punching power ranks high in the history books, along the likes of George Foreman and Sonny Liston. This style was tailor-made for taller opponents, and would have given the likes of Muhammad Ali fits. Ali struggled with Joe Frazier’s weaving and constant pressure, and Tyson is faster, stronger and hit harder with both hands than Frazier did. With his underrated boxing IQ, Tyson could also have beaten the glass-jawed Joe Louis if he caught him flush. The one drawback of Tyson’s style was its commitment to the short-term; Tyson threw every punch with killer intentions and often forgot to pace himself, tiring as a fight wore on. Once his reflexes slowed, Tyson’s chin was also shown to be above average at best. Mentally, Tyson’s condition depended on his erratic state of mind. These flaws would prove disastrous against the tough and durable champs of the past, such as Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey and Joe Frazier. 8/10
Title Reign and Quality of Opposition
Tyson first won the WBC title in 1986, knocking out Trevor Berbick in the second round. He then unified the heavyweight championship in 1988 with a 91 second knockout of Michael Spinks. His four year reign ended at the hands of James ‘Buster’ Douglas in 1990. All in all, a relatively brief title reign by historical standards. Between Berbick and Douglas, Tyson managed a total of nine defences, a fairly regular schedule in the modern era. Through no fault of his own, Tyson’s resume feature’s a who’s who of 80’s and 90’s also-rans. Names such as Tony Tubbs, Pinklon Thomas and Peter McNeeley won’t be confused with the likes of Frazier, Foreman and Norton anytime soon. For all his spectacular knockouts, a majority of Tyson’s wins were against some fairly weak competition. His two biggest wins were against men with huge asterisks to their name; as good as he was, Spinks was but a blown-up light heavyweight, and Larry Holmes was past his prime by the time they fought in 1988. Fittingly, Tyson’s three biggest defeats arguably came from his stiffest competition; Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. 5/10
A product of clever marketing, shrewd promoting and excessive 80’s hype, Tyson was the face of boxing in the late 80’s and most of the 90’s. The story in the 80’s easily wrote itself; Tyson was a street kid from the Bronx who was soft-spoken, charismatic, friendly to the media and produced knockouts that were only ever seen in arcade games. He was a ne’er-do-well who had done right under the guidance of the eccentric D’Amato. He steamrolled through the heavyweight division in the late 80’s, knocking out contenders and pretenders alike. Then in the 90’s, the story unravelled further: an assortment of street fights, a disastrous marriage, his first loss and a rape conviction changed his status from boxing prodigy to unstable felon. His new status was further cemented after his release from prison, thanks to incidents of verbal abuse, more convictions and the infamous ear biting incident in the Holyfield rematch. Despite the unravelling of both his professional and personal life, Tyson was still one of the most feared fighters of his time. Whether good or bad, Tyson’s celebrity status, collection of knockouts and impact on the sport as a whole can’t be understated. 10/10
Even though his title reign was brief and his quality of opposition was underwhelming, the media-donned ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame. He fought the best that his era had to offer, and lost only six times in fifty-eight outings in the ring. Though some parts of the Tyson myth were created outside the sport, ‘Iron’ Mike was undoubtedly an animal in the ring, at times beating his opponents into mental submission before the fight even began. His punching power, underrated defence, killer instinct and boxing intellect would have proven a handful for any legend, past or present. If nothing else, Mike Tyson represents one of the biggest “what if’s” of boxing; what if he hadn’t strayed from the teachings of D’Amato, steering clear from the temptations of celebrity? In my humble opinion, Tyson had the natural ability to be the greatest heavyweight in history, greater than the Ali’s and Louis’ of decades gone by. What could have been?
This was written by a writer of my site, Jason Tulio.
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