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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Mike Tyson: Myth or legend?

Mike Tyson: Myth or legend?

What say you?
Publish Date: 06/19/2022
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Mike Tyson: Myth or Legend? I hear a lot of younger people nowadays say that Tyson was the “greatest” or at least one of the greatest ever. When I hear someone say this I immediately get sick to my stomach! Think I am way off?  Let’s look at the facts of Tyson’s career and compare him to the all-time legends.

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I am not going to sit here and rehash Tyson’s troubled childhood. That has been done time and time again. Cus D’Amato was Tyson’s first trainer and was assisted by Teddy Atlas and Kevin Rooney. As an amateur, Tyson won gold medals at the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympics. Tyson went on to lose twice to Henry Tillman at the Olympic Trials at the end of his amateur career.  (Note: Heavyweight Champions Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Lennox Lewis all won Olympic Gold Medals). If you go back and watch Tyson/Tillman it is obvious that Tillman got the best of Mike no matter what revisionist history might tell us.

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Tyson made his professional debut on March 6th, 1985.  He fought 15 times in his first year as a professional winning all 15 against second rate fighters. I don’t hold that against him as that is what most young up and coming boxers do at the start of their careers. His first tough fight was against James “Quick” Tillis who, at the time, was a quick and elusive heavyweight that troubled Tyson greatly.  Tyson eventually won a close but unanimous decision. He later had difficulty with a very ordinary boxer by the name of Mitch “Blood” Green.  Tyson won an easy unanimous decision but, once again, had trouble with a boxer that had good movement. Once against revisionist history will tell us Green survive by running, but if you watch the fight Green did not run from Tyson.

On November 22, 1986, Tyson was given a shot at Trevor Berbick’s WBC Heavyweight Championship. Berbick was slow-footed and looked intimidated which translated into a perfect opponent for Tyson. Tyson destroyed Berbick in the 2nd round. This is one of the many times where Tyson fans drive me crazy.  I hate hearing how Tyson was “the youngest heavyweight champion ever”.  He wasn’t!  The real champion at the time in 1986 was Michael Spinks.  Yes, Spinks was a blown up Light Heavyweight who had beaten an old Larry Holmes but he was still the man who beat the man.  And for the record, Floyd Patterson was and still is the youngest Undisputed Heavyweight Champion.

I admit that, during this time, Tyson was better than Spinks.  While beating Trevor Berbick was not going to make you the champion, beating Spinks would. Tyson defended his title against Tony Tucker in a unification fight for Tyson’s WBC belt and Tucker’s IBF title.  Once again, Tyson had trouble with a slick boxer who could move and was taken the distance in a competitive fight.

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Tyson became the lineal heavyweight champion with a 90-second destruction of Spinks in 1988.  I am not going to bring up Don King, Robin Givens, his rape conviction or anything else because everybody has troubles in their life.  Great fighters overcome their problems whereas not so great fighters use their problems as an excuse and let them get the best of them. Tyson’s best wins were probably against hard-punching but one-dimensional Razor Ruddock.  Ruddock was a big puncher but only threw one punch at a time and was made for Tyson.

In 1990 in Tokyo, Japan, Buster Douglas (a HUGE underdog) took Tyson apart.  Why? Douglas could move, had a great jab and, most importantly, he wasn’t afraid of Tyson.

Now the argument I always hear is that if Cus D’Amato wouldn’t have died, things would have been different for Tyson. My argument is Cus was probably the reason for Tyson’s mental shortcomings.  When Cus got Mike, he let him do as he pleased.  He never set any boundaries for his behavior which ultimately led to his downfall. The difference between the great heavyweights – Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis to name a few – was that when they faced adversity, more often than not, they overcame it.

Being a legendary champion is about more than ability.  It is something inside that refuses to allow you to get discouraged or give up because you know deep down that you can overcome anything. Mike Tyson lacked that quality.  In the second Holyfield fight, Tyson bit him so he had an excuse, a way out.  Tyson fans will argue, “No wait! The head butts were why he bit him.  He couldn’t take it anymore!” Whatever.  Ali had ointment in his eye in the first Liston fight and couldn’t see for an entire round.  Do you really think Tyson fights through that and KO’s Sonny Liston? Rocky Marciano was behind on points to Jersey Joe Walcott and responds with a devastating KO! Jack Dempsey was knocked out of the ring against Luis Firpo and got back in the ring and KO’s Firpo a few minutes later.

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What was Tyson’s signature moment? Was it that fight where Tyson was cut, knocked down or behind on points and he came back to win?  Never happened.  Was it that fight where he came back to avenge a loss?  Didn’t happen either.  Tyson had two “signature” moments:  When he knocked out Trevor Berbick (a journeyman fighter, at best) and knocked out a blown up and visibly frightened light heavyweight in Michael Spinks.  Compare those moments with history’s greatest heavyweights and you will likely get laughed out of the room.

To put this into even more perspective, Muhammad Ali beat Liston, Frazier, Foreman and Norton (and for good measure, you can add Patterson, Quarry, Lyle and Shavers to the mix).  In other words, Ali beat the best fighters of his generation. Who were the best fighters in Tyson’s generation?  Probably Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe.  He never fought Bowe but he was trounced by Holyfield and Lewis!

I ask all you Tyson fans to consider these facts the next time you bring up his “greatness.”  Mike Tyson was a good fighter but nowhere near great.  The notion that Tyson was great is a complete MYTH!

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