Mike Tyson: Overrated, or worthy of his mystique?Written by Leroy Cleveland
The esteemed fight website BoxingScene recently caught up with Hall of Fame commentator Jim Lampley to get his thoughts about HBO's divorce from boxing after 45 years.
Lampley, of course, has been HBO Boxing's lead commentator since 1988 and has seen a lot through the years. (Incidentally, the network's last scheduled fight card will be headlined by Daniel Jacobs vs Serigy Derevyanchenko at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27)
Having been at ringside for HBO for 30 years and witnessed so many of the sport's biggest fights and historic moments, Lampley shared his thoughts on the Mike Tyson mystique.
Often referred to as the "Voice of Boxing," Lampley, who is frequently approached by fans who'll want to discuss the sport, insists Buster Douglas' shocking upset of then-heavyweight champion of Mike Tyson in February 1990 is still the most popular topic bantered.
“Year in, year out it is still Tyson-Douglas,” Lampley told BoxingScene.com earlier this week.
Lampley confirmed what many boxing-educated, hardcore fight fans came to realize in the 1990s - Mike Tyson's aura might be greater than his accomplishments.
He's far more revered by the mainstream public, casual and non-fans of the sport, than two of his contemporaries who knocked him out AND had more impressive resumes, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.
“Twenty-eight years later people still can't get over it. People freak when I tell them it was an on-merit style loss. Mike had trouble with anyone who was taller, could move and jab, drop the right hand over the top. Buster was the best he had met in those categories up to that moment.
“A minor-league Lennox. Mike could never have beaten Lennox and he knew that very well. Lennox was by far the best heavyweight I covered. Prime Lennox was too good for Mike and Evander."
Fact: Tyson's handlers paid Lennox Lewis $4 Million in step aside money for the latter NOT TO FIGHT Tyson.
Let's roll back to 1996. When a 30 year old Mike Tyson regained the WBC version of the heavyweight title by knocking out Frank Bruno, his handlers refused to allow him to fight his mandatory opponent, top-ranked Lennox Lewis. However, Mike's handlers knew they had to keep a title in Tyson's hands because it made him a champion and reinforced his legitimacy and overall mystique to the public.
So, when Team Tyson refused to honor it's mandatory commitment and proceeded with plans to have Mike face WBA Champion Bruce Seldon instead of the Lennox Lewis, the Brit took Tyson's promoter/manager Don King to court - and won. Essentially, the court ordered Tyson to relinquish his title immediately but he never had to because Lewis accepted $4 Million in step aside money to drop the case. As a result, Tyson could hold on to the WBC title long enough to win the WBA belt. And Mike did just that by KOing Seldon in 93 seconds in July 1996.
For a brief time in 1996, Tyson was the WBC/WBA Heavyweight Champion while Michael Moorer owned the IBF version. However, the WBC, as expected, stripped Tyson of it's title two months later for not facing Lewis, his mandatory. Of course, it was fine with Team Tyson because Mike now had the WBA version and wouldn't be title-less. By the time Lewis claimed Tyson's vacated WBC strap in February 1997, Mike had lost his WBA title to Evander Holyfield three months prior.
After Holyfield KO'd Moorer in 1998 to capture the IBF title as well, Tyson was out of picture. The public wanted see champion vs champion (Holyfield WBA/IBF) vs Lewis (WBC), and Lewis would go on the claim Evander's belts after fighting him twice in 1999.
Lewis vs Tyson
Finally in Summer 2002, with the 36 year old Lewis as the 3-year consensus heavyweight champion and a near bankrupt 35 year old Tyson on a 6-fight win streak with little to lose, the pair would meet in the ring. (Actually, two of Mike's knockouts were ruled No Contests so he was officially 4-0-4KO, 2 NC in his previous six fights)
"It was a domination, as Lennox Lewis punished Mike Tyson tonight at The Pyramid, opening cuts over both eyes and bloodying Tyson's nose," reported Bill Pennington of the New York Times reported.
"This long-anticipated bout, years in the making, turned out to be a mismatch. As the eighth round drew to a close, Tyson -- who had been staggered by a series of uppercuts -- dropped to the canvas after a crushing roundhouse right hand to the chin. There were 35 seconds remaining in the round and Tyson made little attempt to rise before he was counted out by Referee Eddie Cotton."
Not long after the fight, Don King, Tyson's previously estranged manager/promoter said: "It would be an act of homicide for Mike to get in the ring again with Lewis. What happened was not a fight, it was a beating."
Tyson vs Douglas 2?
It's unlikely Tyson could have beaten the 1995 - 2002 version of Lennox Lewis, although a 23 year old Tyson would have certainly made it interesting. And yes, during an era of great heavyweights, Lewis' resume was the most impressive in the division. But what about Buster Douglas? Could Mike have beaten him in a rematch?
Lampley suggests Douglas had the style to beat Tyson and maybe there's legitimacy to his claim.
Throughout boxing history, dominant, popular champions have usually received an immediate rematch upon losing their title(s). Team Tyson, however , wasn't exactly pushing for an immediate rematch and neither was Buster's team. Given Douglas fought the fight of his life and was so inspired to win after his mother has passed away just days prior, his team probably was probably reluctantly aware their man had fought above himself that evening.
However, in all fairness to Mike Tyson, the event was the perfect storm of sorts for Douglas' chances because Mike was clearly not in top-fighting shape that night having taken him lightly. His body lacked its usual tone and his footwork and coordination were out of sync from Round 1.
After watching the the first two rounds with friends, I yelled, "He must be high or something? He looks terrible."
So, whereas a prime Lewis was probably better than a prime Tyson, a focused, in-shape Iron Mike would have defeated a focused, in-shape Douglas in a rematch, provided Buster would have even been in shape. In fact, Douglas entered his title first defense 8 months later and 17 pounds heavier than he was when he beat Mike. Looking sloppy, he would be KO'd in three by a Holyfield right cross.
In Defense of the Mike Tyson Mystique
Mike Tyson was, at best, the third best heavyweight during his era (Second to Lewis and Holyfield), yet his mystique is that of a dominant legend.
Why is Mike Tyson so iconic?
Let's not forget, Iron Mike, in his early 20s, cleaned an otherwise dull division during the 1980s and before other legends such as Holyfield, Lewis, George Foreman and Riddick Bowe became top contenders. (Evander was making waves as a heavyweight but, in box office terms, Tyson vs Holyfield hadn't matured yet).
In addition, Mike was everything the mainstream public wants to see in a fighter. There was a special electricity generated when he walked in the ring.
He was exciting, fearless, extremely skilled, very quick and had incredible punching power in both hands. Moreover, he had a killer instinct second to none.
Mike didn't fight to win on points. He wanted to put opponents to sleep.
And lastly, at 5'10 1/2", Mike Tyson deserves tremendous credit for dominating much taller, rangier top contenders. Being a short heavyweight isn't easy; Anyone who has boxed would attest to that. All other things being equal, a skilled fighter with a much longer reach will have a sizeable advantage. It's like basketball in some ways.... A player under 6'2" has to be extra special to succeed in the NBA."
Perhaps Tyson was - and still is - overrated, as Lampley suggests. But one can't deny that he's still an all-time great and was the most seductive fighter of his era, and perhaps any era.
Tyson vs Holyfield highlights