The Legend of Tyson

By Tom Donelson
Updated: November 24, 2007

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Mike Tyson is in trouble again. But I have not come to bury Tyson but to review a career of one of boxing’s enigma. There are fighters whose place in boxing history is not debatable. No one will debate the greatness of Ali or Louis, the only real debate is who would win when match against each other.

Tyson has always been a mystery, bordering between the reality that we saw in the ring and the legend that he became. We really don’t know how to rate him. He began his career with greatness as his destiny. When he teamed with Cus D’Amato, Tyson was trained not just to be a champion but to be the champion that all other fighters would be compared.

He began his career as a wunderkind, a superstar and boxing fans adopted him. Tyson knocked people out and filled arenas. There was something about this 5-foot-10 fighter that didn’t seem human.

Like many sluggers, he often intimidated his opponent before they entered the ring. He walked in, no sox and a simple white towel covering him. Nothing fancy, simply a knock out machine ready to dispatch his opponent.

The highlight of Tyson career occurred when he splattered Michael Spinks in 90 seconds. This was Tyson at his peak, with quick devastating punches sending Spinks to the canvas, not just one but twice. Every punch seemed to land and each punch carried bad intent.

Tyson came in the ring an angry man, ready to destroy whatever in front of him. And he defeated another undefeated fighter, a fighter who was not just great light heavyweight but the guy who ended Larry Holmes’ championship reign.

From this point, Tyson’s career began a slow decline downward. His lost to Buster Douglas forever shattered his invincibility and at the age of 24, he was an ex-champ.

Boxing writer Frank Lotierzo once summed up Tyson career, “The youngest who became champion and the youngest who became an ex-champion.” While Tyson may have been an ex-champ but he was still boxing most popular gate attraction and often overshadowed the sport.

While Tyson struggled to get back his title, a new star moved from the cruiserweight division — Evander Holyfield. After cleaning out the cruiserweight division, Holyfield made his move toward a heavyweight championship and ended Buster Douglas short reign with a vicious uppercut.

Holyfield became the new man in the division, thus setting up a major collision between the two great fighters in their prime. Then a rape conviction sent Tyson to jail..

After his return from jail, the circus began. Tyson’s first fight back was against the hapless Peter McNeely and shortly thereafter, he won a portion of the heavyweight champion. He was the guy that fans viewed as the true champion. It was Tyson’s world and the rest of the fighters were mere participant.

While Tyson was the superstar that filled the arenas; other fighters caught and surpass Tyson within the confines of the ring. Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and Holyfield proved to be great heavyweights in their own rights and while Tyson was the superstar, he was no longer the best.

This was shown when Holyfield stopped Tyson in their first fight. Going in that fight, Holyfield was considered wash-up and yet, it was Holyfield who dominated Tyson. Their second bout would forever taint Mike Tyson.

In a fight that appeared to going the way of their first fight; Holyfield jumped in the air with blood spurting from his ear in the third round.

Tyson bit Holyfield ear and to show that this was intentional, Tyson did it again. Disqualified, Tyson did not just lose the fight but his reputation was forever tattered. No longer considered just a great fighter, he became the butt of many jokes.

From this point, Tyson became more of a freak show than a serious fighter. Boxing fans watched his fight to see if what new adventure would occur, as people paid to see either a Tyson knock out or a Tyson meltdown and he often did not disappoint.

The final act to Tyson career occurred when Lennox Lewis defeated Tyson easily in 2002. The only round that proved competitive was the first round but after that Lewis out boxed and out fought Tyson before finally stopping him in the eighth.

From there, humiliating losses to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride ended Tyson career and his career stopped with the great warrior sitting on his stool and unwilling to continue. Here is what one needs to know. Tyson began his career with greatness reserved but what occurred was something else.

When Tyson retired, he did not retire as the greatest. He did not even retire as the best of his generation but what can’t be denied, he had a great career that most fighters would die for. We did not expect him to be one of three or four great fighter of his era; we expected him to be the fighter of this generation.

We never thought that he would have to share his glory with others like Lewis and Holyfield. Tyson’s disappointment came because he never climbed the mountain reserved for Louis and Ali.

We had to settle for just another great fighter instead of the myth.