‘It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward’ – so said Rocky Balboa. Whilst Rocky is obviously fictional, it could be argued he is not the only former Heavyweight World Champion known primarily for his contributions to popular culture. After his ego-boasting appearances in the Hangover films Mike Tyson has re-entered the public consciousness with an image that suggests many casual ‘fans’ have forgotten this is a man who served three years in prison for rape. Whilst I shall attempt to judge Tyson on his sporting merits alone, there is a very strong case that there should be no place in the sporting hall of fame for a convicted rapist. Nonetheless, I believe that even had he not committed this atrocious crime, Tyson would be unworthy of legendary status. Lacking the stamina and the nous, Tyson never won a fight in which he was knocked down nor did he ever overturn a significant points deficit over the course of his 58-fight career. Furthermore, questions remain about the quality of Tyson’s opponents during his brief dominance of the heavyweight division and he never had a defining fight in which he beat a true great: losing twice to his great rival Evander Holyfield and once to Lennox Lewis. In short, Tyson was a flat track bully capable of hitting with great power but once his opponent had weathered the storm of the early rounds, he was incapable of getting hit and moving forward.
Tyson won the Heavyweight title from Trevor Berbick who was making his first defence of the belt and went on to lose eleven times in his career. This low calibre of opponents continued as Tyson defended the belt nine times against fighters whose average number of career losses was 8.4. In contrast, Wladimir Klitschko – a man often accused of taking the easy fight – defending the belt nineteen times during his second spell as heavyweight champion against opponents with average career losses of 4.4 including the likes of David Haye and nine other former world champions. The only noteworthy opponents Tyson beat were 38-year old Larry Holmes – who was long past his best and had lost his previous two fights – and Michael Spinks, fighting as a heavyweight for only the fifth time having gone up from his preferred class of light-heavyweight. Whilst Tyson was undeniably impressive against Holmes and Spinks this proved to be little more than a flash in the pan as he lost his title to a journeyman by the name of Buster Douglas in one of the biggest upsets in sporting history. Tyson fans have often made excuses for his tenth-round knock-out defeat but none of these stand up to any real scrutiny. The argument that Tyson was badly out of shape is undermined by the fact he weighed in at 220.5 pounds – just two more than when he had knocked out Spinks twenty months before – and was described as having pronounced muscles and lacking in body fat by commentators in the build up to the fight. His problems outside the ring – divorcing his wife and parting with his former trainer – are equally unconvincing as both events occurred the previous year when Tyson had won both of his scheduled fights. The only person to blame for Tyson’s loss was himself. He had become complacent and did not treat his training nor his opponent with sufficient respect. Tyson’s own lack of dedication meant that aged 23 he had already peaked. He would never regain his championship belts.
disgusting lack of sportsmanship and courage
Tyson fought just four more times before his prison sentence and returned on a mission to fight Evander Holyfield. Four years older than Tyson and fighting for only the fourth time since his own comeback, Holyfield was considered the major underdog by most. Tyson failed to hurt Holyfield baring one first-round blow and was outboxed and outfought by his opponent who knocked him down in the fifth round and won by TKO in the eleventh. Holyfield had worked out Tyson’s predictable style, easily dodging his left hook as the fight went on with his only response to keep swinging and missing. In the subsequent rematch, Tyson disgraced himself and the sport. Dominated by Holyfield in the first two rounds, he responded to an unintentional headbutt by biting his opponent twice, leading to his disqualification and a piece of Holyfield’s ear actually coming off. This obviously pre-meditated action (Tyson attempted to start round three without his mouth guard) showed a disgusting lack of sportsmanship and courage. In the biggest pay-per-view fight of the decade he committed boxing’s worst crime undermining the integrity of the great sport that had given birth to American legends such as Joe Louis and Mohammed Ali. This base man could surely never have been redeemed – not that he tried to be. He allegedly attempted to break Francois Botha’s arms in a 1999 fight, served another nine months in jail for assault, knocked out Orlin Norris knowing full well the bell had rung for the end of the first round and failed a drugs test after a 2000 bout with Andrew Golota. The word ‘disgrace’ does not come close. Mike Tyson was boxing’s plague, quite literally the baddest man on the planet.
Tyson’s career ended as it deserved to – in defeat. First, he lost to Lennox Lewis who exploited his minimal ability to take punches with a decisive eight round knock-out. Tyson had initiated a pre-match brawl in which he bit Lewis, threw racial and homophobic abuse at reporters whilst threatening to rape one and knocked out the seventy-year-old President of the WBC before spitting on him and issuing a death threat. His horrific actions knew no ends but fortunately his career did. Fighting solely for the money after declaring for bankruptcy (despite earning $62 million in 2000) he lost to the average Kenny McBride (10 career losses) and less than average Danny Williams (26 career losses) to bring down the curtain on his career. His record of 50-6 (two no contests) compares unfavourably to true boxing legends such as Rocky Marciano 49-0 and Wladimir Klitschko 64-4 or even David Haye 28-2 – with all three having a higher knockout percentage than the ‘explosive’ Tyson. Four years unchallenged at the top does not make a legend. It’s what happen afterwards. Joe Louis held on to the heavyweight championship belt for nearly twelve years beating every great fighter of the era. Tyson failed at the first sign of adversity, never won back his belt and revealed his true character. All bark, all bite but no fight – Mike Tyson is the single most disgraceful sportsman in history.