‘Who did Tyson beat’ : Fighting a bum rap
By Gary Pino (October 31, 2005) 
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I was scanning the web last night and I came across an article titled ‘Who did Tyson beat’ by a writer who will remain unnamed. He went on to describe how fighters (mainly heavyweights) are only as great as the era they represent. Some of this is true; some greats had weak eras, such as Rocky Marciano. But in saying this you have to consider that it is not up to the fighter to pick an era and hope it has a crop of talented fighters. A professional fighter has to do his or her job and fight what is presented to them or available. According to this article, the best names on Mike Tyson’s resume were Michael Spinks and Larry Holmes. Holmes was 38-years-old at the time and Tyson was the only fighter to stop him. When Spinks stepped in the ring with Tyson he was Ring Magazine’s recognized undefeated champ, so that was a big win for Tyson.

Tyson did what he had to do in his era. He peaked so young and was at his lethal best for a few years and really it is shocking that his best days were between the ages of 18- 23. But that’s what it was. Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and others just weren’t ready when Mike Tyson was on top of the world. Tyson was rushed and groomed to be sensational in a race against time to win the title before the ‘master’ Cus D’Amato past away. That’s the way it was, and Tyson’s comeback after prison cannot be considered his prime despite ‘experts’ saying that the top two fighters of his era – Holyfield and Lewis – beat him so Mike Tyson cannot be considered great.

Was it fair to say Rocky Marciano wasn’t great because he fought in a weak era? Or to discredit Jack Johnson’s achievements because until he faced Tommy Burns he had a walk in the park during his reign? This is a weak argument and something I discussed with Bert Sugar here in New Jersey at Gerry Cooney’s F.I.S.T. dinner. I specifically asked about Mike Tyson and where he ranked among the best. Sugar said “in his prime” he was the best of the best. Top 5 of all-time. The way he fought when he was young and hungry, no fighter could have stepped in to stop that drive Tyson had. Teddy Atlas can say Tyson had no character and maybe he is correct. Tyson wasn’t a member of the honor society. But thinking about this argument of classifying a fighter according to era just is not fair to the fans or the fighters.

You can look at Cassius Clay’s early years and his only professional achievement was beating Sonny Liston. Then after his draft issue and religion change he had his big fight against a prime Joe Frazier which he lost and lost convincingly. Ali was a great fighter and ruled his era, but what was his real prime? When was his era and when was it that made him great? We can bounce this off walls all night, and still come up with nothing. Larry Holmes, who I feel is cast in the shadow of Ali, had a solid era and ruled it. I feel Holmes was better than Ali but again you cannot match them on the premise of era. You need to take a fighter and match their skill level. Hand speed, punching power, chin, and ring awareness.

To name a few great fighters who had tremendous ability to finish a fight with one shot we need to remember Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, George Foreman, Marciano, Tyson, Liston, could finish a fight with one shot. You can’t teach power and how to deliver it. Punchers aren’t made, they are born. You take that short quick list and say well who was a great boxer as well and Joe Louis jumps out at you. This is how you measure what a fighter has under his hood. Not by era! My short analysis here is proof of that. What makes a fighter great? We can do a lot better than matching era and birth certificates. Era is what makes each one fighter his own man who controls his own destiny. And what he does during his run at the top is what will determine whether he is great or not. If a fighter takes on all comers during his reign and happens to remain undefeated and the champ, that’s quite an accomplishment. Also being 20 and the youngest ever heavyweight champion is a feat in itself. You have to call it like it is. Let’s keep it this way.
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