Classic Column: Early Tyson
Posted Jun. 30, 2009 at 10:14am
By Steve Farhood from KO Magazine
Mike Tyson’s “retirement,” if the truth be known, was quite predictable. Forget burnout and lawsuits and meddlesome mothers-in-law and gossip-seeking reporters. Tyson quit boxing because he’s petrified of Frank Bruno.
With that astute analysis completed, we can join the growing list of sportswriters and broadcasters who are assigning Tyson’s place among the heavyweight gods. The youngest champion in the division’s history -- and the youngest champion to retire -- is being mentioned in the same sen¬tences with Dempsey, Louis, Marciano and Ali. Amaz¬ing what a 91second knockout will do.
“I’d say Tyson is the greatest heavyweight I’ve seen to date,” said Archie Moore, who’s fought some of them and seen most of them.
“Tyson is the greatest heavyweight who ever drew on a glove,” said respected ring historian Hank Kaplan.
Whoa, fellas, slow down! Granted, there is much evidence in Tyson’s corner. With numbing two-fisted power, sensational hand speed and a 20½-inch shock absorber of a neck, he possesses dominant physical attributes. And with a title fight record of 8-0 with six KOs, he’s applied those attributes splendidly. But there are three solid reasons why I won’t even begin to rate Tyson with the heavyweight greats:
1. Longevity: Dempsey held the crown more than seven years, though he got married almost as often as he defended it. Louis was champion a record 12 years, Marciano almost four years, and Ali a total of 10 years. Tyson has been unified titlist for just one year.
Before his death in March, Jimmy Jacobs, Tyson’s co-manager and a noted boxing historian, said that comparing the heavyweight to “the great, legendary champions is silly. We’ll have to wait a decade to find out.”
If Jacobs were still in Tyson’s corner, he’d remind us that greatness cannot be secured until the test of time is passed. Tyson isn’t a one-day wonder, and in fantasy matchups, where conjecture is required, I’d pick him against Dempsey, Louis and Marciano (but not Ali). But let’s keep his young career in perspective. Looking solely at the calendar, he’s still more Sonny Liston than Joe Louis.
2. Lack of tough fights: This gets tricky, because it’s not Tyson’s fault that he’s overwhelmed almost all of his opponents. We can’t fault him for never having to recover from a knockdown, a dangerous cut, or a points deficit. Still, it’s a safe bet that he won’t cruise through his career without a scary moment or two. And such moments reveal so much. Consider:
•Dempsey rebounded from a humbling first-round KO loss to Fireman Jim Flynn in 1917, and recovered from a first-round knockdown against Luis Firpo in a 1923 title defense to stop the Argentine in the very next round.
•Louis blew out Max Schmeling in a single round only two years after being KOed by the German, and came from behind to stop Billy Conn in his most demanding defense.
•Marciano solved the puzzle of Jersey Joe Walcott with a single right cross in the 13th round after trailing on all three cards, and crushed Ezzard Charles in the eighth round of a defense in which Rocky’s nose was ripped open so hideously that most ringsiders believed the bout would be halted.
•Like Tyson, Ali was far superior to his first group of title challengers. But more revealing than the eight victories of Ali’s first reign was his rise from the canvas in the 15th round to finish on his feet in his loss to Joe Frazier. Two years later, he boxed 12 rounds with a broken jaw against Ken Norton.
•Mike Tyson’s scary moments haven’t been that scary. He tired in the stretch of his closest bout, a … decision over James Tillis. He was staggered in the first round by Tony Tucker and the last round by Bonecrusher Smith, but won both fights decisively. And the opponent perceived to be his toughest, Spinks, lasted less than a round.
How will Tyson react when extended? Probably quite positively. But until he feels threatened, we can’t be sure. And history tells us that at some point, in some fight, he will feel threatened.
3. Tyson is ducking Frank Bruno: But we won’t hold it against you, Mike. Ali never gave Chuck Wepner a rematch, either.