Mike Tyson, Legend or Myth?

By Mark Elezaj

When you talk about boxing, or mention the great fighters of the sport, or even start that world famous “Greatest Of All Time” debate, one name that will forever be mentioned is “Iron” Mike Tyson, and rightfully so. You have to understand that in the world of boxing, especially during the mid 8o’s and early 90’s, “Iron” Mike Tyson was a GOD! He was an unstoppable force with so much power and fury that the mere mention of his name struck fear into the hearts of his opponents.

Tyson lived in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn until the age of 10 and then he and his family moved to Brownsville. His first fight was with a kid who had pulled the head off one of Tyson’s pigeons (Mike loved his pigeons). Tyson was constantly getting into trouble, committing petty crimes and fighting those who made fun of him. By the time he was 13, he had been arrested 38 times. He was discovered while attending the Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown, New York by Bobby Stewart, a juvenile detention center counselor who happened to also be a former boxer. Stewart began to train him for a few months before introducing him to legendary manager and trainer Cus D’Amato. At the age of 16, Tyson’s mother died leaving Tyson in the care of D’Amato, who would then become his legal guardian. He was a father figure to Mike, teaching him in all aspects of life. D’Amato trained him over the next few years and taught Mike the peek-a-boo boxing style, a fighting style with the hands in front of the face used for more protection. D’Amato was briefly assisted by Teddy Atlas and Kevin Rooney. Atlas was later dismissed by D’Amato and Rooney took over all training duties for Mike Tyson.

He won his first 19 fights by knockout, 12 of those fights were stopped in the first round. He went on to win the WBC title in 1986 by stopping Trevor Berbick in the second round of their fight. Mike then became the WBA and IBF champion after beating James Smith and Tony Tucker in 1987. “Iron” Mike Tyson was the first heavyweight boxer to simultaneously hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles. Tyson was also the only heavyweight to successively unify them. He holds the record as the youngest boxer to win a heavyweight title, doing so at the age of 20.

Mike Tyson became the lineal champion in 1988 after he knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds of the first round of their fight. Tysons popularity continued to rise and his fights were the thing of legends. People paid their hard earned money to watch this man demolish his opponents in record time. He was The Man! He went on to defended his titles nine times after the Spinks fight, walking through everyone in his way. That list included victories over Larry Holmes and Frank Bruno.

Now let’s talk about it.

Tyson was an amazing fighter, there’s no doubt about that. He walked through the competition with ease and looked unbeatable. He was a bulldozer, but ask yourself was he truly that good or was his promoter that good? Did Mike beat who he had to beat? Absolutely. But let me ask you, who did he beat? Many of the guys he faced were either “B” or “C” class fighters at best and their lack of skill made Tyson look like a monster. They were in there facing him for the check and Tyson’s promoter knew easy fights led to easier wins and this would make Mike Tyson a house hold name!

ENTER JAMES “BUSTER” DOUGLAS!

On February 11, 1990 in the Tokyo Dome, Undefeated Champion Mike Tyson would step into the ring to face James “Buster” Douglas, who was a 42-1 underdog. This was going to be another easy day at the office for Tyson. But something was different. From the start of the fight you saw one thing from Douglas that you didn’t see in any of Tyson’s previous opponents, you saw that Douglas was not afraid to be in there. He worked off of his jab, keeping Tyson away from him. You watched Douglas out land Mike when they exchanged punches. You saw Tyson get tied up whenever he was able to move into his range. You watched Douglas move away or counter punch him and suddenly you saw Tyson throwing one punch at a time hoping to land something big.

In the middle rounds Tyson managed to land a few uppercuts, but Douglas was dominating the fight. Tyson’s left eye began to swell and his cornermen had not brought an endswell or any ice packs, instead they filled a rubber glove with ice water and held it on Tyson’s eye. His corner continued to give him the advice, move your head, jab your way inside and deliver a right hand. Tyson would come out after each bell and he tried to get to Douglas but he was being outboxed rather easily. Douglas continued to work off of his jab and continued landing the harder punches throughout the rounds. In the eighth round, another round Douglas dominated HBO’s Larry Merchant stated “Douglas is asking of Tyson, some questions he hasn’t been asked before…”

Tyson continued to try and land something big and with ten seconds left in the eight round he landed a huge right uppercut, dropping Douglas in the last 10 seconds of the 8th round. Douglas however did get up after a 9 count (which to this day I say was one of the slowest counts I’ve ever witnessed in boxing- but who am I?) and beat the count, looked towards and walked back to his corner. Tyson looked as if he was a beaten man. His eye was swollen and his opponent was able to get up from one of his shots as if it was nothing.

In 9th round Tyson came out aggressively looking to put an end the fight but Douglas was able to fight off Tyson. Both men traded punches and then Douglas landed a four punch combination that hurt Tyson, pushing him back to the ropes. With Tyson up against the ropes, Douglas threw punches in bunches trying to knock Tyson out. Tyson tried to fight him off but Douglas continued to land hard punches on Tyson as the round came to an end. Tyson withstood the punishment and survived the 9th round.

In the 10th round, Tyson pushed forward but he was still hurt from the previous round. Douglas continued to land jabs and avoid Mike, sticking and moving until finally setting him up for a devastating uppercut, snapping Tyson’s head back. As Tyson began to reel back and Douglas immediately followed him, landing four punches to his head, knocking Tyson down for the first time in his career. Tyson fumbled around the canvas searching for his mouthpiece attempting to get back to his feet, but referee Octavio Meyran counted him out.

Mike Tyson, a GOD amongst men, was just knocked out by a man who was not afraid to trade with him and we all witnessed the “greatest upset in the history of sports” on that day.

Tyson was on a path to regain his titles. He beat Donovan Ruddock twice in 1991 and was supposed to face the Undisputed Champion Evander Holyfield, who beat Douglas by KO earlier that year, but pulled out of a fight due to a rib injury.

In 1992 Tyson was convicted of rape and sentenced to six years in prison, but was released on parole after serving three years. After he was released in 1995, he returned to the ring in a series of fights. Tyson easily won his comeback bouts by beating Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr. He went on and eventually won the WBC and WBA titles in 1996 by stopping Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon. (In 1996, Lennox Lewis turned down a fight with Tyson setting up the Tyson Seldon fight).

“Iron” Mike Tyson was back! He was knocking people out again and he was doing it as only he could. He was stopping the guys they put in front of him and he made it look easy. He was causing fear in the division once again. He was the man and he wanted someone to prove him wrong. After his easy defeat of Bruno, Mike Tyson joined the likes of Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Tim Witherspoon, Evander Holyfield, and George Foreman as the only fighters in boxing to have regained a heavyweight championship after having lost it.

Now, I ask you again, was he that good or was it because of his promoter giving him the easy fights against the lesser opponents which would set him up for the bigger fights? Think about it.

ENTER EVANDER “THE REAL DEAL” HOLYFIELD

Both warriors met on November 9, 1996 at the MGM grand in Las Vegas. Tyson came out fast, sending Holyfield reeling with his first punch. Holyfield, who knew that Tyson liked to dip to his left and then throw a left hook, was prepared for Mike. He would throw his jab, keep Tyson on the outside and tie Tyson up when he would get on the inside. Tyson never seriously hurt Holyfield, who continued to make Tyson miss, countering his power shots and defended his attacks effectively.

As the fight continued, Tyson could not adjust, and was being outboxed. In the fifth round, Tyson landed a strong combination and it didn’t even phase Holyfield. In the sixth, a headbutt from Holyfield opened a cut over Tyson’s left eye, and Tyson was also knocked down in the round. Holyfield continued parrying Tyson’s attack, countering and hitting him with punches to the head. During the next few rounds, Tyson continued throwing wildly and missing punches while Holyfield continued to counter and attack, wearing Tyson down. At the end of the tenth round, a punch from Holyfield sent Tyson staggering across the ring. Holyfield chased him into the ropes and landed a series of stong punches. Tyson was out on his feet and defenseless as the bell rang.

His corner worked on him and allowed him out for the eleventh round. Holyfield quickly landed another brutal combination, sending Tyson back into the ropes. The referee had seen enough and he stopped the fight, giving Holyfield the victory by TKO in the eleventh round.

Tyson lost again. He was beat by a man who showed no fear inside the ring. He was beat by a man who’s skill set exceeded his. Tyson was outboxed and had no answers for Holyfield. They both went on to have a rematch on June 28, 1997. The fight was billed as “The Sound And The Fury.” Tyson was unable to land anything of significance in the rematch and became frustrated after being head butted, resulting in him biting Holyfield’s ears while they were tangled up. Tyson was disqualified in the third round.

What happened? That’s the question? Was Holyfield a better fighter? Was Tyson not the fighter we all thought he was? Let’s continue…

ANOTHER COMEBACK??

On July 9, 1997, Mike Tyson’s boxing license was rescinded by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and fined three million dollars while being ordered to pay the legal costs of the hearing. Being that state athletic commissions honor sanctions imposed by other states, Mike Tyson was now unable to box in the United States. The revocation was not permanent and the commission voted 4–1 to restore Tyson’s boxing license on October 18, 1998.

Tyson returned to the ring in 1999 and faced South African Francois Botha. This match also ended in controversy. Botha controlled most of the fight, angering Tyson who then allegedly attempted to break Botha’s arms during a tie up.

In 2000, Tyson had three fights. He faced Julius Francis, Lou Savarese and Andrew Golota. He won all three, by early stoppage and the fans, myself included, were witnessing the rise of “Iron” Mike Tyson all over agin. He was back! He was the most feared man on the planet! Who was going to stop him now?

ENTER LENNOX LEWIS

The fight was billed as “Lewis–Tyson: Is On” and took place on June 8, 2002 at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee. It was for IBF, IBO and WBC heavyweight championship which was held by Lennox Lewis. Tyson and Lewis had sparred at a training camp set up by Cus D’Amato in 1984 so both fighters knew one another prior.

The early moments of the fight had Tyson looking like the Tyson of old. He applied pressure, causing Lewis to jab and hold whenever Tyson got close. Tyson was able to push the action and eventually landed a huge left hook that caused Lewis to stumble as the round was coming to a close. Everyone gave the first round to Tyson, rightfully so. He was the stronger of the two and looked unstoppable.

But that was all Mike was able to do. Lewis figured Tyson out and countered Mike when he was on the attack. He worked off of his jab, landing hard combinations and keeping Tyson away. Lewis used his reach advantage causing Mike to miss shots and as the fight continued on he wore Tyson down with a strong defense and counter attack.

Tyson had no answer for what was going on and in the 8th round Lewis knocked Tyson down to the canvas. Tyson was unable to make it to his feet and was counted out. Lennox Lewis had just beat Tyson in a one sided fight. He made Tyson look as if he did not belong in the same ring with him.

Another world class fighter, another loss. What does this mean? Was Tyson a built up hype job? Absolutely not. But he was not as powerful or unstoppable when he faced opponents who were just as good as him.

Another Comeback??

On February 22, 2003, Tyson stepped into the ring and beat Clifford Etienne in 49 seconds of round one.

He then went on to face British boxer Danny Williams on July 30, 2004. Tyson dominated the opening two rounds easily and then in the the third round Williams began landing some clean shots almost at will. In the fourth round, after a brutal combination, Mike Tyson was knocked out. The look of disbelief was all over his face. He was a beaten man.

On June 11, 2005, Mike Tyson faced Journeyman Kevin McBride and shocked the world by quitting before the start of the seventh round in what was a close fight.

Mike Tyson was never the same after that Douglas fight. He was never the same monster in the ring when he faced someone who was not afraid of him. Also having the wrong people in his corner did not help. The man was a force to be reckoned with, absolutely, but he was not able to fight the demons that were haunting him. He was not able to find a sense of peace in his life.

Today I hear people ask that age old question, “in a Heavyweight mega fight, who would win, a young Mike Tyson in his prime or a young Muhammad Ali in his prime?” and I always answer Ali. Why do I say Ali? It’s simple. A skilled boxer will always beat a bully. Plain and simple. Ali was fast, Ali was powerful and Ali made you pay when you made a mistake. In order for Tyson to win, he would have had to beat him him by the 3rd round. Ali would have wore him down with his defense. He would have outboxed him and countered him all night long, taking Tyson into the “deep end of the pool” and put him away late. (My opinion of course)

I say this with all due respect, Mike Tyson was a great fighter. Mike Tyson was GREAT for the sport of boxing and he was GREAT for the fans. Mike Tyson was a freak of nature and someone who will always be remembered as such. Mike Tyson will always be a legend. We that saw him fight, witnessed greatness. Win, lose or draw, Mike Tyson put asses in seats and sold out venues. Mike Tyson will always be Boxing Royalty. In our lifetime, just know that there will never be another Mike Tyson.

What are your thoughts?

~The Fighting Voice~

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