I am writing this with 24 hours to go before 54-year-old Tyson engages in an 8 round exhibition match with all-time great Light-heavyweight Roy Jones Jnr who happens to be 51-years-old.
Fans will be intrigued to see if Tyson, and/or Jones Jnr still have any of their olds skills, power, or charisma inside a boxing ring left but, a part of me deeply wishes that both would stay retired and impart their knowledge to those of us who don’t know what it takes to compete at the very, very top levels of this most dangerous of sports but, we live in the “Social media age” and practically every fan that saw the still impressive training footage of “Iron Mike” on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and god knows where else clamoured to once again see the once touted “Baddest man on the planet” trying to destroy an opponent again.
No matter what happens against Jones Jnr, Tyson is still one of the most enigmatic fighters in the history of the sport, part due to his threatening, street thug style demeanour, and more so because of his unique style of boxing.
There has never been before or since his heyday, a faster-handed heavyweight with quicker lateral footwork than Tyson. At his best, he was excitement itself, and although Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis will be rightly credited as the better heavyweights, the question will always remain: Would they have beaten the Brooklyn born Tyson before drink, drugs, and the worst human leeches robbed him of his prime years?
What would have happened if Cus D’Amato had lived another ten years?
Kevin Rooney and Teddy Atlas both learnt the fundamentals of the sport from D’Amato and it was Rooney who kept Tyson on the straight and narrow until he won the WBC title from Trevor Berbick in 1986. But at only 20-years-old, Tyson and his $millions were just too much temptation for the aforementioned human leeches, and soon enough the cracks started to appear.
With D’Amato at the helm, things might have been very different. Or maybe they wouldn’t have been. Atlas fell out with the 15-year-old Tyson in a big way and yet D’Amato failed to support his long-time student when he was clearly in the right, so would the Wiley old manager have kept control of the rampaging 20-year-old? We will never know. Constantine D'Amato died of pneumonia at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan on November 4, 1985.
Lewis and Holyfield were dedicated and clean living fighters and quite rightly, they will always be listed above Tyson in top ten heavyweights of all time debates but, the Tyson that knocked out Michael Spinks in 1988 was far removed from the 1996 and 1997 version that succumbed to Holyfield in back-to-back bouts.
When Lennox Lewis stopped Tyson in 2002, “Kid Dynamite", as Tyson was once known as was a shell of his former self. This should take nothing away from Lewis’s legacy, he beat every name heavyweight of his era other than Riddick Bowe and that is far more than can be said for many that came before and after the Londoner.
The peak Mike Tyson was one of the most formidable heavyweights in history. He himself is largely to blame for not staying as committed to his trade as he was in the Cus D’Amata era and history will not take into account how he was preyed upon throughout his boxing career by those looking to steal a piece of the pie. He took the drugs, he drank the alcohol, and he lived the playboy life so he will have to live with that. Perhaps Holyfield had his number, he certainly did when they met, but that was a fight that got put back many years. Had Tyson faced a much less experienced “Real deal” before his own downward spiral began, what would have been the outcome?
Tyson was so effective and so dangerous a puncher in his prime that back then it was difficult to imagine even the likes of Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis dealing with him in their primes. As he said himself many times “I am ferocious”. Ali struggled on three occasions with Joe Frazier’s aggressive bobbing and weaving style, how would the much faster Tyson have fared against “The Greatest?” We will never know for sure but, it’s an interesting discussion for boxing aficionados.
All boxers look back at some stage of their career and wonder what might have been if they had done things differently. Mike Tyson might be the exception, he must wonder how more successful he may have been if life hadn’t dealt him some catastrophic blows. Would we be calling him the GOAT if Cus D’Amato had lived to a ripe old age?