IRON Mike Tyson is, in the opinion of many, the most exciting entity to ever grace the sweet science, blessing us with unmatched excitement and anticipation. He has what the professional wrestling business deems the “it factor”; the “look”; “drawing power”.
His exploits and downfall in boxing’s marquee division have, logically, created debate as to what would’ve happened if “xyz” didn’t derail Kid Dynamite? Let’s get to the nitty-gritty: is he overrated or underrated? In honor of Iron Mike’s 56th birthday, let’s examine the two foremost narratives surrounding his career and legacy.
The first narrative surrounding Tyson’s blockbuster career in the 1980s: “Tyson only beat bums in the 80s and was overrated”. Kid Dynamite made waves in his debut year, 1985, on the grounds of the manner in which he disposed of his opposition. Power AND speed at such a youthful level? Impeccable and still candy to the eye today. He would go on to unify the division the hard way, collecting each alphabet title and squaring away both the man who beat the man, Michael Spinks, and the face of the first half of the 80s, Larry Holmes. Let’s evaluate just a few of the names (all of which you can see in the video) that I felt are worth notoriety and earn Tyson due credit for his grind.
James “QUICK” Tillis – The version of Tillis that Tyson fought was the very best of his career, finally overcoming the stamina issue that had plagued him. He became the first man to take Tyson the distance against expectations. Tillis lives on the “hill” (like a surprising many others) that he could beat Tyson and wanted another shot, but never got it.
Trevor Berbick – The great 1980s derailer himself who’d beaten John Tate, Greg Page, Mitch Green, and Pinklon Thomas. Berbick garnered a reputation for stopping momentum dead in its track for rising stars. He took Larry Holmes the distance amidst bad blood (which would extend a decade later, culminating in the infamous limo dropkick). Tyson vanquished the derailer in cinematic style to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever, upseating Floyd Patterson.
Michael Spinks – The undefeated man who brought the jinx. He is an all time great light heavyweight who managed the impossible by moving up to heavyweight and capturing the crown WHILE reigning as light heavyweight champion (a feat Archie Moore failed to accomplish 30 years earlier to the night in Rocky Marciano’s career finale). Tyson’s demolition job over Spinks had such tidal waves that it has all but erased his legendary career beforehand (in the minds of casual boxing fans at least, I’m sure YOU are very much still aware).
There are more names and more reasons as to why the journey Mike Tyson helmed in the 1980s made him the Baddest Man on the Planet in the linked documentary. These names include Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker, Larry Holmes, and MORE!
The second narrative surrounding Tyson’s lacklust career in the 1990s and onward: “Tyson would’ve beaten everyone in his *prime* and was unstoppable”. We all know the story of Tyson’s downfall. In fact, it’s on its way to becoming a cliche story point of sorts for any athlete’s story. When Mike Tyson was sentenced and booked in 1992, the heavyweight division opened wider than it had when “Tokyo” Douglas upset Iron Mike. When he returned, the division was now helmed by the Big 3 of Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield, and Lennox Lewis. Tyson and Bowe never fought, nor did they desire to lock horns being “brothers” of sorts from Brownsville. Tyson said while in prison (paraphrasing) “why fight my friend”?
Evander Holyfield in particular was ready to fight Tyson before the latter’s prison term, but Mike was responsible for the fight never coming to fruition (at least not yet, anyway). When they did meet in 1996, Holyfield blew the odds out of the water and upset Iron Mike to become the new WBA champion enroute to a unification affair with Lennox Lewis years later. The conflict (outside of the headbutts, another story in itself) comes in the question of who would’ve won in 1990? 1991? 1992? Many use Tyson’s 80s dominance to assert he’d easily destroy Holyfield or Lewis when at his best…but is that as meritable as some would have you think? Recall that James Tillis, Mitch Green, Bonecrusher Smith, and Tony Tucker all took “prime” Tyson the distance. Add to this the reputation of Holyfield as one of the sweet science’s toughest S.O.B.s (brawling, chin, heart, stamina, and more) and it should be clear that no version of Tyson would have his immediate way with a 1990s Evander Holyfield. Then there’s Lennox Lewis, who you can hear all about in the video.
I’d hate to reveal my entire hand here in the article (though I’m tempted to go on, I love talking boxing) so, in conclusion, is Mike Tyson overrated or underrated? You decide; you can catch my answer to the question of the day in today’s spotlight video “The Legacy of Mike Tyson”.