No, I’m not going to write an article questioning whether if his former trainer, Cus D’Amato, had still been alive, would Tyson have retired undefeated.
Or, if a ‘prime’ Iron Mike could have beaten a prime Muhammad Ali.
This is an article about how Mike Tyson sucked in a generation of casual and non-fans into the sport of boxing and then dropped the floor from beneath them with nothing left to hold on to.
The Heavyweight division has always been referred to as the “Golden Division,” or even the “Money Division”. It’s earned these names because anyone who follows boxing, and especially those who help grease the gears of the Sweet Science, knows that if the heavyweight division is strong, so is the sport. It’s why having a dominant or exciting champion is so important to promoters, managers and even the fighters themselves.
When 18-year old Michael Gerard Tyson first climbed through the ropes as a professional in 1985, he began a whirlwind of excitement accentuated with early round knockouts. It wasn’t just that this young, bundle of fury was knocking out stiffs in less time than it takes Larry Merchant to become disgruntled, it was the way he was putting his opponents to sleep. He had the speed of a welterweight, heavyweight power in both hands, and the aggressiveness of a pit-bull. It wasn’t uncommon to witness a five or six punch combination resulting in horrific results.
In most instances, the last four punches weren’t even necessary as the fighter receiving the brutal end of a six-punch set were unconscious after the first two found their mark.
This is how it would follow for the next three years. During that span, Tyson would face thirty-four opponents knocking-out all but four. The last of that group was the undefeated, Ring Magazine champion, Michael Spinks. Spinks earned that title after defeating the then IBF heavyweight champ, Larry Holmes, with two controversial decision wins.
However, he would relinquish that title after Spinks refused to take part in the unification tournament for all three recognized straps; the WBC, the WBA and the IBF - a tournament that Tyson won handily.
Having never lost the title in the ring, and considering that Holmes was the legitimate lineal champion when Spinks beat him, Ring Magazine, along with fans and boxing experts considered him to be the real heavyweight champion.
Some publications felt Spinks had the experience, reach and size to keep Tyson at bay and eek out a 12-round decision. Some even suggested that he had a legitimate shot at stopping Mike before the final bell rang.
They were all wrong. What unfolded was the complete and utter destruction and domination of one fighter over another. Not just physically, but mentally. Spinks was scared walking into the Lions den and Tyson knew it. Ninety-one seconds and two knockdowns later, Mike Tyson was still the undisputed and undefeated heavyweight champion of the world.
This is what people considered to be the peak of Tyson’s career. After this bout, Tyson would marry Robin Givens, dump long-time trainer Kevin Rooney (his last real link to D’Amato) and begin associating with Don King.
He was never the same. But that is story for another day.
Before all of that transpired Mike Tyson was the perfect boxing machine. To understand how dominant he was perceived to be, if he lost a round, it was considered first page material. Tyson rarely took a step back, had never been knocked down or even seriously challenged. Not only could Tyson stop you with a variety of punches, but his defense was also of legendary proportions. D’Amato instilled his famous ‘Peek-A-Boo’ style for the shorter, stockier Tyson. With both hands mounted to the side of his head, Mike would bob-and-weave through jabs and crosses, until he was on top of you, unleashing his lightning quick and thunderous hands.
Tyson provided his fans with something they rarely see today from the big men of boxing – excitement. He had no interest in building comfortable leads on the judges score cards. No wish in wasting rounds, sizing his opponent up. He came at you with both hands blazing. He was a throw-back fighter, not a businessman like so many contemporary pugilists seem to be these days. In fact, even his ring entrance and wardrobe were of the no-nonsense variety. Wearing solid black trunks and black shoes with no socks, Tyson would enter the ring wearing only a white towel, cut to fit over his head. Quite simply, he had an aura about him. An aura of raw destruction and invincibility.
To put it into perspective, he was to boxing what Tiger Woods means to golf.
He pulled in fans from all walks of life. People who had never watched a professional boxing match were paying top dollar to purchase his hefty pay-per-view bouts. Magazines and newspapers flew off of stands when a story of Tyson was printed.
And so, after Mike faded from the boxing world, he left millions of fans, whom he pulled in, holding their hands. What’s next?
The heavyweight division today is in ruins. Most of the fighters holding a belt are from the former Soviet Union, with names you can barely pronounce while many of the contenders lack characteristics or abilities that can hold fans interests.
The recognized champion today is Wladimir Klitschko; a smart, intelligent, wonderfully talented fighter albeit a hesitant one. Protecting a suspect chin, he routinely eats up rounds, battering his opponents with a strong jab, until he feels comfortable pursuing the knockout. It’s a wise strategy and one that has made him both successful and rich. Even so, while it’s allowed him to keep his opponents at bay, it’s had the same effect on fans.
The sad truth is we’ll never see another Mike Tyson. His combination of speed, power and ruthlessness might never manifest itself again in a boxer. ‘He’ might be out there right now, but chances are he’s using those abilities on a basketball court or flattening quarterbacks on the gridiron.
This is the problem that boxing faces today. Mike Tyson created a standard that is nearly impossible to duplicate; a heavyweight fighter that was actually worth the price of admission.
His days, and those days, are long gone. The only things left are the myth of Tyson and a legion of uninterested fans.
Hopefully there’s a kid in a gym right now, hammering away on a heavy-bag, or forcing sparring partners to reconsider the choices they’ve made in their lives. If he’s out there, he needs to emerge quickly. Boxing is fading from the minds of the casual fan almost as swiftly as Tyson dispatched fighters in the 80’s.