Iron Mike is 50 not out –but would he have beaten Ali?
HUBBARD’S CUPBOARD – 2.7.16
By Alan Hubbard
Some years back, during one of the many dark periods in his turbulent life, Mike Tyson prophesied that by before he was 40 he would end up in New York’s Hudson River with a bullet in the back of his head.
Well he got that one wrong, much to the surprise of many, not least himself.
For last Tuesday he celebrated his 50th birthday, and Iron Mike is still very much alive and if not punching still in there as an indelible presence in boxing history.
He may have mellowed, as even the most angry and ferocious of young men usually do as maturity envelops them. But there seems a certain irony that while the self-styled ‘Baddest Man on The Planet’ ‘is still us with the fistic figure who was the Greatest Man on the Planet has gone.
As it happens, it could be argued that after Ali’s death, Tyson remains now the most recognisable figure in the sport.
And I suspect just about every fight fan has at some time wondered what might have happened had they had met combat in their heyday. I know I have.
By coincidence it is also exactly 19 years ago this weekend since Tyson secured his place as probably the most notorious boxer in history when he chewed the ears of Evander Holyfield in their Las Vegas re-match.
The first nip occurred during a cllnch in the third round when Tyson complained that Holyfield was being allowed to head butt him.
Referee Mills ‘Let’s Get It On’ Lane penalised him, but allowed the fight to continue until Tyson bit Holyfield’s other lug, this time chomping off a lump so that Mills had no choice but to disqualify him.
He was later banned form 18 months for his role in what has become become infamous as ‘Bite Night.’ Or should that be ‘Glove At First Bite?’
“I was mad that he was head-butting me – I was head-butting him too, but I guess I was mad that he was head-butting me better than I was head-butting him,” Tyson declared at the time.
I mention this because in any dream fight with Ali it was this sort of aberration under pressure which in my view would have seen Tyson taken apart and humiliated by The Greatest.
I accept that many may demur, arguing that Ali always seemed to have most trouble against smaller opponents, especially Joe Frazier who swarmed in hurling piston-like punches.
Tyson’s own clubbing blows certainly were a force to behold but could he have caught and clobbered Ali?
Personally I don’t think so. Psychologically Ali would have got to him before the fight, as he did Sonny Liston; and the systematic taunting during the contest could have driven Mike mad. Literally.
Also he would have used his jab, his guile and his speed to out-work him, slice him up and win on points or by late stoppage. At least, that’s what I think, having seen both when they were at their zenith.
Among many other ‘dream’ fights involving Ali and champions past and present one would have been against the undefeated Rocky Marciano.
Actually they did fight–but only via a computer.
Shortly before Rocky’s death in a plane crash in 1969, they made a ‘fantasy fight’, documentary, a computerised version of what might have happened had the pair ever actually ever got iton.
Ali and Marciano both actually got into the ring for some of the shots and the film concluded that Marciano would have stopped Ali in the 13th round – a conveniently satisfying result for America at a time when a reviled Ali was exiled from boxing over his stance on Vietnam.
The film highlighted Marciano’s crudeness. Jab and move wasn’t in his fistic vocabulary. It was said he was as subtle as a sledgehammer.
“His footwork,” wrote the Associated Press reporter Whitney Martin, “consists of moving forward in a direct line to a point where he is within cannonading range.”Another critic was just as blunt: “Rocky didn’t know enough boxing to know what a feint was. He never tried to outguess you. He just kept trying to knock your brains out.”
It was the Marciano way. He was a modest-sized heavyweight – 5ft 10in tall, around 13 1/2st and with a 68in reach, the smallest of all the heavyweight champions – who powered-up his genetics with a great work ethic, an iron will and a wrecking-ball of a right hand – his famed “Suzie Q”. His left hook was almost as crushing, and one sparring partner described getting hit by a single Marciano blow as equivalent to four from Joe Louis, no mean puncher himself.
The Pulitzer Prize winning writer Red Smith called Marciano “the toughest, strongest, most completely dedicated fighter who ever wore gloves,” adding “fear wasn’t in his vocabulary and pain had no meaning.”
So is there a case for Marciano winning? Not according to Rocky himself. During a promotional visit to London he was invited to lunch by the Boxing Writers’ Club. I sat opposite him and after consuming copious glasses of Chianti he confided when questioned as to whether he really would have beaten Ali: “No way.” I realised that as soon as I climbed into the ring with him. He was too big for me.
“I’d have chased him all night, I couldn’t have pinned him on the ropes. He was too,quick, too clever. Naw, he would have been too good for me.”
I believe the same goes for Tyson, who, became the youngest ever heavyweight champion aged 20 when he thrashed Trevor Berbick inside two rounds in 1986. How ironic that it was this same Berbick, himself later to be brutally murdered, who five years earlier in the Bahamas in 1980, finally ended Ali’s career.
Today Iron Mike lives a more tranquil existence, a family man in Las Vegas, doing a bit of promoting, working the celebrity circuit and an occasional one-man show.
His tattooed face might be more memorable than most, but that face no longer snarls as he turns 50. So what is his his legacy? “It’s up to the people to decide where I rank in history,” he says. “But from what they tell me, it’s pretty high.”