22.10.05 – By Kevin Kincade: Is Mike Tyson an All-Time Great? That is, without a doubt, the $64,000 dollar question. There are those who worship the ground he stalks on and those who claim he is the most overrated fighter to ever don gloves. In truth, I have fallen into the second category for the last few years; but recently I had a bit of a revelation. I was re-reading a seething ascertainment I had written concerning Tyson’s place in history and was in the process of lauding over how well I had articulated my case when I realized, despite all of the flawless punctuation, and fitting diatribes, I had broken one of my cardinal rules concerning this man and my conclusion concerning his career. I had unabashedly harped on how Mike failed to live up to his potential. The cardinal rule that I broke is a simple one: Judge a fighter on his deeds, not the expectations placed upon him. A fighter must never be placed or misplaced on what they could have done; but solely on what they did do.
So, to be fair, I’ve taken two of Mike’s contemporaries, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis and compared their respective ring accomplishments to his. The purpose of this comparison is to really examine the differences and similarities between their title reigns and his and if Mike measures up to two fighters most pundits agree are Hall of Fame Bound. If Mike’s accomplishments are anywhere near theirs, then, conversely, he should also be Hall of Fame bound and should be considered an All-Time-Great, in his own right. Anyone who has read my articles and my posts knows that no one has been harder on Mike than me. I promise this piece is completely analytical and honest, for I am educating or re-educating myself through an objective eye and not through the eyes of a disappointed fan.
As I was researching and writing this piece, I found more information needed to be revealed than is really appropriate for one sitting, so I’ve divided it into three acts: Earning a shot at the belt and actual title reigns. Part 1 will deal solely with the three champions’ rise to the top, Part 2 will deal with the championship accomplishments, and part 3 will compare the entire reigns of all three men and conclude, once and for all where Mike Tyson fits into the picture and why. When looking at the stats of who beat whom and how, it is important to remember chronology; or where each fighter was in their careers at the times of certain fights. For example, one cannot fairly compare William Joppy’s stoppage over Roberto Duran with Marvin Hagler’s decision over “Manos de Piedras” and say Joppy was a better fighter because he beat Duran more convincingly. Such a comparison would be ludicrous.
Now, all of the criteria outlined, let’s start with Evander Holyfield, the man who defeated Tyson twice. Evander began his heavyweight campaign stopping a shopworn “Quick” Tillis in 5 rounds in 1988; but his most significant pre-title fight came 8 months later against the come-backing former WBA Heavyweight Titlist, Michael Dokes, who was 37-1-2 at the time. Evander picked up the most impressive heavyweight win of his career, up to that point, stopping Dokes in 10. Holyfield would also go on to knock Adilson Rogriguez cold in 2 rounds and hand the 24-0 (24) Alex Stewart his very first professional defeat in a war that was stopped on a cut in round 8. All in all, leading up to his first title shot, Commander ‘Vander stopped two former World Champions, Dokes & Pinklon Thomas, and two contenders, Rodriguez and Stewart; not a bad resume. “The Real Deal” definitely earned his shot at the belt.
Going into the Holyfield fight, Buster Douglas was coming off the crowning achievement of his career: the shocking 10th round knock-out of the invincible Mike Tyson; undoubtedly the biggest upset in boxing history. Other than the Tyson fight, Douglas had been a so-so fighter, with wins over Randall “Tex” Cobb, fellow fringe contender Oliver McCall, and former paper titlists Greg Page and Trevor Berbick. However, his biggest black-mark was when he quit in an IBF title bid against Tony Tucker; a fight he was winning until he ran out of gas and will to win in the 10th. Still, having beaten the unbeatable “Iron” Mike, he was favored to win against Evander and eventually meet Tyson again in a multimillion dollar showdown. Guaranteed $20 million dollars for the Holyfield bout, Douglas returned to his pre-Tyson form and came in under prepared and unmotivated and promptly “quit” again, or so it seemed, after being decked by a Holyfield counter right in the third. Holyfield’s first title reign did not begin without questions. Questions that could only be answered by fighting one man: the previous holder of the belt.
Lennox Lewis, on the other hand, never received his title shot. Going into his title eliminator with “Razor” Ruddock, Lennox’s biggest victories were over the highly touted 35-0 Gary Mason for the British Heavyweight Belt, former WBA titlist Mike Weaver, and Tyrell Biggs, who had just fought impressively in a losing effort to Riddick Bowe. Lewis won all three by TKO in 7, 6, and 3 rounds, respectively. While relatively inexperienced, the undefeated Brit seemed to be on the “do not fight” list of most ranking heavyweights at the time.
Prior to his showdown with Lewis, Ruddock’s biggest claim to fame was fighting and losing to Mike Tyson twice; once by controversial 7th Round TKO and once by lopsided unanimous Decision. Ruddock’s biggest wins were earlier in his career over former paper champs James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Michael Dokes. Since the back to back defeats to Mike, the “Razor” had come from behind to stop former WBA titlist Greg Page and handed the untested 25-0 Phil Jackson his first loss by 4th round stoppage.
Ruddock was the favored fighter on Halloween Night, 1992; but it made no difference. The Jamaican-Canadian tried boxing the first minute of the fight, only to begin attempting pot-shots halfway through the opening stanza. Towards the end of the round Ruddock jabbed to Lewis’s body and left the punch lingering a tad too long as Lennox crashed a right hand into his jaw, which was hanging out like a lantern in the storm. DOWN WENT RUDDOCK! Though he rose to his feet as the bell sounded, the handwriting was on the wall. Lewis dropped him twice more in the second, and earned his rightful place atop the WBC’s mandatory list of challengers, only to be denied a title shot by Riddick Bowe’s abdicating the WBC strap for reasons known only to Riddick and his manager Rock Newman. Together, they cheated the boxing public out of a highly anticipated showdown and helped Lewis begin his first title-reign auspiciously by being awarded the title by default rather than in the ring.
Comparatively, Mike Tyson, on the rise fought no former world champions; but did defeat fringe contenders, Jessie Ferguson, James Tillis, Marvis Frazier, and Jose Ribalta. While three of those names are recognized as journeyman of the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, in the mid 1980’s, they were still in the title hunt. At the time Jessie Ferguson climbed into the ring with Tyson, he had a record of 14-1, had beaten rising contender James “Buster” Douglas, and his sole loss was a hard-fought 10th round TKO to the highly touted Carl “The Truth” Williams in a match he probably took too soon. James “Quick” Tillis was 31-8 with 7 of his losses coming against Mike Weaver in a title shot, rising contender Pinklon Thomas, who would become WBC champ, a still young Greg Page, who would become WBA champ, top ranked Tim Witherspoon, who would become both a WBC and WBA titlist, Gerrie Coetzee, who had just lost the WBA belt and top contenders, Marvis Frazier and the still undefeated Carl “The Truth” Williams. At the time of Frazier’s :30-second destruction at the hands of “Iron” Mike, Marvis was coming off wins over Tillis, Ribalta, and James “Bonecrusher” Smith, who would soon be a WBA champ; and his ONLY defeat had come at the hands of Larry Holmes in a title shot in his 11th pro fight. Jose Ribalta…..who hasn’t beaten Jose Ribalta, right? Well, at the time, Jose only had 3 losses on his resume, two of which came to Marvis Frazier and James “Bonecrusher” Smith and neither of those was a stoppage.
That’s not that bad of a resume. Combined, those four fighters had a record of 84-13-1, with all but 2 of those losses coming to reputable competition. What made Tyson a lock-in as a top contender was the way he beat these men. In 1985-’86 the “top” fighters were taking on each other more so than they are now and Mike was, by far, the best of the lot when he challenged Trevor Berbick for the WBC strap.
One could almost smell the fear on Berbick as he climbed through the ropes in Darth Vader-esque attire. If not, you sure as hell could after Mike chased him into the ropes in the opening stanza, rocking him with that big right, to say nothing of the knockdown early in round 2, regardless of the not-so assuring nod by Berbick after he got back to his feet. After tasting the canvas for only the third time in his career, Berbick, for whatever reason, decided to stay on the inside with Mike; a mistake that would prove fatal. Towards the end of the round, Mike landed two punches, a right-left hook combo, which didn’t appear to be that hard until Berbick went down three times……from the left hook……just one punch, three knockdowns. That was impressive; and Mike Tyson became the youngest man in boxing history to hold a version of the Heavyweight Title.
We’ve now examined each of the three subjects rise to the top. Next time we’ll look at how their title reigns began.