You know how long it has been since Mike Tyson was Iron Mike Tyson? You know how long it’s been since Tyson walked into a boxing ring, in the best shape he could be in, with his skills razor sharp, and took out a worthy opponent?
Nine years, that’s how long.
You’ve got to go back to 1988, when Tyson beat Larry Holmes in January, Tony Tubbs in March and Michael Spinks in June to find a stretch in which Tyson was at his best, a time when he was feared not because of reputation or demeanor, but because he struck blows too savage and too precise to withstand.
Since then, there have been tomato cans for opponents, incompetent handlers and cornermen, Don King, divorce, a rape conviction, prison, two defeats, a second marriage, the birth of a child. That’s a whole lot of water under the bridge, most of it muddy.
I’m finding it a little difficult to believe Tyson is favored in the minds of so many to beat Evander Holyfield here tonight, and that people are still buying into the mythology of Iron Mike Tyson when he hasn’t delivered a great performance in the ring for nine years. Even if you wanted to be generous and give him the benefit of the doubt for his seventh-round TKO of Razor Ruddock, that was March 1991, more than six years ago.
Why should we believe now that at 31 years old, he can turn back the clock and summon what he used to be? Because he ran across the ring and awkwardly pounded stiffs such as Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis, Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon in a grand total of eight rounds?
Can Tyson come out tonight and knock out Holyfield in the first round? Yes. Of course. Beyond that? Who knows? Three times in the ‘90s Tyson has fought 10 rounds, and twice he’s been knocked out. His history suggests that if he doesn’t knock Holyfield out in the first three rounds, he doesn’t have what it takes to win a long, difficult dogfight.
Don’t get me wrong, Tyson in his 20s was probably more feared than any heavyweight champion ever, including Joe Louis. You look at those clips of Tyson on Classic Sports Network, and fairly accomplished fighters were absolutely frightened and didn’t want to be in the ring with him. That said, here’s what Tyson - through 47 fights over 12 years of professional boxing - has never done: beat a man with chin, head and heart. Never done it. He’s never gotten up off the mat to whip anybody, never come from behind to win, never responded well to a real challenge.
From John L. Sullivan to Jack Johnson to Joe Louis to Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali, every great heavyweight champion has had a career-defining fight, at least one night when he had to stand nose-to-nose with a worthy opponent and call on every resource imaginable to stay upright - perhaps injured and bloody, usually in the late rounds - to win a boxing match.
Except Mike Tyson.
Johnson had Jim Corbett and Jess Willard. Louis had Max Schmeling and Billy Conn, among others. Marciano had Jersey Joe Walcott. Ali had Frazier, Earnie Shavers and George Foreman. When has Tyson’s greatness - not bullying, - been on display?
If you want to argue that’s not Tyson’s fault, that’s a legitimate position.
Still, tonight is Tyson’s chance not just to regain this championship - which given the number of belts doesn’t mean much - but to prove he’s got the resilience and resolve that nobody thus far has made him demonstrate.
He does look to be in great shape this time, but there are plenty of professional boxing trainers who’ll say privately that his regimen isn’t as taxing, that he isn’t obsessed with the details and subtleties of every little thing like he used to be. That, especially when the opponent is so stout of heart, is enough to keep even a man as once-feared as Mike Tyson from being called champion.
xxxx PAY TV The match between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield is being carried by TCI on a pay-per-view basis for $54.95.