By the early 1990s, British heavyweight Gary Mason, unbeaten, powerful and having earned a large fan following, was being talked of as a possible challenger for the all-conquering heavyweight king Mike Tyson. Instead, Londoner Mason wound up taking a lucrative fight with unbeaten Lennox Lewis, this just over a year after Tyson’s stunning upset loss to Buster Douglas.
Lewis had won Olympic gold in 1988 and by 1990 he was the European heavyweight ruler. Mason was guaranteed a huge purse of close to £300,000 and he was a slight betting favourite to have too much experience for Lewis, who was perceived as being just a little too green at pro level. But Mason carried into the ring with him a handicap. Less than a year earlier, he had undergone surgery for a detached retina and against Lewis, in March of 1991, the right eye was again badly damaged. Pounded shut by a remorseless Lewis, Mason’s eye made for a ghastly image.
Showing real fighting heart when all was lost, Mason literally bit down on his mouth-piece in the seventh-round and gave it all he had in one last effort to get rid of his tormentor. Lewis rode out the brief storm and then, thankfully, the fight was stopped, with Mason still on his feet but in a world of pain. Mason would later say the pain of being punched in his battered right eye was like “being jammed in the eye with a red-hot poker.” And, at the young age of 28, Mason was done, all but finished. Never again would the likeable Brit threaten at world level.
Today, when looking back on Mason, fans wonder how good he really was, or might have been. Criticised at the time for being too lumbering, too heavy and too slow, is it possible these critics were a little harsh on Mason? Had he been around today, with his solid chin, his hefty punch and his fighting heart, Mason may well have given guys like Deontay Wilder and Jarrell Miller (who knows all about being referred to as too heavy) a real argument. And as for guys like David Price and Audley Harrison – two hyped heavyweights who made far more money than Mason ever did – well, Mason would have rolled right over the pair of them.
Mason was a solid heavy, a good and brave fighter, and he deserves to be remembered today. As some fans may know, Gary was tragically killed in a road accident in January of 2011, aged just 48. Mason was a good pundit after his retirement from the ring and he made an impact on British, and to a degree, world boxing. He turned pro 34 years ago today and though he never became world champion, Mason did stamp a foothold on the world scene.
Above all, Gary Mason was a good guy at a time when the sport, especially his weight division, so badly needed good guys.