Mike Tyson Enters Hall of Fame: Time to Put His Legend in Perspective
By Richard Everett/Bleacher Report
Fighters often flirt with the spotlight and then disappear inconspicuously into the shadows. Others leave such an indelible imprint that they forever ingrain themselves in boxing vernacular.
Ali, Foreman, Marciano, Louis, Robinson, Leonard.
Names that become the measuring sticks for successive generations.
On Sunday, Mike Tyson will become the last man on that list to be inducted and immortalised in the Boxing Hall of Fame.
In spite of all of Tyson’s transgressions he was, for five years, inimitable. Like the aforementioned others he was beyond replication.
A phenomenon that defied science and conventional logic. Heavyweight Champion at the age of 20. Destructively dominant despite his 5 ‘11 frame.
Innate speed, power and athleticism collaborated with Cus D’amato instilled technique to form one of the most intimidating, destructive and evasive fighters that ever lived.
We paid $50 time and time again to see Tyson vaporise opponents in 120 seconds. Fighter after fighter fell under his spell and eventually toppled under his power and aggression. In Tyson’s era, curiously unlike today, customer satisfaction was not predicated upon value for money but bang for our buck.
For five years Tyson vanquished every pretender to the throne and established an ‘iron’ grip on his Heavyweight boxing kingdom. Yet, often, when assessing Mike Tyson’s legacy we approach it with supposition.
What if Cus D’amato had survived five more years?
What if Mike hadn’t sacrificed three years of his prime in an Indiana correctional facility?
Both have credence, and legitimately incite curiosity, but what if Tyson was jettisoned on a fateful trajectory that would inevitably span the heights of gratified success but also the depths of utter despair?
A troubled childhood spent in crime-ridden neighborhoods of Brooklyn, New York. The experience of losing a single parent at the age of ten. Time in youth detention centres.
Events that undoubtedly mold a person’s character and outlook on life. Tyson was frustrated, angry, unfulfilled. All traits that propelled him into the centre of the ring at the first bell, hunched under a plume of angst and unmatched aggression.
One mission consumed Mike.
To become the youngest undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. Accomplishment of such left him without direction or guidance. The tangible aspiration that drove his desire vanished the night he obliterated Michael Spinks.
A haze had descended upon Tyson’s vision and from the fog emerged a galvanised Buster Douglas.
Cus D’amato had crafted a technically proficient fighter purely with the sole objective to be the World Heavyweight Champion. It was to be a prize that half blessed, and half ruined Tyson’s life.
‘The youngest man to ever win the Heavyweight Championship, and also the youngest man to ever lose the Heavyweight Championship.’ Bert Sugar
The ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ was a comic book hero—or villain, dependant upon your own perspective—plucked from Tyson’s destructive intimidating style by the media, in an attempt to garner maximum mainstream attention.
Tyson bought into media/fan perpetuated hype, but unlike Superman’s seamless transition from fighting super-hero to Clark Kent, ‘The Baddest man on the planet’ never grasped what it was to just be ‘Mike’.
Monster. Man. Mike.
Thankfully Tyson post-boxing career has delivered to us, but more importantly to him, a character he is comfortable with. Even if he needed to cycle through a number of reinventions that included, a drum banging lunatic and pigeon-cherishing dope, to get there.
My own personal memories of Mike were in the second stanza of his boxing career. Early-bed times unfortunately precluded me from enjoying Tyson in the 1980’s.
I remember the 4am starts — as is the eight-hour time difference between Las Vegas and the UK — the palpable excitement that was always incompatible with pre-fight sleep.
Again and again, my Father and I returned despite disappointment, in the vain hope ‘The Baddest Man on the planet’ would light up our screens again. He did, on occasion, but it was fleeting and against much inferior opposition.
Then Tyson had his Ali moment, only it was repeated three times over.
Lewis, Williams, McBride.
My boxing hero carted out in the back of a dumpster. It would have, perhaps, been sacrilege to see Tyson in white shining armour riding off into the sunset but he deserved more dignity in final defeat.
Tyson combined the darkest side of our cultural/sporting palate. Our sport became the sweet and sour science. We craved the brutal and destructive dominance inside the ring yet we could not comprehend or contemplate the depraved activity outside of it.
Our own desire fed the pugnacious bluster inside of the ring, we eulogised man’s worst traits, providing they were confined to the ring. Legitimately we condemned the more deplorable of Tyson’s extra-curricular activities but we never took time to understand our own relevance in his indiscretions.
Mike Tyson was, and perhaps is, a flawed man outside of the ring, but inside, for that short, magnificent period in the 1980’s, he was flawless.
That brutal punch, the speed, the belligerent aggression, the youthful exuberance and that element of unpredictability.
Mike Tyson was a fighter carved for our wildest dreams and it is our duty to savour him for being just that.
No robe, no socks, no mercy: What made Mike Tyson boxing's most feared beast
"For three years, through 1987, 1988 and 1989, Mike Tyson was the greatest heavyweight who ever lived. He was completely unbeatable and everybody was completely terrified of him. For three years, no other heavyweight before or since could compare to Mike Tyson." --LEGENDARY MATCHMAKER JOHNNY BOS, WHO APPROVED MANY OF TYSON'S EARLY OPPONENTS.
(For historic reference, in those years, Tyson plowed through Bonecrusher Smith, Pinklon Thomas, Tony TNT Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs, Michael Spinks, Frank Bruno and Carl "The Truth" Williams.)
On the special occasion of his induction—speech, speech—into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame Sunday afternoon in Canastota, NY, my thoughts on the seven factors that made Michael Gerard Tyson into the boxing behemoth that was Iron Mike Tyson.
1. Being Furious and Fearless: Mike Tyson, until that Sunday afternoon downfall in the Korakuen Big Egg Stadium in Tokyo against a fearless, nothing to lose guy named James “Buster” Douglas, looked invincible because he believed he was that. His furious, almost Biblical anger was underlined when he said, after destroying Jesse Ferguson on the ABC network, that he wanted to inflict brain damage on that opponent, on all opponents. Speaking of fast, Tyson's hands were incredibly quick for a heavyweight under six feet tall and with a mere 71 inch reach. His hand speed was unlike Ali's, which was blinding, but Tyson's punches landed like a box of hammers and he had pinpoint accuracy with same.
2. Robotically sticking to the Cus D’Amato System: D’Amato was one of the biggest oddballs, some would say weirdos in ring history. He always spewed fire and brimstone against Mafia interests in boxing yet many say he was beholden to one major crime family. But his boxing system—the no headgear in the gym because it gives false security, the numbered punches system (e.g., having “six” mean a left hook), the turning a fighter’s fear into fire, all that…well, let’s say that it was just as much a cult as Scientology is. It worked wonders for Tyson just like it worked wonders previously for heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson and light heavyweight ruler Jose Torres but the slavish devotion to and daily demands of same may have robbed them and all of D’Amato’s protégés of personality development away from the gym. I’ll let the shrinks sort that one out. It’s no secret that for a long time the hermit D’Amato slept in his Gramercy Gym on 14thStreet with German shepherds and a gun by his side. He might have had reason for same but Mr. D’Amato put the “p” in paranoia. Don’t think that did not rub off on some of his pupils.
3. Having the fortune of beating up on a plethora of crackhead and booze addled heavyweights when he was stone sober: Tyson came of age as a fighter at a time when the heavyweight division was dominated by a crew of talented “addicts.” Some loved the nose candy, some loved to drink to excess and some love the crack pipe like a beautiful wife….some were double and triple threats in this regard. Examples include Trevor Berbick (who wound up being decapitated with an axe by a relative in Jamaica); Tony “TNT” Tubbs, who last year got jail time in Cincinnati for crack possession, some time past his 50thbirthday; Tyrell Biggs, who won an Olympic gold medal when he was high as a kite and stayed that way for years and the confused Pinklon “Think Pink” Thomas, who won the title, went crazy and lost it quickly.
4. By extremely careful selection of buildup foes: Jimmy Jacobs was the boxing man and co-manager Bill Cayton (pompous character who often said, “I’m sure you know that what I am thinking is correct”) was the money man. Jacobs was diligent enough to hire Johnny Bos and others to go to the heavyweight cemeteries to dig up the soft touches such as William Hosea, Robert Colay and Lorenzo Boyd. In this middle stage of selling Tyson as the Monster of the Midway, James “Quick” Tillis stands out as a relatively formidable foe mainly because these other victims were tomato cans without the Hunt’s label.
5. Beating most opponents mentally by their own trepidation: I did publicity for Bruce Seldon before he fought Tyson. The ex-convict from Atlantic City, who spent more time in discos than in gyms but had a jailhouse weighlifting physique which belied it, swore he would not give in mentally to the fearsome Tyson auru when we were ensconced at Foxwoods in the Connecticut woods. By the time we got to Vegas for the fight, Seldon’s knees began knocking. In order to hopefully boost his confidence I got Evel Knievel, who showed up at an MGM Grand workout with Muhammad Ali sidekick Gene Kilroy, to pick him to whip Iron Mike. That bit only cost Don King six ringside tickets. Seldon barely made it to the ring without collapsing. When Tyson began punching, he wilted like a faded flower. Big talk, no action.
6. No socks, no robe, no mercy: Boxing had no real superstar and Tyson filled the void. I coined a phrase about his modest ring kit. Tyson came into the ring naked except for his jock, his cup and his shoes. It was animal aggression displayed brilliantly and the media and then the public bought it. I wrote the first national magazine piece on Tyson, just after an early pro bout in which he crippled a guy named Ricardo Spain in Atlantic City. I begged the bosses at Sport to put it on the cover. Instead they ran it inside with this prophetic headline, “Ladies And Gentlemen, The Next Great Heavyweight.” Landing a Hollywood hottie named Robin Givens may have been a factor also in Tyson getting less mean if you know what I mean. Too bad Firecracker Tyson became more of a briefly fiery Roman candle but he did burn, baby, burn.
7. Silk underwear factor: When the creature comforts piled up, Tyson was entirely human, he started living and thinking softer than he used to. He started to forget about being from Brooklyn’s soresport, Brownsville, “never ran and never will.” Under Jacobs and Cayton, they sent hookers to his suite. When he was with Don King, the women came on their own and they were not of the pay per view variety. Jack Dempsey used to say a world champion living large and earing silk drawers would not go run through the cold and snow, something like that, and he was right. Most fighters—Ali being a notable exception and Tyson and Manny Pacquiao not being exceptions—fight their way out of poverty. When they get financially comfortable or just really rich, they lose their fighting edge. That’s human nature and the Tyson who got KO’d by Douglas in Japan was that comfortable creature.
The ultimate question is always where to rank Tyson.
My answer will never change. In my lifetime, he was the third greatest world heavyweight champion ranking behind Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes.
He did not last, did not dominate as long as either of them did.
Knowing Michael Gerard Tyson from Amboy Street and Albany Street in “The Ville” like I do, I don’t think he would object to to that ranking.
He was a magical force but he couldn’t sustain it. Still, 50-6, 44 Big Knockouts resume sparkles overall. Ignore the tail end of it, the I don't really care Tyson period, when it was strictly for the money.
Welcome to the Hall, Mr. Tyson. You more than belong.
(Somewhere, on Sunday, Custer D'Amato is smiling brightly.)