Iron Clad: Mike Tyson’s Place in History Pt II
By Kevin Kincade from Boxing Scene
By the time the showdown with Michael Spinks was signed, Mike's world had undergone some pretty significant changes. He was now married to Robin Givens…..and apparently her mother, Ruth Roper; and Mike's long-time friend and co-manager, Jim Jacobs, had finally succumbed to cancer. Somehow, Mike had to swallow his grief and find his focus for the fight that could determine his place in history as he took on the man many considered to be the real World Heavyweight Champion.
Just like Joe Frazier, who years ago, had beaten Buster Mathis Sr. and Jimmy Ellis for the New York State Athletic Commission, WBA, and WBC recognition as world champion still had to beat the man who beat the man to be the man, Mike, after gathering the WBC, WBA, and IBF belts had to face the man who beat the man; and that man was Michael Spinks. The boxing world held it's breath in anticipation of a clash historically similar to Ali-Frazier I. Both men were undefeated. Both men had legitimate claims to the throne. Who would dare to be great?
Going into the Tyson fight, Michael Spinks had fought a total of four fights at heavyweight. He had beaten the Great Larry Holmes twice by close decisions (the second was extremely controversial), stopped Norwegian Steffen Tangstad in four, and halted giant Gerry Cooney in 5. Surely Spinks, the giant-killer, stood a chance against Tyson….WRONG! 91 Seconds into the opening stanza it was all over. Chasing Michael into the ropes, Tyson unloaded a vicious left uppercut to the chin and dropped Spinks for the first time in his career with a thundering right to the short rib.
Upon rising, Michael, true to form, met Mike at ring center to get his respect. What he got was the hardest right hand he'd ever taken as a pro, sending him falling backwards, against his momentum, and crashing his head off the canvas under the ring ropes. Mike Tyson was now, undeniably, undisputedly, The Baddest Man On The Planet!
The Spinks fight was the last time Kevin Rooney would be in the corner with Tyson. Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright would take his place. How much of a difference Rooney's presence or absence made in Tyson's ring performance is one of those debatable questions that guys will discuss over beer and peanuts for quite some time. What was obvious was the difference in the Tyson that fought Spinks and the one that climbed into the ring with Frank Bruno eight months later: the head movement was all but absent, his combinations were fewer and farther between as he looked, primarily, for the one big shot that would end matters….Tyson appeared to have become more slugger than banger/boxer.
Bruno, while no world beater, was no bum, either. Tyson dropped the muscle-bound Brit in round one; but much to Mike's surprise and the surprise of all who saw, Bruno rose and went after Mike…..AND ROCKED HIM!! Unfortunately for Frank, the comeback was not to last as Mike's body punches began to take their toll throughout the early rounds until Tyson finally caught him on the ropes in the 5th and landed a follow up combo that encouraged both Bruno's corner and the referee to step in and call it a night for Frank. Though Mike overcame Bruno's “somewhat primitive skills”, as he called them, we saw Mike take more punches than ever before. The lack of head movement did have consequences after all.
Though Mike's “new” approach to fighting didn't hurt him against Carl “The Truth” Williams months later, it sure as hell didn't help when he faced off against the mobile and motivated James “Buster” Douglas. Most would say that Tyson was ill-prepared for Douglas and cite his knock-down in training to Greg Page as the proof.
Whatever the case, Buster Douglas fought the fight of his life that night and did what no one had ever been able to do to Mike before. His jab was a jackhammer and his right hand a sledge. James “Buster” Douglas never again displayed the heart and skill he did in Tokyo against Tyson when he had nothing to lose; but on that day he didn't win because of any conspiracy or long count…..he won because he was the better man. And in doing so, forced the public to recognize that Mike Tyson was a “MAN” as well….and beatable.
One thing boxing pundits look for with fighters is how they respond to their first defeat. This was the case with Tyson as it was with Holyfield as it was with Lewis. After Evander was beaten from pillar to post by Riddick Bowe in round 10 of their fabled first clash, there was no doubt of Evander's heart. What was in doubt was his ability to overcome physics. Evander responded to the loss by taking a few months off, changing corners from Lou Duva and George Benton to Emanuel Steward, and signing to fight Alex Stewart again. The fight was a bore; but Evander got the win over 12 rounds and was ready to challenge Bowe for the title “Big Daddy” had wrested from his waist.
Showing discipline uncommon to his warrior mentality, Evander Holyfield stuck to his game plan and fought a “Spinks-Holmes I” type of fight against Bowe; but still found the time to slug it out from time to time, even after the bell on occasion. At the end of the day, Evander escaped with an extremely close and somewhat controversial (Holy won by two points on one card, one on the other) Majority Decision over the younger, bigger champion and became only the third man in history to regain the lineal heavyweight championship of the world.
The size of the fight in the dog was surely more important than the size of the dog in the fight in this sequel; people love a comeback.
Unfortunately for Evander, his second reign was not to last. In his very next fight against mandatory challenger, Michael Moorer, Holy looked to grow old overnight. Despite dropping “Double M” in the second, Evander seemed unmotivated, listless, drudging, lethargic, and seemingly unable to mount an offensive. Though he had built his light-heavyweight reputation as a banger, Moorer cautiously boxed Evander for twelve rounds, ramming that southpaw jab of his into Holy's face time and again, earning a Majority Decision and the World Heavyweight Championship. Five months after avenging his loss to Riddick Bowe, Evander was strapless again.
Lennox Lewis, after losing his belt to Oliver McCall, like Holyfield, felt a change in personnel was in order; out with Pepe Correa, in with Emmanuel Steward. With Manny at the helm, the HMS Lewis began to right its course back towards the title by correcting some fundamental flaws in his technique. After two tune ups, Lewis climbed into the ring with the most feared puncher since Tyson, Tommy Morrison. As it turned out, Morrison wasn't much of a test at all. Lennox easily dominated the one-dimensional slugger in route to a 6th Round TKO. Up next on the docket, “Merciless” Ray Mercer.
Ray's history was that he could be out boxed; but was as tough as nails and could hurt you with just about any punch he threw. The crowd that witnessed the war waged at Madison Square Garden on May 10th of 1996 won't soon forget the display of guts and heart Mercer and Lewis put on the table that night. Mercer, without a doubt, tested Lewis's fortitude as no other man ever had, pushing and pounding on the big Britt and taking some pretty stout stuff in return. By the time the final bell rang, all who saw knew the fight was extremely close and could go either way. The judges gave the nod to Lewis by margins of 96-94, 96-95, and one saw it even at 95 a piece. Regardless of whom you thought won, both men did the sport, the Garden, and themselves credit.
The result of the Mercer fight was Lewis getting another crack at the now vacated WBC belt and the man who had taken it from him, Oliver McCall. Revenge is not always sweet and certainly wasn't for Lewis in February of '97. I'd never seen a man suffer a nervous breakdown before that night. It was one of the most pitiful things I've ever witnessed in or out of the ring. I'm not an ultra sensitive man; but I really felt for Oliver McCall that night. In the end, Lewis had his belt again; but nobody that saw that fight remembers that part.
If the second Lewis-McCall fight wasn't a fight to inspire amnesia, then the Lewis-Akinwande hug-fest should qualify. John Ruiz would have been proud; but Mills Lane had had enough by round 5 and disqualified Henry for excessive holding, thus giving Lewis not one, but two unmemorable title fights. Something had to be done.
That something was Andrew Golota, the man who had beaten the hell out of Riddick Bowe twice before getting himself disqualified. In October of 1997, nearly five years after his second round destruction of “Razor” Ruddock, Lewis turned in his most impressive performance to date, clocking the Foul Pole in 95 seconds. The answer to the question of who would have won between Bowe and Lewis seemed a little clearer.
Just as Lewis had taken a couple of tune-ups before facing dangerous opposition in his comeback, so did Tyson, quickly doing away with former amateur nemesis, Henry Tillman, in one. Alex Stewart was next and didn’t last much longer than Tillman. Stewart was ranked # 4 at that time and had given the present champion, Evander Holyfield, fits for nearly 8 rounds. Stewart would also go on to give future champions Michael Moorer and George Foreman much trouble in defeat and last a full 12 with Holyfiled in the rematch. Yet, despite his courageous showings against these other men, he lasted less than a round against the post-Douglas Tyson.
After defeating Tillman and Stewart, Tyson climbed into the ring with the #2-ranked heavyweight in the world, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock. Tyson and Ruddock both came out looking to knock the other one's head clean off, swinging with bad intentions. The first knockdown of Ruddock in the second was a case of the men's feet becoming tangled more than any punch Tyson landed; but the knockdown in the third was completely legitimate. As Mike countered a Ruddock hook-right combo with a hook of his own, the big Jamaican-Canadian sprawled backwards on the seat of his pants from the brute force of the blow. He got up smiling.
In Round 6 it was the “Razor” who slashed out and the “Smash” found pay dirt on Tyson's head. Anyone who doubts Mike's ability to take a punch need only look at this round. Punch after deadly punch landed on Tyson's kisser as the Razor had him reeling; but Mike wouldn't go down. Round 7 saw Ruddock try to take a breather only to be caught with a Tyson combination that sent him falling backwards into the ropes, which was enough for Richard Steele to call a halt to things……a riot ensued following the early stoppage.
Mike was now the undisputed #1 contender again and Evander's mandatory challenger; but Mike decided to settle the controversy of the Ruddock fight. He wanted there to be no questions concerning his dominance over this man. The strategy and the attitude showed and, honestly, in my opinion, Tyson looked better in the first fight style-wise. The rematch was a “you hit me and I'll hit you” affair; there was very little technique from either man.
Mike was looking for the one big punch as was Razor; and Mike seemed determined to show that he could take Ruddock's best shots. Tyson's defense was all but absent as machismo took control. He dominated the foul-filled affair for all 12 rounds, only losing a round here and there. Despite his excellent body work, he did not look like the Tyson of old. The head movement was gone, the peek-a-boo defense forgotten, combinations all but a thing of the past. Still, he was geared up for Evander Holyfield and regaining his title………Until Indiana.
I can think of only two heavyweight champions who had three years off while in their late 20's and came back: Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali. Ali did it successfully while Jack did not; but Dempsey was a little older and a completely different type of fighter from Muhammad…..very similar in style to Iron Mike, actually. Even though Tyson was not the champion when he was incarcerated, he was on the verge of a title fight with Evander Holyfield in which he could have, potentially, won his championship back. There was still an air about Tyson, even after the Douglas loss, that he was THE MAN in the heavyweight division; and Holyfield's losses to Bowe and Moorer didn't help his case for holding that post; especially after Bowe knocked him out in their third match.
When Mike climbed into the ring for the first time in 4 years and 2 months against Peter McNeely, there was, once again, a splintered championship. George Foreman held the Lineal recognition as Champ, Mike's old sparring partner, Oliver McCall, held the WBC belt and was about to make his second defense against Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon had acquired the vacant WBA belt by defeating the contender who won't go away, Tony Tucker, and defended it against Joe Hipp on the same night Mike made his return to the ring…..August 19th, 1995.
After defeating McNeely in 1, Tyson stopped Buster Mathis Jr. in 3 and signed to fight McCall's conqueror and new WBC Champ, Frank Bruno in March of '96. It was as if he'd never been away from the ring as far as the public was concerned. After devastating two sub-par fighters, Mike was on his way to the throne once again. Frank Bruno, who had tried for so long to win a World Title let it go as if he had merely been holding it for the return of the King.
He fought more like a fan in awe of the Tyson mystique than a champion fending off a challenge. Gone was the brave display he'd shown in losing to Tyson seven years before, gone was the spunk he'd displayed against Lewis nearly three years prior, gone was the form and poise he'd used to defeat Oliver McCall for the belt six months previous; and in three rounds, gone was his WBC Title. Mike Tyson was back…..or was he?
Up next for Tyson was the WBC's #1 contender, Lennox Lewis; but Mike, like his Brownsville neighbor, Riddick Bowe, had done a few years before, opted to let his precious belt go, rather than climb into the ring with the hungry contender. THIS IS “IRON” MIKE TYSON?? It’s hard to imagine the old Mike turning down any challenge; but for one reason or another, Tyson-Lewis wasn’t made at that time and Tyson, instead, chose to challenge the WBA titlist, the “Atlantic City Express,” Bruce Seldon. Compared to Seldon's defense of his title, Bruno's was positively heroic. Seldon went down from a glancing blow that skimmed over the top of his head in the opening seconds of round one.
Moments later a follow up flurry sent Seldon to the canvas again. After rising for the second time, Bruce gave the ref the “wobbly leg” routine when asked if he could continue. Any respect Seldon might have built up throughout the course of his career went up in flames with his championship that night. To this observer's eyes, as with Bruno, the "Tyson Mystique" beat Seldon more than Tyson did.
Mike's fifth comeback fight is where Evander Holyfield's legacy really comes into play; this is where the roads of the three begin to collide. Holyfield, after losing his world title to Moorer, had won a spirited decision against Ray Mercer and been kayoed for the first time in his career in the rubber match with Riddick Bowe before stopping Bobby Czyz in five rounds…..well, actually Bobby quit because his eyes were “burning”. On the strength of that recent list of opponents, Mike Tyson signed to defend his WBA belt against “The Real Deal”.
Make no mistake about it, even though Tyson was no longer at his best in November of '96, Evander Holyfield was considered completely S-H-O-T, hence the 25 to 1 odds in Tyson's favor. Mike was 30, which is old for a compact, aggressive puncher; but Evander was 34 going on 40, judging from 3 of his last 4 outings. Who knew? Tyson, in the prefight introductions, appeared to be more enamored with his refound celebrity than impassioned with proving he was the best. The expression on Evander's face denoted concern, or at least it appeared so. Appearances, indeed, can be deceiving.
Mike nailed Holyfield with the first punch he threw and knocked him off balance. Going after him, Mike found himself being spun, tied up, and beaten to the punch. Every time Mike would lead with a shot, Evander would throw three or four and then get the hell out of there while Mike tried to figure out what just happened and where he went. Time after time Holy would smother Mike's punches, spin him, hold on and push him back; essentially use every trick in the book to discombobulate the puncher and get him out of his rhythm. In the second round Evander spun Mike onto the ropes and countered with two wicked left hooks that snapped Mike's head back and brought the Vegas crowd to there feet with a roar.
Round after round passed with Holy completely dominating the tempo and thoroughly frustrating Tyson. Finally, in the 5th, Mike caught Holyfield coming in with a short left hook; HE HURT HIM!! Evander jumped back and tried to establish the distance, only to have Mike wade inside and throw a punch here and there; but nothing like he did against Thomas, Holmes, or Biggs. Where was the killer instinct?! What happened to the greatest finisher the game had ever seen?! The bell sounded. Mike had let him off the hook….who'd a thunk it?
In round 6, Mike started off strong; but two minutes into the round Evander caught him with a low blow the referee didn't see and began to tee off, finally dropping Tyson for the second time in his career with what, ultimately, was a balance shot. As the rounds went in the bank, Mike began to complain about head butts, looking to the ref every so often for help. At one point, Evander actually smirked at Tyson and said something through a sneer after Mike had addressed the head butt issue again in between exchanges. Shortly after, Mike charged in and collided his head with Holyfield's causing Tyson's legs to buckle. Mitch Halpern stopped the action as Mike wanted to be taken to the corner so the doctor could look at a cut…he almost seemed like he was trying to quit. The rest of the bout is history. Evander continued with his game plan until he nailed Tyson at the end of the 10th and had him in dire straits when the bell sounded, only to finish him off seconds into the 11th. Evander was back from the dead with a vengeance.
Two points are significant about this fight: Evander Holyfield's heart should be cloned and implanted into every young fighter at the initiation of his career, for there never has been a greater one in the history of sports; and Tyson's championship drive apparently was still in lock-up. What I mean by that is this…..I have always maintained that, in a close, hard fight, if you see one of the fighters begin to petition the referee for help, he's a beaten man; he's lost his desire to fight, to really compete. The more Holyfield dominated their first encounter, the more this trait became apparent in Mike Tyson.
During his first career, while warring with Razor Ruddock in the rematch, low-blow after low-blow landed by both men and both wanted to continue and virtually ignored the referee and points deductions; they wanted to fight. That was not the case of This Tyson against Evander Holyfield; and it took an even worse turn in the rematch. When the two collided again seven months later, two and a half rounds of being dominated was all Tyson could take before he literally snapped in the ring; placing his mouth on Holyfield's ear ridge, he BIT OFF a chunk of flesh and spit it onto the canvas…..and tried the other ear when the referee gave him another chance. He didn't want another chance….he wanted out of that ring; or he suffered a breakdown of sorts. Whatever was the case, no one who saw it will ever forget it, as it is burned in our memories as some horrible accident you pass on the interstate.
Though he would go on to defeat contenders Francois Botha and Andrew Golota, continue to captivate the public whenever he fought, and receive another title shot against Lennox Lewis six years later, this is where Mike Tyson's place among the division's elite faded into “Bolivian”.
Lennox Lewis, after defeating Andrew Golota, squared off against the man who had beaten, though extremely controversially, George Foreman for the Lineal, or “real” World Heavyweight Championship, Shannon Briggs, and stopped him in five spirited rounds. After Tyson, Evander Holyfield faced down his old nemesis, IBF Champion, Michael Moorer, and looked as good as he ever has, dropping “Double M” five times before Dr. Flip Homanski stepped in between Rounds 8 and 9 and told Michael that enough was enough.
So, the stage was set for Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield to determine who the best in the world was. The first fight was officially determined a draw, though anyone who watched it knows Lewis proved himself the better fighter that night. In the rematch, Lewis got the decision and Holyfield gave the last great effort of his career, causing some to feel he actually deserved the victory.
Lewis would go on to face the best in the division as well as over hyped media creations, while Holyfield would attain another “title”, lose it, and after being embarrassed by Chris Byrd for, yet, another “belt”, beaten up by a former middleweight champ, outboxed by a fringe contender, had his career ended against his will, and, now, is looking at yet another comeback. Lennox's first test after the Holyfield bouts was HBO's dream child Michael Grant, the *ahem* “future of the division”. Lewis exposed Grant as the media creation he was in two extraordinarily brutal rounds, roughing up and ultimately destroying the green contender, who never recovered from the beating. Up next, the man who briefly held the IBF belt, and was beating Mike Tyson before getting caught with a helluva right in the 5th, Francois Botha. Lewis blitzed him in two as well.
Lewis was looking dominant and finally receiving the accolades he had sought his whole career; but there were four young heavyweights out there that wanted what he had. Their names were Ike Ibeabuchi, David Tua, Hasim Rahman, and Chris Byrd. Lewis would never have to face the best of the four, Ibeabuchi, because he ended up self-destructing and ruining his career before he ever got a shot at the title; but David Tua was banging on Lewis' door and had plenty of supporters who wanted to see the match. Tua was being compared to…..you guessed it….a young Mike Tyson, with incredible strength and a devastating left hook. So, eventually, Lewis signed to face him.
Tua, though strong as advertised, proved to be no match for Lewis' boxing skill as Lennox made Tua look like a rank amateur, exposing all of the flaws in his one-dimensional approach to prize-fighting. Lennox Lewis was on top of the world….until South Africa and Hasim Rahman.
Lewis was overconfident going into the first Rahman fight, even taking time out to appear in a cameo with some Hollywood stars in “Ocean's Eleven”. Taking a man lightly, as he did Oliver McCall and now Hasim Rahman is a sure way to end up seeing stars in the ring; but not the kind you want to see. In round five, with one right hand, Lewis was an ex-champion again. However, this time he got the chance to prove the loss was a fluke and in one less round than it took Rahman to shock the world, Lewis shocked the “Rock” with one of the most devastating right hands ever thrown in the ring, making him, at 36, only the fourth man in history to regain the Lineal World Heavyweight Championship.
Lewis would only fight twice more, stopping an old and chunky (36 and 234 Lbs) Mike Tyson in 8 Rounds after dishing out a tremendous beating, and laboring mightily with the giant Vitali Klitschko before "Dr. Iron Fist" succumbed to a severe cut in Round 6. With a record of 42-2-1 (32), Lennox Lewis retired as champion and, by way of rematch, one of the few men who could say he defeated every man he ever faced in the ring.
So, what does all of this mean; how do these three compare? Well, since this article is essentially about Tyson, let's start with him. First and foremost, something needs to be made clear. There were two Mike Tysons. The Tyson of '85-'91 is a completely different fighter from the Tyson of '95-'05, just as the Muhammad Ali of '60-'67 is a completely different fighter from the Ali of '70-'81 and the George Foreman of '69-'77 is separate from the Foreman of '87-'97. The first Tyson thoroughly dominated and cleaned out the heavyweight division whereas the second was a top 5 fighter, at best.
To establish this hypothesis, I point to Tyson's lack of hunger against Holyfield versus the heart he showed in a losing effort to Douglas and in two winning efforts against the big-punching Razor Ruddock. In the Douglas bout, though he was being thoroughly beaten, Mike was still looking for a way to win, hence the uppercut in Round 8 that put Douglas on the seat of his pants. If you'll go back and look at the tape, you'll see Mike landed that same uppercut in Round 9; but this time, Buster fell forward onto Tyson, whose back was against the ropes, which possibly kept Douglas from going to the canvas again. Despite Mike's looking for "intelligent" punching opportunities late in the fight, Douglas just wasn't going to be denied on this particular evening.
People constantly say that Mike falls apart when a fighter isn't afraid of him; but Ruddock wasn't afraid of Tyson. In fact, Ruddock was looking to decapitate Mike with practically every punch he threw....and damn near did in the 6th of their first encounter. Mike, instead of falling apart, charged back into the fray, looking for opportunities to fell his foe; and probably would have in the 7th had Richard Steele not acted so hastily. Mike himself, said that “Razor” punched like a "f-in' mule kick".....why would he sign for a rematch unless he wanted to "prove" he was the better fighter of the two?
Speaking of the rematch, both men were fouling each other badly, yet, neither looked to the referee for assistance. Both were men, true fighters, wanting to beat the man in front of them, come hell or high water. The same can not be said about Tyson after his prison stint. When he re-entered the ring, I submit for thought, he was not as hungry or as dedicated to the sport as he was before he went in; and it wasn’t just the time, it was also the environment. Ask any man who’s been incarcerated; that much time in prison can change a man’s outlook on life one way or another. When it’s all said and done, the man who leaves the penal system isn’t really the same as the man who entered…..isn’t that the idea, after all?
Whether a man is better or worse after serving time is really more dependent upon the man and how he reacts to the experience; but, undoubtedly, time locked up, isolated from the outside world, will change anyone to some degree…..how can it not? As a fighter, Mike Tyson #1 would have destroyed Mike Tyson #2 inside of 6 rounds because Mike Tyson #1 truly wanted to be known as the “Baddest Man on the Planet” whereas Mike Tyson #2 appeared to be more about the money than the fighting. The Tyson who faced Holyfield was NOT the same man who ran through the heavyweight division like a bad case of Montezuma's Revenge ten years before. To suggest such a thing is pure foolishness.
Now, that being said, though all three fought each other, I'm only taking the Tyson-Holyfield and Holyfield-Lewis bouts into consideration since the Tyson that faced Lewis was a mere shell and equivalent to the Louis who faced Charles and Marciano and the Ali who faced Holmes and Berbick. Such a fight so late in a fighter's career should never be taken into consideration for his historical standing. It is true that Lewis is a year older than Mike; but Lennox was far closer to his best days when the two met than was Tyson.
Of the three, who was more dominant? Without a doubt, Lennox Lewis was the dominant fighter of the 1990's having beaten virtually every viable challenger short of Riddick Bowe. He unified the splintered title once again by defeating Oliver McCall for the vacant WBC belt, knocking out Shannon Briggs for Lineal Prestige, and finally decisioning Evander Holyfield for the WBA/IBF versions. Lewis also avenged his title loss to Rahman with a dominant performance and handed the “future” WBC Titlist, Vitali Klitschko a defeat before hanging the gloves up.
Tyson, likewise in the post-Holmes era, accomplished domination of the division by not just unifying the titles; but by beating the men who had previously held the belts to solidify his hold. Tyson beat Berbick for the WBC belt and the man who Trevor took the title from, Pinklon Thomas, by 2nd and 6th round kayos respectively. He blitzed Michael Spinks in one for universal recognition as champ and stopped the man Spinks had defeated, Larry Holmes, in four rounds as well. After being thoroughly dominated in the first round of their fight, WBA Titlist, James Smith, sought survival rather than glory for the remainder of the rounds, thus surrendering any claim he had to the title. The only quasi-dominant mid-80's champion Tyson didn't face was Tim Witherspoon; but if his first round loss to Smith in December of ‘86 is any indication, Spoon wouldn't have faired much better than anyone else.
So, we've established that Lewis was the best of his era and Tyson was the best of his; but where does that leave Holyfield? Somewhere in between, I'm afraid. Holy did avenge his title loss to Bowe; but then turned around and lost his title again in his very next match. Afterwards, in an attempt to take the rubber match with Riddick, Holyfield was thoroughly dominated, with the sole exception of the round in which he dropped “Big Daddy”; and was knocked out for the first time in his career. Even though his thrilling upset over Tyson gave him the WBA's recognition as champion, Mike was no longer the best fighter in the division by that point, Lewis was.....and Holy failed to secure even one win over Lennox. Ultimately, Holy came in second, for Evander, while a great fighter with a great fighting heart, who no doubt would have given any champion who ever lived a fight, failed to ever truly dominate the division and, hence, fails to meet the standard of an all-time great heavyweight champion. Timing, after all, is everything; and Evander’s timing was great for us and for the sport but not so much for him or his place in history.
Subtracting Holyfield from the equation leaves us Lewis and Tyson; who was better? Were either dominant enough to be considered All-Time-Greats? Both dominated their respective eras; but who was more dominant between the two?
As stated Tyson fought four men for the right to rule the heavyweights; but he didn't stop there. He went on to beat the men who they (the champions he beat) defeated for their belts. After destroying the champs and former champs, Mike took on every single challenger, ducking no one. There is the instance of Mike pulling out of the proposed Ruddock match-up due to a stomach ailment in 1989; but Mike would go on to soundly defeat Razor twice two years later, so their missed 1989 showdown is a non-issue. Single-handedly, Mike Tyson cleaned out a division that had been in a mess for ten years and did so in such an impressive manor that even after more than four years away from the ring, his reputation entranced the public into believing he could still do it. That's dominance.
Lewis beat three men who had a claim to the title at the time he fought them: Shannon Briggs, Evander Holyfield, and Hasim Rahman; but Rahman was champ because he defeated Lewis. Still, Lewis defeated every man put in front of him and turned no challenge away……except for mandatory challengers Chris Byrd and John Ruiz, who just happened to go on to become title-holders. Very few think either Byrd or Ruiz could have beaten Lewis; but the fact is they were ranked #1 by the IBF and WBA respectively at the time he allowed himself to be stripped in order to face a green and over-hyped Michael Grant and an over-ripe Mike Tyson for much more money.
However, Michael Grant was indeed thought to be a legitimate threat and the “future of the division” by most; but those who really paid attention knew he wasn’t ready for a title shot simply by observing his fights with Lou Savarese and Andrew Golota….he needed a bit more seasoning. Tyson, was long shot by the time he faced Lewis; but such was his appeal and the public’s belief in him that that match also made financial sense for Lennox. So, in the end, hindsight may be twenty-twenty; but you can’t blame a champion for taking the fights the people want to see while ignoring the oft-biased sanctioning bodies.
Also, Lewis did decimate Andrew Golota at a time when Andrew had only beaten himself, he out boxed Evander Holyfield twice at the height of Evander's popularity for universal recognition as champ, even though Holy was past his best in reality. Lewis exposed Michael Grant as a mere media creation of HBO's and turned away legitimate #1 contender, David Tua, proving he was in a different league, and he dragged himself off the canvas after a brutal one-punch knockout at the age of 36 to return the favor to his younger conqueror in shorter fashion. In the end, Lewis had beaten every man to ever enter the ring with him.
In common opponents, Tyson beat Tony Tucker and Frank Bruno in a more impressive manor than Lewis did and both fighters were older when Lewis fought them. However, Lewis beat Ruddock in more convincing fashion that did Tyson. The same can be said of Lewis's wins over Botha and Golota, though they fought the second coming of “Iron” Mike and not the original version. Still, even the second Tyson victory over Bruno was more convincing than Lewis' sole effort; but, once again, Bruno was an old man by then.
Truth be known Lewis and Tyson are neck in neck in terms of who dominated who's era better; but I think the difference can be found in defeat. I believe it's a fair statement to say that James Douglas, Oliver McCall, and Hasim Rahman are roughly the same class of fighter. All are good enough to be ranked; but all are plagued with inconsistency throughout their careers…..for different reasons. Rahman has all the heart in the world; but lacks versatility and true ring intelligence as was evidenced with his lack of assertiveness against an old, fat, former middleweight, James Toney, in his last fight. Douglas has all the skills any fighter could dream of possessing; but has shown lack of a true fighting heart on several occasions, though, obviously not on the night he fought Tyson. And McCall, while relatively skilled and in possession of fighting heart, has suffered from mental instability throughout his career, most notably when he lost to Lewis.
Lennox Lewis, in essence, while dominating his era, lost to two Buster Douglases whereas Tyson, while dominating his era, lost to one; and took a tremendous beating in doing so, while Lewis went down to one punch kayos. Even in his 2002 challenge of Lennox Lewis, Tyson took a frightful beating until his body could take no more. Let no one say Tyson didn't have a championship heart. True, Lewis did avenge both of those defeats; but Tyson never got a chance to avenge his due to Douglas being kayoed in three by Holyfield…..which shows that Douglas would never again be able to attain the level of intensity he had in the Tyson fight. How would Tyson have done had he got a second shot at Douglas and would that have affected how Tyson is perceived by his detractors today? The world will never know; but I'll bet you've got a pretty good idea.
Though no one is questioning Evander Holyfield’s heart and fighting spirit, both Lewis and Tyson, in the end, were far better heavyweight champions. Who was better between Lewis and Tyson is indeed up for debate; but this observer gives the edge to the “Man of Iron”, if ever so slightly. Lewis proved his championship wares time and again against names like Ruddock, Bruno, Morrison, Mercer, Briggs, Golota, Holyfield, Tua, Rahman, and Klitschko, while Tyson’s list is comprised of names such as Berbick, Smith, Thomas, Tucker, Holmes, Bruno, Spinks, Williams, Ruddock, Botha, & Golota. The main argument for Lewis is “Look at the Names! Lewis fought better competition, so he was the better fighter!”
Did he? Did Lewis fight truly better competition or was Tyson just so dominant that he made good fighters crumble? For the most part, I do agree that Lewis’ resume of defenses was indeed of higher quality than those on Mike’s; but the problem is: that’s really speculation. There is no guarantee that Lewis would have done any better against the Tony Tucker who Tyson faced than the one he labored against or that Lennox would have even beaten a 38 year old Holmes.
Sure, we can say, “Odds are he would have”; but this isn’t about odds, this is about the mark each man made on the division and while Lewis’s mark was longer, Tyson’s was deeper. Just as we can match Lewis with Tyson’s opponents and say he would have done as well or better than Mike, we can say Mike would have clobbered Rahman and easily decisioned or even stopped McCall….the two men who cold-cocked Lewis: hence, the problem with speculation when coming to a conclusion. In the end, it’s up to the pundit; and both of these men are All-Time Great material….who’s more is up to you.
Some men are just born to be champions. Mike Tyson was one of those men; make no mistake about it. Any era, you pick one, that Mike came along in….he was gonna be champ. Maybe not for long; but he would have gotten the gold at least once. Did he reign forever? No; but who does? Between 1985 and 1990, Mike Tyson was the fistic equivalent of a Jimi Hendrix, a Jim Morrison or a Bon Scott: he wasn't destined to grace us with his pugilistic excellence for any more than a heartbeat; but oh, what a heartbeat. To we mere humans, a shooting star is about as spectacular display as we're ever going to see in the heavens above. The brilliance of the dying moments of an interplanetary hunk of rock can live in a person's memory for a lifetime. Such was the career of Mike Tyson. His reign as “Baddest Man on the Planet” lasted a mere 1,021 days; but has any prize-fighting star shown as brightly in as short a time? Very few, very few.
Is Mike Tyson an All-Time-Great? Damn Straight He Is.