Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson are often cited as the two most well known boxers on the planet earth, and as always follows in the minds of ever inquisitive fight fans, they all want to know who would win a fight between them prime to prime?
Well, folks, this Bud is for you:
Intersection of Time & Space in The Great Pantheon
Whoops, let’s amend that opening statement now that Tyson has become something of a grizzled oldtimer with his retirement a few years back, up for entry into the IBHOF next year. Who’d have ever guessed that day would ever come back when the 21 yr old Tyson briefly strode atop of the boxing world like no other before or since?
Was there ever a bigger, brighter, more explosive shooting star, ever?
Arguably Manny Pacquiao is now the best known fighter ever, and his promoter, Bob Arum who promoted some 25 Ali fights claims that Pacquiao is a better fighter than Ali, and presumably by extension, Tyson, but that is another endless debate for another time and another place.
Ali could certainly spin a few stories about the ravages of Father Time had he still had a voice, so boxing fans will just have to do with watching his flashing fight reruns and wondering:
When I first tackled the internet forums more than a decade ago, the AOL baseball forums were great “amateur” preparations for the hysteria of their boxing forums which you can read about here if you want to get sidetracked:
Anyway, Big Mac Mark McGwire was in the middle of shattering Homerun records, naturally begging the question of who was better, McGwire or Babe Ruth. I quickly learned that some weigh in with a considerably more studied approach than the average keyboard hacker on a drunken swaggering binge fueled by modern media marketing that propelled Big Mac into a larger than life Superman, but I digress.
Mainly, I was well prepared to duck and roll with the punches on the boxing forums which I discovered as an afterthought after the record setting baseball season ended. I was quickly swarmed by a blizzard of angry cyber popcorn punchers as soon as I weighed in with my observations about Ali whom I had watched develop when I followed his every move as a starry eyed schoolboy.
Same deal with Mike Tyson. Who on the planet with a pulse could not follow their exploits and infamy?
Just a hint of their names or that of Rocky Marciano on the forum would detonate an explosion to raise the dead, kill the living, and wipe all history from the vestiges of the great pantheon of boxing. Vilest of names and threats were issued not to mention actual real ring challenges as if a few rounds in the ring were adequate to answer any question about a proposed fantasy.
Some infidels even hit on creating alternate forum accounts and names so that they could agree and congratulate the intelligence of themselves.
Truth be told, from what I see, Ali sports a record of 1-2-1 in fantasy fights, losing by KO to Rocky Marciano in Murray Woroner’s computer elimination tourney in the late sixties,
Ali vs Rocky
being bounced off the canvas by Gorilla Monsoon before drawing with Antonio Inoki in 1976
Ali vs Inoki
but beating Superman in 1978, the greatest comeback by The Greatest in fantasy history perhaps.
Ali vs Superman
Tyson’s record is more muddled, having Stone Cold Steve Austin shoot him the finger before shoving Tyson into the bleachers, but then assisting Stone Cold in winning the WWF title by pushing him out for battle whilst almost snatching the speedos off of him.
When Teefs Go Flying
Certainly Tyson owns Ali in street fight wins, with at least a dozen publicized knockouts of assorted civilian and pro boxer challengers like Mitch Green who became only the 2nd fighter to last the distance against young Tyson, yet couldn’t last 15 seconds in the street:
The answer to any of these fantasy fights is of course completely subjective and dependant upon point of view, and believe you me, POV in Ali vs Tyson is all over the galactic map, stretching far into the fistic heavens above and reaching way, way down into the hellish muck below.
Git Up Chump!
My own impetus for another look at this fight is wanting a ceremonial celebratory piece featuring the two best known modern fighters of their day to bookmark the end of the first decade of the third millennium while both are still alive.
The spark of life of life regenerated in the two legends when the fight recently appeared in a particularly dire website produced by some gameboy who ran the fight through his game console and proclaimed the definitive once and for all time answer………X 10!
Yup, they fought 10 consecutive times in gameboy-fantasy world, so now he knew the results and was “sharing.”
Yeah, right, Junior. Get back to us when you grow a pair fill your shorts and another pair to fill your frontal lobes.
Geez, I generally stopped responding to these fantasy fights on subsequent forums because too many only wanted to rant, from whose loins sprang a brand new type of critter never before seen stalking the earth, a ham handed species known as Nazioso Moderatus who always purports to a higher purpose than their flimsy, venal grasp could ever latch on to in real life.
The fun was gone, the innocent majic of internet communication across generations and state and international borders ruined by underdeveloped homo sapiens unable to contain long repressed schoolboy emotional insecurities as they acted out their playground fantasies.
The Ali/Tyson fight has been proposed in fantasy millions of times to never be answered in the here and now reality that we, those of us who can currently hold up our hands to be counted, live in, but like séances and crystal balls, some claim to know the definitive answer once and for all.
Ali and Tyson existed as fighters in two different eras in what turned out to be a huge, ongoing evolution of the heavyweight division that currently has an unlimited weight class for any fighter scaling over 200 lbs. In Ali’s day, the marker was 175 lbs, a different era as I mentioned, yet oddly enough there is less than 4 years span from Ali’s last fight at age 39 until Tyson’s teenage debut at age 18, and only 6 years span between Ali’s last title fight until Tyson’s first title.
Oh, oh, so close, yet so, so, far away. Amazing!
In the “middle-ages” of the 20th century, Jack Dempsey vs Joe Louis was the red hot fantasy bout of the day, and it’s still a great one for those of us who relish breaking down styles and physical attributes of fighter matchups. Back then fans actually lived boxing instead of just watching it and arguing over the internet. Thousands of teeth were knocked loose from their roots to be scattered across barrooms in the quest to prove a point when civility ceased as tempers combusted in many of these debates.
Boxing was the unrivaled King of American sports in those days, dominating the sports sections of newspapers.
Now, I’ve been watching boxing in fascination since forever and the next day, so, naturally, ahem, being of a modern superiority oriented bent to all that preceded me, I’ve arrived at a more modern, more mature, more studied approach to the ever lasting debate dilemma with all due deference to my fascination with baseball’s SABRE movement, a newer formulaic method that expanded the use of statistical analysis by weighting eras and ballparks and the offensive and defensive parameters of players.
Let’s be clear here though; folks, unless you die and are admitted into fistic Valhalla where all the greats are in constant battle with each other for you to observe the actual results to report, in the mean streets of the here and now you may or may not make a credible case for your man but you cannot provide definitive ring results, period.
Man up for some civility while listening to some other points of views. Tune them out if they threaten the existence of your favorites, but no need to go into meltdown.
Moving back to point, Ali vs Tyson, who you got?
I’ll say it proud and I’ll say it loud and I’ll come as close to proving it as is possible before I’m through, it’s Tyson in a walkover.
OK, OK…………….just spiking some blood pressure for old time sake with that last exaggeration, I confess, but hear me out with an open mind, I promise to be serious from here on.
Who would you actually bet on if you were forced with everything you hold dear riding on the outcome?
That has to be the bottom line.
Fight fans tend to become highly emotional about their favored fighters, something oddmakers and gambling interests have made a fortune on as far back as distant memory can be pulled up. So consider carefully and make an informed choice unless you want to lose your family farm with your stock of prized blue ribbon mules as the girl of your dreams snatches your dog and storms out of your life forever.
Surely you would put in a little research, so here we go:
Usually it’s assumed that 1966-67 Ali, age 24-25, is tops Ali, and 86-88 Tyson, age 20-21, is tops Tyson. Both are undefeated and marching through their opposition with nary a care for their futures. They are at their peak primes, plain and simple, ready to rumble with any challenge that developed.
Remember, lesser talented and weaker fighters have been upsetting the odds from time immemorial also as well as greats being unrecognized until they had a platform to showcase their abilities. Savvy gaming interests factor records, styles, ages, betting patterns and many other elements into formulating their odds.
In fantasy world, I am using my freshly cloaked time machine, “Slipping Time,” to go stealthily back into time to lure the combatants to the Ultimate All-time Fight. I have stocked my ship with a large caldron of gold bullion as the tempting purse to be split: winner takes 60/loser takes 40% as the lure.
A small bundle of Ring Magazines featuring each fighter in their primes is included so they can read about each other, along with DVDs of those fights that they can view to prepare fight strategies.
“Slipping Time” is big enough to accommodate their trainers, HOFer Angelo Dundee for Ali, including Bundini Brown and any of his key advisors such as Gene Kilroy, ect. Tyson can be with his HOFers, Cus D’amato with Kevin Rooney as trainers and his HOF managers, Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Clayton advising.
So, that is the first thing that stands out to me, the overall strength of Tyson’s team, probably the strongest assembled team of professionals of all time. Without them, Tyson would’ve run off the rails much sooner than he did.
The next thing that stands out is the tone of the Ring Mags as we thumb through them. While praiseworthy of Ali achievements at that time, periodic flaws and complaints are cited. In 1966, Ring did not award a Fighter of the Year, and in 1967 gave the award to Joe Frazier. Those were Ali’s best years. Need I remind anyone that those were controversial political years for Ali, but then his whole career is riddled in controversy, that was his mother’s milk. Still, Ring editor Nat Fleischer steadfastly defended Ali through this time, yet perhaps the controversy overshadowed Ring’s perception of Ali as a boxer, who knows?
The tone of the Tyson articles is not merely only praiseworthy, but grows into a glow of awe over the absolute dominating manner he has dismissed every opponent. Tyson is being couched in terms of the best ever, it was almost a given at that point. He had already won two Ring Fighter of the Year awards. I mean the kid was only 21 and it was assumed he wasn’t even fully mature yet and was only gonna get better.
OK, but what of the primacy and strengths of the undefeated fighters themselves coming into this fight?
Typically, the last few bouts are the best indicator of the physicaland style attributes each will possess in the ring. Boxrec uses the last 6 bouts as an indicator for their records website, so let’s use that impartial objective standard.
In Boxrec order, Ali had last defended against Henry Cooper, Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, Cleveland Williams, Ernie Terrell, and Zora Folley respectively, a perfect 6-0, 5 KO, very impressive, but let’s look closer and compare.
Tyson last defended against Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs, and Michael Spinks, also a perfect 6-0, 5 KO record to match Ali. Hmmmm….
It must firmly be addressed that Cooper is sometimes cited as arguably knocking out Ali in the first fight before being stopped himself depending on which unreliable source of “factual” information you believe. Only edited fight tapes remain of the encounter unless the beeb uncovers the master tape lost in their dingy archives, so the fight has well passed into legend shrouded in mystery and entombed in myth now like so many Ali fights, but there is no doubt Ali was wisely more defensive in the rematch and opened up bloody ‘enery face as expected. An awkward, bloody walkover that at least helped to set the record straight like Joe Louis used to do for his few controversies.
Compare to Pinklon Thomas, 30 lbs of tough, former champion muscle bigger than Cooper that Tyson dismissed by one sided beatdown, a superior opponent by most every measure with all due respect to Sir’enery who’s left hook, “Enry’s ‘Ammer,” became almost Arthurian in British legend.
Next up for Ali was Brian London, easily dismissed in 3 rounds.
Compare to the then undefeated IBF beltholder Tony Tucker, a prime, tall, well built, balanced boxer/puncher who was undefeated. Tucker put up a decent early scrap, but went on the run late to survive the distance for a wide decision loss. Tucker is light years ahead of London.
Now Ali is on the road for his 3rd straight defense against German champ, Karl Mildenberger. Interesting bout with the quickish lefty having enough success that Howard Cosell almost choked on his toupee at one point, but Ali ultimately put together a nifty combo in the 12th to put the fight away.
Compare to tall, quick, undefeated, superheavyweight Olympic Gold Medalist Tyrell Briggs, good enough to have kept Lennox Lewis buried in the amateurs another 4 yrs, yet viciously chased down and brutalized by Tyson in a 7 rd demolition. Most would say that a prime Briggs is considerably more talented and formidable than a prime Mildenberger, but Mildenberger proved to be much more competitive in his challenge if that counts for anything. One could differ on who was the better fighter from that POV I suppose.
Moving on, many consider Ali’s perfect demolition of Cleveland Williams his signature fight of excellence. Can’t argue that point, but Williams was missing half his guts and had arrived DOA at Ben Taub Hospital after a shootout with Houston police some two years earlier, so he had no business in a title fight other than a retirement benefit that Ali graciously provided. Big credit to The Big Cat for showing up as a powerful looking figure even if his reflexes were gone, a legend in his day.
Compare to the 38 yr old HOFer Larry Holmes who had stalked Tyson for over a year, loudly issuing public challenges while making notes and battle plans. Tyson left him ice stone cold in the shape of a crucifix nailed to the canvas in the 4th round, Holmes’ sole KO loss in a very long, extended career. Nobody could doubt that Holmes was miles ahead of Williams at these points or most any point.
Next up for Ali is a unification bout with tall Ernie Terrell on the best run in his career. After putting up a spirited early scrap, Terrell was injured and hung on to survive terrible punishment to lose a lopsided decision on the cards.
Tyson was fighting Tony Tubbs, a big fast handed former WBA champ who actually tried to trade with Tyson for 2 fruitless rounds before being whacked out. Fairly even high quality defenses between Ali and Tyson, finally, even if there was a wide difference in the results.
Last on Ali’s docket in March of 1967 was Zora Folley, an older contender with a long career past his best form, yet given a decent counterpuncher’s fighting chance, dismissed in 7 rds.
Compared to Tyson’s signature bout against all time undefeated HOFer Michel Spinks, blasted out as easily as a child throws a rag doll to the floor. Unbelievable and no wonder so many of the old timers thought Tyson was the 2nd coming of a new and improved Jack Dempsey by that point.
Only the blinkered could deny that Tyson was beating up on much better overall competition than Ali to those points of time, so what next?
The biggest legacy names on Ali’s record had been in 1964-1965 against Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson, so surely that has to count as something right?
They certainly went a long way in making the legend of Ali, but remember, Liston gave a suspect effort in those fights, causing enough of an uproar to have Congress investigate boxing and haul Liston up to give testimony under oath. Liston died under mysterious circumstance a week or two before his 2ndappearance several years later. At any rate, Liston was already disgraced enough after the first fight to have the WBA strip Ali before the rematch that was it’s own elite category of travesty and farce, or worse.
Doubt Floyd Patterson was even given a chance by his own family, though he did regain status as a contender by remaking his style before retiring. Thing is, his back was completely out for this challenge, a painful fight that had spectators wincing between rounds as Floyd’s corner manfully tried to jerk Floyd’s back in place between rounds.
I don’t see these Ali fights as having much if any relevance to a fight against a prime, healthy Tyson, but at the tail end of 65, Ali did win a wide 15 rd decision over George Chuvalo, a squat, muscular banger/brawler who worked the body with hooks much as Tyson might. Where that similarity ends is that the game Chuvalo was light years slower than Tyson in hand and foot speed and well down in power, never showing the shooting star offense and defensive brilliance that characterized Tyson at his best, yet George had some success in trapping Ali and banging him up the best he could.
Looking back, it’s almost as if The Fates had planned on staging this Ultimate Fight for Tyson’s advantage. The last 5 of the 6 fights noted above were against tallish, quick, boxer/puncher types, 6-3 for Tubbs, Holmes and Spinks and 6-5 for Briggs and Tucker who could also jab, counter, and move around much like prime Ali.
Most every boxer who came after Ali at least practiced doing him in the gym for some good sport, but few could implement it as well as Briggs and Tucker did in the ring. Fighting Chuvalo may have toughened up Ali’s core, but in no way prepares him for the highly trained and arguably most highly skilled heavy in history at his absolute peak.
A glance at the overall record to these points in time also show that Ali had been susceptible to quick lightheavy types with good left hooks, being knocked down hard by Sonny Banks and Henry Cooper and having Doug Jones take it to him hard enough that many thought Jones won their fight. Young Clay had been looking so vulnerable in recent outings that many thought him undeserving of a title shot against Liston.
The kid in me was worried for his health because that’s the way I saw him, as one kid to another kid. He wasn’t supposed to survive a mauling by the Big Bear, much less win. What a shocker!
In Tyson, basically Cus D’amato lucked into the perfect, moldable, fighting physio-type for his beloved bob and weave style he loved to teach. A struggle for Tyson coming up was a knockdown of a spoiling Quick Tillis and winning a wide decision as a 19 yr teen. The “struggle” was that Tillis was one of the few Tyson couldn’t knock out.
To this day you can still find oodles of critics, some with press and boxing credentials, who criticize big punchers for winning fights when they failed to knock out their opponents, slamming them for outboxing the other guy, something they would never criticize a boxer for doing. You certainly can’t tell them that they can’t come up with a single 19 yr heavyweight in history that would be capable of beating a slick, experienced former contender who was still capable enough the year before to go the distance against Larry Holmes’ title challengers, Carl Williams and Marvis Frazier as well as against future champ Gerrie Coetzee and then Tyrell Biggs.
Whatever, dude. Everyone’s entitled to pick the wave they want to ride in on.
When Push Comes to Crunch
If Ali is to have any degree of significant advantage over Tyson, it’s in knowing that he is his own man fighting his own fight to his own muse. Ali was mostly fighting on natural self-honed talent, only taking those part of boxing skills he deemed useful to meld to his instincts and ignoring the rest. Angelo Dundee was primarily a professional motivator and emotional stabilizer for the chaos that was Ali’s persona along with his sidekick, Bundini Brown. Dundee would pick flaws in opponents to be worked on in sparring, but they were as much suggestions to be planted in Ali’s fertile fighting brain as to actually be worked on in the gym. Ali spent many a sparring session clowning around which he enjoyed immensely since there were ever growing crowds around to be entertained that were future butts in the seats to watch him fight.
So, like a jazz musician, Ali was usually able improvise when the going got rough to bring the fight back to his own rhythm, whereas Tyson was more of a finely oiled by the numbers machine that could potentially go off the rails with the right kind of kink in the tracks. Still, that was a HOF team of mechanics in Tyson’s corner to make the repairs and jigger the fight plan and it cannot be ignored how seamlessly they operated by forcing their own beat as in beating the meat and marrow to the man out of their opposition.
It’s these contrasting fighter mental makeups, with different corners and fight styles that instinctively make the fight as compelling for the dreamy fan as a moth driven to the flame.
Remember, both were undefeated and full of the cocky self assuredness of young men who KNOW they could never, EVER be beat, and what a raucous legion of supporters they had.
Who to Stand?
What comes after 1967 and 1988 is meaningless and has no bearing on a prime, peak fight between the two. That’s more a question of legacy which bears no relevance to any projected fight. They were both eventually beaten by lesser fighters as typically happens in the greatest of careers, and Tyson’s career in particular fell apart from endless documented mental problems, run ins with the law and subsequent incarcerations and legal entanglements.
Huge “superfights” like this have a way of surprising and is no guarantor of being a classic, but the way I see the action breaking down is as follows.
Tyson comes roaring out looking for a retreating Ali ala the first Liston fight. Tyson is quick on the target who is just as quick as skipping off the ropes, flicking the jab in retreat. Tyson is put off his normal rhythm of being able to engage while Ali is unwilling to engage though he is trying to counter flash right hands off Tyson’s noggin and working his jab in retreat, trying to land something, anything on him to keep him off.
Tyson quickly finds his patience and balanced restored when he moves to stalking mode and cutting off range, making Ali run harder and longer as Tyson begins to slowly reel in the distance with feints, range finders, and positioning. Ali can’t find his timing on the bobbing and weaving Tyson, so much like the Folley fight where he also dropped those early rounds until he figured out how to swoop in on Folley without being countered, it’s a boring fight with him spoiling, clowning, and giving away rounds.
Ali knows he eventually has to stand and fight the monster as he did in the first Liston fight after 5 rounds, so he starts to settle closer to his range as the mid rounds progress. Finally we are starting to see some limited exchanges, but now folks are booing when Ali breaks off. People forget that Ali was often booed at any given fight and forget that his entire ring persona was based on famed wrestler, Gorgeous George, one of the greatest heel personalities in history for whom boos were money raining from the heavens.
Ali is using this time to sharpen his instincts and timing because he will have to choose his spots carefully to start doing some damage on the unmarked Tyson.
So, finally the time comes when Tyson has trapped Ali again who’s ready with his lightning counter right which Tyson shakes off with a massive burst of a combination from Hell that shakes Ali to his core.
So, that’s how I see the fight starting and I can’t see how it starts in any other fashion unless someone actually believes in Ali’s famed “Anchor Punch” that he learned from Stepin’ Fetchit. Me thinks the Tooth Faerie is gonna have to leave it under Ali’s pillow the day before the fight.
How the fight ends is where we get into the really meaty bone of contention. Tony Tucker went on the stick and move the last few rounds against Tyson when he saw he couldn’t survive trying to exchange with him. Some would say smart choice to take your chances with fickle judges whose empty pockets might be bulging by fight’s end. Bonecrusher Smith and Mitch Green, neither scarcely possessing a trace of Ali attributes, survived by tying Tyson up and losing every round, not a prime Ali style.
I’d like to think Ali at his core was more the warrior who would pull out all the stops to win back the early rounds he gave away which is where his fatal flaw is.
Mortals cannot trade in Tyson’s wheelhouse, period. Tyson had won almost every round he contested to that point in his career by cutting off the ring and forcing himself into his own distance with impeccable timing and speed, punctuated with lightening combos.
To simplify his game, his offense was his defense. Hardly any punches could land on him from distance, and once in his range he was absolutely blistering.
Maybe Ali extends it into later rounds by mixing fighting hard with running and clowning around as he sometimes did, frustrating Tyson into making mistakes, but Tyson back then was kept on track by his trainers and was all business, especially when he knows he winning the rounds and putting serious hurt on his guy.
Ali did put together a late rally combination to knock out Mildenberger, but Mildy is about as far removed from a prime Tyson as he is from Ali in comparison, but it’s out there, in the record, and no doubting the lightning quality of Ali’s handspeed when he was sufficiently motivated.
Ali does have the longer, quicker, flicking jab he could adjust the snap to suit his purpose, and it was a slicing, cutting marvel that won a lot of cut TKOs for him, so that’s a possible win scenario for him nobody could discount. As a one punch counter, Ali’s right hand is probably the fastest of any heavyweight, and it could be a slicer as well, so try as I might, I can’t see any other way he can win this fight but cuts, but on a 21 yr old fighter never before cut in more contested bouts than Ali had?
It seems silly to bet the farm on a cut knowing Ali is likely to lose most of the rounds and maybe get knocked out, but then again, can you remember how many folks put money on Ali to beat Holmes and Tyson to beat Lewis when each was well past his best?
Go look at the record, and you’ll find a wide assortment of “experts” picking Ali or Tyson for those fights, and one can only imagine the names of those experts who lost their silly money in those lopsided losses.
Yes, I said it. Anyone can get knocked out, and Ali had already been on the canvas or hurt by smaller, lesser skilled and credentialed heavyweights than Tyson. Maybe he could knockout Tyson, his right hand was somewhat underrated compared to the potential power I believe he had, but it just ain’t probable in what we know about the fighters going into this bout.
Tyson also had an excellent jab he famously out jabbed the hugely rangier Tucker with, and on a one punch basis his speed and timing were superb, but it was his combinations that were as quick or quicker than any heavy that preceded him. He was well versed enough in a wide variety of them for every occasion that typically he only needed a few combinations to terminate a fight.
So, Tyson is the favorite for me. I’d have no problem with anyone picking Ali, except that few ever make a good case to counter Tyson’s advantages and generally come up with unrelated nonsense or worse,so I did map out how Ali might win. One can never discount his one off talents coming up with something never seen before.
For the record, Ali was once asked about this fight in Tyson’s prime presence near 25 yrs ago and he indicated Tyson would knock him out. Tyson responded by protesting no way could he ever beat Ali.
So, there it is, your most gracious true factual answer to the perpetually unanswerable, complete mutual respect forever captured in time.
Such shall have to suffice for the here and the now. Still, we can dream, “What if?”
Until The End Of…………….
Read more excellent articles and boxing news from Bobby Mac at http://roberto00.wordpress.com/