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How Good Was/Is Mike Tyson?30 January 2000
Now that Mike Tyson's career is almost over, it might be of interest to take a cold hard look at just how good he was at his best to get some idea of where he stands in the rankings of the great heavyweight champions.
It is not a stretch to say that much of the fearsome Tyson persona of a decade or more ago was media hype and was little related to what he actually accomplished in the ring or against whom he accomplished it.
We can make a case that Tyson fought "never-wases" and "nothing-lefters" in his early career culminating with his knockout over an intimidated former light-heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, whose only real claim to fame was "winning" two controversial decisions against an aging and distracted Larry Holmes.
Other than the light-hitting, terrified Spinks and the out-of-shape, intimidated, comebacking, former great Larry Holmes, who did Tyson actually fight in his pre-prison days who was truly any good in absolute terms? If we measure competition based on who Ali faced, then who of all Tyson's pre-prison opponents was as good as Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Ernie Shavers, Joe Bugner, Mac Foster, Floyd Patterson, Zora Foley, Cleveland Williams, Jimmy Ellis, Bob Foster or Ernie Terrell, not to mention the awesome likes of all-time greats Sonny Liston, George Foreman or Smokin' Joe Frazier? Would you classify Bonecrusher Smith, Tony Tucker, Trevor Berbick or Frank Bruno with any those other fighters? Only if you never saw them fight!
The only real fight the pre-prison Tyson ever had was against the only decent heavyweight fighter he fought, a determined, well-conditioned Buster Douglas -- and Tyson was roundly beaten, battered and knocked out! That was Tyson in his prime, against a fighter who went on to "extinguish" himself by being knocked out in three rounds by Evander Holyfield.
If the pre-prison Tyson's boxing worth must be looked at with some skepticism, then the post-prison Tyson must be looked upon with scorn. Often in boxing, the true greatness of a fighter is not actually known when he is in his prime as he defeats opponent after opponent rather convincingly. It is only after he ages, slows down, and gets himself into wars are we aware of just how good the fighter is -- and was!
Certainly that was true of Ali. Before he made his comeback from an almost four-year forced layoff, there were all sorts of questions about his ability. Could he take a punch? Had he been beating up washed-up fighters? Did he have courage? Would he dog it if he were ever in a real fight? The layoff slowed Ali down, made him more vulnerable. What's more, great fighters appeared in that time, fighters better than any he had previously fought!
So a somewhat diminished Ali met each and every challenger -- starting with a comeback fight against highly ranked Jerry Quarry and then a second fight against vicious number-one contender Oscar Bonavena. His first career loss to Joe Frazier in his third comeback fight proved he could take a punch and that he had mountains of courage. That fight was the first of several "wars" Ali would fight in this second part of his career.
His next loss was to Ken Norton. Fighting 11 rounds with a broken jaw, Ali merely proved again that he was as courageous as any fighter who ever lived. His great victories against these very same fighters and his upset win over the god-like Foreman, showed what a great fighter he was -- and how much greater he had been before his layoff!
Not so with Tyson. His "layoff" was heralded with a return to the ring against a rank amateur, Peter McNeeley, whom Tyson "destroyed" with a wild flurry in round one. This same McNeeley was later knocked out by the bloated Butterbean in one round and has since lost just about every real fight he's had! And what of Buster Mathis, Jr., Bruce "I was knocked out by a gust of air" Seldon, Francois Botha, or Julian Francis? Are they credible opponents? Only if elephants can fly.
The only real fight the post-prison Tyson had of any significance was against Evander Holyfield, who was selected because he appeared to be a shot fighter, having lost two out of three to the disappointing Riddick Bowe. Had Tyson known that Holyfield was not a shot fighter, but actually the only great heavyweight of the 1990s, I'm sure he would have selected a different fighter to beat, perhaps a third go-round with the overrated Razor Ruddock who proved himself a worthy Tyson contender by being knocked out in one round by the otherwise cautious Lennox Lewis.
So here we have a very simple yardstick for measuring the greatness of Mike Tyson. He fought two hard fights, one pre-prison and one post-prison -- both of which he lost (subsequently, he ate his way to a third loss and fouled himself into a no-decision). The rest of his victories, pre-prison and post-prison, were over fighters who couldn't make the "C" list during Ali's tenure. So where does that put him on the list of all-time greats?
It doesn't. He doesn't belong. He's not even in the top 20!
If you think of the very few good heavyweight fighters who have plied their trade in the late 1980s and 1990s, it is a short list: Evander Holyfield, George Foreman (oh, yes, the Big George who fought Holyfield would have rocked Iron Mike just as he did Smokin' Joe), Riddick Bowe, and maybe Lennox Lewis and Michael Moorer. Tyson only fought one of them, and lost. The others he avoided.
I do not, as some writers do, lament the fact that Mike Tyson never lived up to his potential. In fact, I believe he did live up to it, fully, completely. His potential just wasn't all that great and that's what he became -- not all that great.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
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