As Mike Tyson was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame on Thursday, it is time to look back on a wildly entertaining career. As complex as Mike Tyson is, it is also time to differentiate between Mike Tyson the Man, Tyson the Myth and Tyson the Legend.
There seems to be a common perception that Mike Tyson was nothing but a stupid man with dynamite in his gloves. The latter was partially true (more on that later) but the former could not be more false.
To know Mike Tyson is to start from the beginning with his birth in Brooklyn, N.Y. Tyson's father abandoned the family when Tyson was two years old. His mother, Lorna, moved to Brownsville, an area of Brooklyn with a very high crime rate.
Small, quiet, gap-toothed and speaking with a lisp, Tyson was picked on immediately, and he developed his own brand of street fighting. By the age of 13, Tyson had been arrested over 30 times.
Shortly thereafter, he was introduced to Cus D'Amato by his first trainer, Bob Stewart, whom Tyson met in juvenile prison. He found a father figure in D'Amato, who taught him the Sweet Science.
More than that, when Tyson was paroled at the age of 14, D'Amato took him under his wing in full-time custody.
He told Tyson if he stuck with him, he could be heavyweight champion some day. Some day would be soon, as Tyson was soon the youngest Heavyweight Champion of all time, at the tender age of 20.
I have always known Mike Tyson was not a stupid man. No one who perfected the sweet science to that degree could be stupid. But I did not begin to think of him as intelligent, until two occurrences.
The first was a segment from ESPN's 30 for 30, One Night in Vegas, featuring Dr. Maya Angelou. Angelou went to visit Tyson in prison, not knowing what to expect, and was greeted by this: "Ms. Angelou, how would you explain the Afro-centricity of James Baldwin and Richard Wright along with the Euro-centricity of Tolstoy?" Needless to say, she was speechless.
The second was when I started to follow Tyson on twitter. He doesn't post very often, certainly not like Chad Ochocinco. But when he does, unless it is something about his iPhone game (very entertaining by the way) or The Hangover, it is usually something like this: "I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. - Alexander the Great."
Or this: "Always remember, new friends are potential enemies. Stick with what you have." One part philosopher, one part introspective thinker of his own life, trying to educate young people following him. Are those the words of a stupid man? Absolutely not.
For those who watch Mike Tyson and do not understand boxing, he is the personification of violence and brute force.
On the contrary, Mike Tyson was simply a machine. A machine that was so practiced in the sweet science, and yes it is a science, it is hard to pick up on how extraordinary the man was.
Mike Tyson was a small heavyweight. Often thought of as six feet even, he was not an inch taller than 5'10." Angelou even stated upon meeting him, "I expected this huge person, and out came this man who was shorter than I." She must be a tall woman for him to even grace 5'10."
My point? There is not a chance you dominate a heavyweight division, especially one that was well on it's way towards the 'super heavyweight' era without being a master in your craft. No matter your power, you have to be able to reach the bigger man first.
No one could lay a glove on him. He had mastered D'Amato's bob and weave, combining his defense with his punches that packed such power, that there was simply no match for him, and it showed.
He would make you miss, crush you in the body, then finish you with a dynamic hook-uppercut combination that came so fast, it seemed as though it was one punch. When D'Amato died in 1985, the machine was broken.
By the Buster Douglas fight in 1990, the bob and weave craft had abandoned Tyson, and he was susceptible to taller heavyweights' punches. He abandoned the crushing body shots, searching for the one knockout punch to the head. He was never the same.
Mike Tyson will go down as the most powerful puncher of all time, and with all due respect to George Foreman, rightfully so. However, there will always be a what-if?
Instead of wondering what-if, let us marvel at the dominance of a man 5'10" (at the most) who dominated men five, six, seven inches taller than him for an entire era.
Unfortunately, there is no speaking of Tyson without the Evander Holyfield incident. The perception is Holyfield is the warrior, the hero, while Tyson the villain, the dirty fighter. Once again, there is more to the story.
Watch Tyson vs. Holyfield 1 again some time. Holyfield head butts, elbows, and low blows Tyson throughout the fight, culminating in a nasty cut across Tyson's eye.
In spite of this cut clearly being caused without a punch, not a single cheap shot was seen by the ref. Holyfield wins in a monumental upset.
Flash forward to Tyson vs. Holyfield II and it is more of the same. More butts by Holyfield and another cut opens up on Tyson in the second round. Tyson is pleading for some help to referee Mills Lane for some assistance, but the butt is deemed accidental.
Round three, Tyson's best against Holyfield, a round that had to make even Holyfield think "Oh crap, I just woke up a sleeping giant." But Tyson bites him. Not once, but twice. Fight over. And essentially, Tyson's career is over. Head butts can kill a man. That doesn't excuse the bite, but it helps explain it.
As Mike Tyson rightfully takes his place in the Hall of Fame, let us not remember what could have been, or the negatives, of his career.
Let us remember the man that was. A great boxer, a true master of the sweet science. And the last truly Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World.
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