I am a fan of Mike Tyson. No one electrified audience with knockouts quite like him. A Mike Tyson fight was an event. The barber, pastor, and mailman all sat down for how brief a Mike Tyson fight was. We all knew it would be an execution. We all just wanted to know how long before Mike dropped the boom. But .. that was against opposite of the late 80’s and early 90’s. What if Mike Tyson was in his prime in the 70’s? Could he be champion? Let’s find out.
Vs. Joe Frazier: Joe Frazier is the man that Mike Tyson most closely resembles resembles in stature and fighting style. Joe Frazier was 5’11 and 205 lb at the time of his first fight with Muhammad Ali. Prime Tyson was 5 ft 10 and weighed 218 lb. That’s a big weight advantage for Tyson. Both men were swarmers who wanted to pressure their way inside and land big shots, in particular left hooks. That’s about what the similarities end. Mike Tyson's defensive movement was centered around crouching down to avoid the taller opponents blows and beat them into stooping down in order to hit him. If they took the bait, Mike Tyson would explode upwards with tremendous leg straight into uppercuts and hooks. Joe Frazier used bobbing and weaving to avoid punches. He actually would bend nearly completely over at the waist to dodge. Mike Tyson would start every fight with a blitz. He wanted to get the knockout as quickly as possible. Historically, Joe Frazier is one of the worst first round fighters in history. He barely throws punches and in his title lost to George Foreman, he was knocked down three times. The punch that began the damage and downfall in the Foreman fight for Joe Frazier is the uppercut. That is because Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson use an A-frame to launch punches from. My prediction for this fight would be Tyson for your early knockout. Tyson is famed for the left hook, but he prefers to throw upper cuts. Look at his 20 second destruction of Marvis Frazier, Joe’s son. George Foreman was able to key into Frazier’s bending movement and time uppercuts. Mike Tyson, being faster than George Foreman, would have done the same.
Vs. George Foreman: Young George Foreman will 6’4 and 226 lbs. He had very little stamina, poor footwork, and no head movement. But he was strong enough to carry baby cows and he hit hard enough to make grown men levitate. He was described as having anywhere punches. Anywhere he hits he, he breaks. His best punch was the right uppercut. Uppercuts are the Tyson killer. Buster Douglas, Lennox Lewis, and Evander Holyfield all gave Mike Tyson an involuntary nap via the uppercut. George Foreman was used to his opponents being afraid and not blitzing him. Mike Tyson would indeed attack. His speed and work rate would fluster George very early. However, I believe that George Foreman would land one single uppercut that would change the fight. Mike Tyson has never won a fight where he had to get off the canvas. George Foreman got off the canvas to knock out Ron Lyle. The difference in heart, the advantage in styles, and the ability to knock a man out with anything lead me to believe the George Foreman would have scored a mid to late fight stoppage on Tyson. Tyson openly avoided fighting and older George Foreman and for good reason.
Vs. Muhammad Ali: This is fight of the century. This is the hypothetical fight I grew up on. I played this on every boxing game I owned. Ali of the ‘70s, was content to let opponents tire themselves out by punching him as he used the ropes for support to absorb blows (rope a dope). The style of fighting indirectly exposed that Ali had an amazing chin. He could take tremendous damage. In this fight he would need to. Mike Tyson never showed stamina issues. At his best, Mike Tyson was a speed demon and power puncher all in one. With Ali content to lay on the ropes, Mike Tyson would pound away. The offerings from Ali would be the job and the straight right. Those weapons were not discouraged Mike Tyson from coming forward. I believe that late in the fight, Ali would realize that his strategy isn’t working and that Mike Tyson is not getting tired. Ali would begin to get aggressive, knowing that he is down on the score cards. This would lead to Tyson knocking Ali down. Joe Frazier accomplished this in the first fight of the Ali/ Frazier trilogy. The remainder of the fight would see Ali adapt to Mike Tyson and land the correct uppercut shots. However, Muhammad Ali was not a one shot kill fighter. He depended on multiple shots to wear down an opponent. He didn’t knock people out he erased them with constant prodding. Mike Tyson versus the Ali of the ‘70s results in a split decision win for Mike Tyson. Two judges would judge the fight as a whole, while one judge would remember how the tide of the light was changing in the later rounds to Ali’s favor.
Vs. Leon Spinks: Leon was 6’1 and 212 lbs. He shocked the world and his 8th pro fight by defeating Muhammad Ali and becoming heavyweight champion of the world. He was able to use and never ending well of stamina and a very very high work rate to defeat Ali, who at the time did not take Leon seriously and spent the majority of the bout lying on the ropes in the hopes that Leon will get tired. Those hopes were dashed. Leon didn’t use any fancy style. He hit and got hit. His aim was to be elusive, but if the opportunity to brawl came about he would accept. It’s a similar style that is younger brother Michael Spinks would use. Mike Tyson butchered Michael Spinks in 90 seconds. We’ve all heard the story of Michael Spinks being scared of Mike Tyson because Mike Tyson was punching holes in the dressing room wall before the fight. Entering the ring Michael Spinks was a defeated man. I don’t believe that Leon Spinks would be intimidated because he holds a victory over Ali. That being said, I believe that he would bravely go right after the Executioner and be executed. This fight does not last more than three rounds.
Vs. Ken Norton: Ken Norton was 6’3 and an absolutely chiseled 212 lbs. He made a living out of making people look bad. He was a defensive master who was slick enough to outmaneuver Ali, and arguably go 2-1 against him despite ending 1-2. Norton utilize the cross arm block to protect his chin and midsection. He broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw. Ironically, Norton’s job couldn’t take much in the way of damage. He was spared from fighting Joe Frazier because they were friends. The two round prison beating he suffered at the hands of George Foreman left him with a lifelong phobia of power punches. The punches that Mike Tyson would greet him with would quickly remind him of his phobia. Do not quite at the level of being knocked out in one round by Gerry Cooney, Norton was always regarded as being chinny. He was gun shy in the face of power punches. Power punches is all Mike Tyson would bring. The cross arm block is a great tool to deflect long range attacks. However Mike Tyson would fight up close and personal. Mike Tyson would land hook after hook, and getting an easy technical knockout as a wobbly Norton would be held up by the referee.
Vs. Larry Holmes: Mike Tyson versus Larry Holmes was a four round demolition for Holmes. It was vindication for Mike Tyson. Larry Holmes defeated Mike Tyson's hero, Muhammad Ali and in doing so became the only man to stop Ali. Ali was 38, frail, and dealing with undiagnosed Parkinson’s syndrome. In fighting Mike Tyson in 1988, Larry Holmes was 38. He was out of shape, aging, and no longer The undefeated champion. Michael Spinks saw to that. But the East and assassin of the seventies is totally different. Prime Larry Holmes was a sniper. Look what a straight right hand did to Marvis Frazier. He struggled with Kenny Norton over the WBC title, but won. He got off the canvas to beat Ernie Shavers. Larry Holmes was a master of movement who depended on intercepting opponents with long jobs and straight rights. Larry Holmes job is rated as one of the best ever in boxing history, regardless of weight class. He could take a lot of punishment. He definitely did not mind dishing more out. This fight would end up being an absolute war of attrition. The result would be a late stoppage in favor of Holmes or a win by decision. Again, Mike Tyson has never won a fight where he was rocked. He would take Incredible damage trying to close the distance on homes who would have 10 in of reach advantage. He will get frustrated at his own punches missing the mark, while eating jab all night. It wouldn’t be a lethargic Larry Holmes snagging his right arm in the ropes. This Larry would move away from Tyson’s flurries and pepper him in return with straight punches. The only way Tyson wins this fight is because of Larry’s ego. Larry Holmes wanted to fight like a champion. He was winning the Ernie Shavers fight. Though he still ended up winning the fight, he decided to trade with Shavers who is one of the hardest punchers ever, and the resulting exchange nearly left Holmes. If afforded the same opportunity, Tyson’s combination of speed and power could possibly end a fight. He would hit Larry on the way down causing Holmes to go limp. A cautious referee would stop this fight. But strategy and fight style indicates Holmes will win.
Final assessment: Mike Tyson would bring a level of speed and power combined that the heavyweight ranks had never seen before. This would carry him to victory in fights that his style and stance should dictate that he lose. His losses would not be one-sided, but his wins would definitely be. The names he would beat are more impressive and celebrated than the names that he would not beat. Therefore, Mike Tyson versus the heavyweights of the ‘70s is a win for Tyson and in my view, Tyson can be considered an all-time great.