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.

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)

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.

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 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.

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 it 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.

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 knocking 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!!!

  • Simon

    I agree with the fact that Tyson isn’t the greatest ever, most gifted and complete at his best: most definitely. Ali could move and had blazing speed and superhuman durability, but he had no power, no in-game and body punches were as rare as diamonds. Frazier had stamina for an army, a helluva left hook, could cut the ring like no other and was a great body puncher when he had his man trapped into the ropes or pinned in a corner, but he was single-handed and slow. Foreman could hit like Mack truck and was strong like a bull, but he was clumsy, was slow, and had very limited boxing abilites. Tyson had it all: speed, power, coordination, agility, stamina (again at his best, he sparred 16 rounds a day at full steam, all out), he could box, he could take a punch AND he was a counterpuncher, which is the part people tend to overlook at the expense of his power. To say that Douglas beat Tyson simply because he could move and was unafraid is telling only one side of the story: Tyson was blinded by his own aura of invincibility and spent the entirety of his training camp humping Japanese maids while Douglas was licking his wounds from his mother’s passing training his heart out. Had the bookies known that, Tyson would’ve been the 42-1 underdog. Ali underestimated Norton, went out the night before and lost. Foreman underestimated Ali, on top of being limited in his training due to the cut he substained in training, and lost. Yes Ali fought with ointment in his eye, yes Lewis and Holyfield beat Tyson but none of them were alcoholics or drug addicts now were they? And as for Holyfield, he butted Tyson God knows how many times when they fought (not making excuses here; those are just facts, watch the fight on YouTube, facts deliberately left out of the equation to enhance the point the author is trying to make in this article). As for Lewis, he fought a great fight but let’s face it, he fought a shell, a shadow of Tyson’s former self; he fought a cocaine-addicted Tyson. I have a friend who used to be knee-deep into hard drugs and alcohol like Tyson, he’s been sober for 2 years now (after 13 spent destroying his body); I’m older than him but he looks like he’s 40 now. So to think Tyson had any chance of winning against boxing’s cream of the crop such as Lewis or any other top fighter in those conditions has clearly no idea of what kind of attrition such a lifestyle does to body, mind and soul. Flip things around, drug-addicted, elkie Holyfield or Lewis against clean and focused and well-trained Tyson, who wins? Tyson’s worst opponent has never been Douglas or Holyfield or Lewis; it’s always been himself. No, Tyson isn’t the greatest ever and those claiming so clearly don’t know the history of the sport they claim to love, yet The point of view displayed in this article his far too oversimplistic and thus deliberately (or not) lacks nuance and context.

  • ernesto Ibarra

    Wow Simon, I was about to go over history and reply to this Article, but I truly doubt I could do a better job than job brother. Great response…

  • Nick

    Interesting opinion . I’ve heard similar opinions over the years and unfortunately it comes close but doesn’t hold up over time just as it didn’t back then around the time Mike was up to 6th or 7th title defense. For starters before Mike quit being a boxer in 1990 no one ever dominated the division like him. Fighters were mostly scared and lost before the fight. Call it what you want but professional fighters with long careers were scared to death of Mike because of the skills and devastation he brought to the ring. You can’t compare generations you just can’t. For instance Ali knocking out a flat footed slow plodding Sonny Liston . If Liston was so bad how’d he get knocked out by a phantom punch ? It’s not Ali’s fault he beat who was in front of him. Ali got destroyed by Joe Frazier the first fight and really won 2 out of three fights but Ali got the decision in those two other rematches but barely won. Ali was not locked in a cell for three years like Tyson. Ali was free to train spar workout just not fight professionally. So the second part of tysons career really is a phantom career. So let’s focus on Mikes career up until he quit in 1990. Mike beat everyone who stood in his way . The Micahel Spinks fight gets very interesting. Why you ask?? Spinks was the favorite going into the fight . Until Tyson Spinks was never beaten, never knocked out and never knocked down . But Spinks was still the favorite as Tyson still had doubters and lack of respect that he was a true heavy weight not a myth until after that fight. Mikes destruction of Spinks whom is a Hall Of Fame fighter won Olympic Medals yet was made to look like a pie eating contest winner due to Tysons ferocity skills and speed. What Tyson lacks is winning for length of years. Trust me Tyson losing to Holyfield I’ve never gotten over because Evander never beats Mike before 1990. There’s no way to compare eras but Tysons legacy was ferocious and yes went by too quick. He was the youngest to win the heavyweight title and the youngest to lose it. Mikes in the top 10 of history no doubt. Is he in the top 5 who knows and really no way to prove it. But no matter what the 5’11 phenomenon known as Michael Gerard Tyson had a heyday and payday that we all still wish we could have had both in the ring and out. He captured the attention of millions around the world and Before Michael Jordan got huge Tyson was the largest athlete in the world at the time before he self destructed and who wouldn’t at age 23? Hundred of millions of dollars women and Mike had no real parental figure Cus died before he would turn 20 years old. How many of us would turn out well in those same circumstances? I got to see Mike inducted in the boxing hall of fame in Canastota Ny. Before he entered the stage the buildup was huge the electricity the announcer calling he name it felt like Mike Tyson walking into the ring for a fight !!! People were chanting and screaming and standing on their feet. Imagine this was a real fight with this kind of electricity it felt somewhat intimidating and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be the opponent watching something just like this. I’d be scared too. The fight probably would be over before it started. It’s not Mikes fault the fighters list to fear. Those who control fear usually win the battles….

  • DharmaDad108

    Too many half truths, and biased opinions, a more objective view would be better.

  • Vimal Ku Mar

    Thanks Tyson hater. But your article does not make any difference in peoples view. There are many boxing experts already rated Mike….no more is required