The Baddest Man on the Planet
It's been said that for most people there are only three boxers: Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. While their characters differed greatly, they were all the dominate Heavyweight Champion of the World and defined Boxing in their primes. Mike Tyson deserves the title above for both his amazing fighting abilities and his questionable life.
Michael Gerald Tyson was born on June 30, 1966 in Brooklyn. A social worker introduced him to boxing and to one of the most influential men in his life, Cus D'Amato. Besides being his coach, Cus also became Tyson's legal guardian.
Tyson lost a couple of amateur fights and was unable to make it to the Olympics. He made up for this by finishing his first professional year of boxing with a 15-0 record with 15 knockouts. Next year it was 27-0, and in 1986, at the unprecedented age of 20, Mike Tyson beat Trevor Berbick for the WBC Heavyweight Title. Tyson went on to pummel James Smith for the WBA title and Tony Tucker for the IBF belt. In doing this, Mike Tyson became the first fighter since Muhammad Ali to unify the division. Tyson went on to defend his title, usually in stunning fashion. Many times, like in the case of Michael Spinks, a true "challenger" was found only to be KO'd in one round. By the end of 1990 Tyson had a record of of 37-0 with 33 KOs and was, by far, the most important figure in boxing.
I remember watching Tyson in several fights and was excited the night he was going to fight on HBO against a relatively unknown Buster Douglas. I was watching with my Dad and brother and couldn't wait to see another devastating KO. The fight took place in Japan where the quiet Japanese fans revered Tyson as almost a God. Douglas was knocked down early in the fight but came back. Then in the tenth round let several punches go and Mike Tyson actually hit the floor. I remember he dropped his mouthpiece and wasted time fumbling for it. By the time he was on his feet it was all over. Unbelievable. There was some minor controversy afterwards about how long Douglas's count was and how short Tyson's was. But, in the end, Buster Douglas became the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World.
After losing the championship Tyson stepped back into the ring four more times, including two defeats of the very powerful and dangerous Razor Ruddock. Then, and not for the first time, Mike Tyson shocked and disgusted the world when he was indicted for the rape of Desiree Washington. Tyson spent February 10, 1992 through March 25, 1995 in jail. After being released he was quickly brought back into the boxing world by Don King.
Even though he had been away from boxing for three years Tyson quickly eliminated his next two opponents, including the undefeated Buster Mathis, Jr. On March 16, 1996 Tyson stepped into the ring with WBC heavyweight champion Frank Bruno and walked out three rounds later as a two time champion. Tyson followed this up by taking the WBA belt from Bruce Seldon later that year. The WBC belt would later be stripped due to court actions brought by Lennox Lewis.
While gaining these belts made him a champion according to a sanctioning body, to truly become champion again Tyson would need to defeat Evander Holyfield. When they met on November 9, 1996 it would be Holyfield proving that he was the true champ instead of Tyson. In the 11th round of that fight Tyson suffered his second loss, and second KO. On June 28, 1997, in the highly anticipated rematch Tyson committed his second appalling act. In the third round, due to the frustration of being behind and headbutting by his opponent, Tyson bit off part of Holyfield's ear. This act would cement the image of Mike Tyson as an "animal". Tyson later apologized for this, had his license revoked and was fined $3 million dollars. Many people felt that this would be the ignoble end of Tyson's boxing career.
Since then Tyson has been re-licensed and won decisively over 5 opponents increasing his record to 50 wins, 43 KOs, 3 losses and 1 no contest.
Update, June 9, 2002: After these wins it was obvious that a deal was going to be made for Tyson to face the recognized Heavyweight Champ, Lennox Lewis. This was first delayed by Lewis's KO loss to Haseem Rahman. After Lewis returned the favor to Rahman and took his belt back the Tyson fight reappeared. It was again cut short when a melee ensued at the press conference. Tyson decided to get a little taste of Lewis and bit him on the leg. Tyson's camp would argue that Lewis' bodyguard started the brawl but, either way, it lead to Tyson being unable to be licensed in Nevada. The fight stayed up in the air for months until a deal was set for the fight to happen June 8, 2002 at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee.
Unlike any other boxing match, this fight was covered in the mainstream media. Of course, they decided to focus on the always amusing statements of Tyson ("I want to damage his brain", "I'll destroy his soul"). Later events would show that Tyson was just giving them what they wanted as publicity.
Ridiculous cautions were taken as the fight approached to stop Tyson from causing problems. This even included security guards in the ring right before the fight. hen the fight itself finally got going Lennox Lewis performed exactly as boxing analysts had predicted. Using a strong jab, powerful right cross and accurate uppercut Lewis controlled the fight leading to Tyson being knocked out near the end of the 8th round.
For many, the most surprising thing was that Tyson didn't commit any flagrant fouls during the fight (in fact, Lewis was docked a point for fouls) and that he handled himself with complete composure after the fight. During the post-fight interview Tyson praised Lewis as "magnificent" and "prolific". He even reached across and wiped some blood off Lewis cheek when he was being interviewed! Tyson also clearly stated that most of the antics leading up to the fight were simply for promotion.
How will history remember Mike Tyson? In some ways, this fight may have actually helped a little. Tyson showed heart as he absorbed many big blows from Lewis. His conduct after the fight was memorable. Tyson's "legacy" will probably always be his performances up to the Buster Douglas fight. There have been three dominant heavyweights in the past 15 years: Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. Tyson lost twice to Holyfield and now once to Lewis. That fact will still take nothing away from the "Iron" Mike Tyson that amazed everyone with his meteoric rise to the top of the division. Nothing will remove the image from people's minds of the "undestructable", "invincible" Champion that Tyson was.
Many people are saying that Mike Tyson's career is over because of his loss to Lewis. I seriously doubt this. For one, Mike Tyson needs to fight. He'll probably keep fighting until something kills him. Though Tyson's image is marred for now he'll go back to work on guys like Brian Nielson and Frank Bruno. He could even be in an exciting fight. Who wouldn't want to see Mike Tyson vs David Tua. Tua is like a less talented "Iron" Mike Tyson, which is exactly what "Rusty" Mike Tyson is. Matching up two guys, similarly sized, who can both take a punch and both like to throw big punches is a great combination. If Tyson can get a fight like that he'll be at the top of the rankings again. Can he become a champion again? Well, certainly not THE champ. The true heavyweight champ is Lennox Lewis and the real Heavyweight Champ is going to continue to be "super heavyweight" guys like Lewis, Wladimir Klitchko and Jameel McCline. But could Tyson beat WBA champ John Ruiz? I'd say there's a good chance. Either way, Tyson will probably continue to fight and continue to be a bigger draw than 99% of the other fighters in Boxing.