It is a known rule that you should never break: Fighters from other eras should never be compared. So for your reading pleasure, is my list of how I feel a peak Mike Tyson would have fared against the world champions of yore… because rules are meant to be broken!
Vs Muhammad Ali
A peak Ali is rarely seen on TV – shows always feature the Foreman and final Frazier bout. Ali peaked with the Cleveland Williams bout in 1966. Against that version of The Greatest, Tyson would have been chasing shadows for the majority of the bout whilst being peppered with lightening fast jabs. But at his peak, Tyson would always be one punch away from victory. Ali was close to quitting in his fights with Sonny Liston (the first fight) and Joe Frazier (the third fight). Would he have been able to cope mentally with Tyson? It’s a fascinating fantasy fight, and one in which Ali wins by close but unanimous decision, after going through hell to win.
Vs Rocky Marciano
Marciano was vulnerable in the early rounds (see the first Walcott fight and the Moore fight) before grinding fighters down with his relentless attack. Marciano and Tyson would have engaged in an almighty slugfest, but Tyson’s better technique, speed and footwork would prevail before Marciano could impose his will on Tyson’s weaker psyche. Tyson in four of the most brutal rounds you will ever see – on cuts or by stoppage, with The Rock complaining bitterly.
Vs Larry Holmes
Holmes is the first fighter on this list who Tyson actually fought and at his peak too. Unfortunately, Holmes was past his best and was destroyed in four rounds. A peak Holmes, like the one who beat Ken Norton, would have been hell for Tyson. A tall fighter with the greatest jab of all time (always the best way to beat Tyson – ask Buster Douglas), Holmes would have busted Tyson up whilst circling the ring and keeping on his toes. Holmes could be hurt (see the incredible second Shavers fight or the Renaldo Snipes bouts) but he always found a way to win when he was at his peak. Not a huge puncher, Holmes would have won on a unanimous points decision.
Vs Joe Louis
The Brown Bomber was an awesome sight to behold during his championship reign, but he was also vulnerable. He suffered a few knockdowns during his reign, but always got up to win. The punching power was immense and could end a fight at any second. He stands alongside Tyson as the single biggest heavyweight punchers. This fight is the one I have mulled over the most. Part of me thinks that Tyson would be too fast and have too much movement for Louis, but another part thinks that Louis’ power would keep Tyson on the back foot, somewhere he was far less dangerous. In the end I came to the decision that Louis would suffer an early knockdown before wearing Tyson down and winning around the 10th round.
Vs Lennox Lewis
It was a sad sight to see when Lewis destroyed a shot Tyson in 2002. He was at least 13 years past his peak and six years removed of his last meaningful fight (the first Holyfield fight) and after one round it was a public execution. A peak Tyson would not have been so easy to pound away on. Lewis would always have given Tyson trouble because of his size and excellent jab, but Lewis had what Larry Holmes didn’t have – the inability to come back after being hurt. Both Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman showed Lewis’ vulnerability, and a peak Tyson would have done the same. He might have had to come from behind to win (something that never happened in his career unless you count the Douglas long-count knockdown) but Tyson would have prevailed in 7-8 rounds.
Vs Evander Holyfield
Their two fights in 1996-7 are the stuff of legend. The first fight was a classic encounter and one of the biggest upsets of all time (Holyfield winning by 11th round TKO); the second fight the biggest and most shocking boxing controversy of all time (the ear biting incident). The two fighters were supposed to meet in 1991 until Douglas scored the upset of the century. It was still scheduled for that year after Holyfield had beaten Douglas to win the title, but then Tyson ended up in prison for three years. Had the fight gone ahead, I still believe that Holyfield would have won. But in Tyson’s 1986-88 prime – I’m not as sure. But the more I think about it, the more I think that Holyfield may have always had Iron Mike’s number: Holyfield by late round stoppage.
Vs Joe Frazier
A fantasy slugfest to end them all! Frazier is sadly overlooked when ‘greatest’ lists are compiled, but he really shouldn’t be. He was the first man to beat Ali and scored some great victories over Bob Foster, Jimmy Ellis and Jerry Quarry. The styles of Frazier and Tyson were not too dissimilar and the bobbing, weaving and mighty hooks of the fighters would have guaranteed fireworks in a fast paced affair. I can envisage a shaken Tyson prevailing in five rounds, but it could have possibly been the Hagler-Hearns of the heavyweights. But if Tyson didn’t get Smokin’ Joe out of there early, Frazier may have prevailed down the stretch, where he had a much better record than Tyson did.
Vs Jack Dempsey
Tyson idolised Dempsey and mimicked his black shorts-black boots-no nonsense approach to entering the ring. In the ring and at their peaks it would have been another bloody slugfest, but one in which the greater technique of Tyson would have prevailed. Dempsey would not have stopped coming forward until he was knocked out cold or stopped, and that is what I believe would have happened. Tyson wins in 8.
Vs George Foreman
There are two George Foreman’s: The crude, heavy-punching swinger of the 1970’s and the older, wiser technically improved boxer-puncher of the 90’s. I actually think that the 90’s version of Foreman would have been a harder fight for Tyson than the 70’s version that was very easy to hit but could get away with it because of the power he possessed in his fists. Tyson would have knocked the 70’s Foreman out in the late rounds, but the 90’s version would have give Tyson a much tougher fight before losing on points. But if one of those 70’s haymakers landed it would have been goodnight, Iron Mike.
Vs Jack Johnson
Johnson was one of the reasons boxing lived up to the name ‘sweet science’. The crude style of the heavyweights of the time could not compare to Johnson’s technique and boxing ability. At a time when Johnson was disposing of the Great White Hope’s – he would have been too much for Tyson, outboxing Iron Mike and using his excellent defensive skills in the early rounds before winning a points decision.