As it turns out, mine's a fucking gem from The Man himself:
Re: Kid Dynamite
Received: 01/06/06 10:44 AM
In reply to:
My question of opinion is: how good? Could Tyson in 1986 have taken anyone? Because in the five fights they showed, most of which ended in a first round KO, it looked to my amateur eye like he wasn't even playing the same game as his opponents. The speed, the ruthlessness, the total lack of fear on display - not to mention a number of absolutely crushing punches - made me feel like I was watching one of the greatest displays of athleticism ever.
This is one of the truly great debates of boxing, and one that splits down the middle.
On the one hand, you have the "good but not great" camp who point out that a lot of fighters burst on the scene like a super nova, dispatching the journeymen and the bums they're fed in the early days as they learn their trade in spectcular fashion, but the real test doesn't come until they fight good and then great fighters. These guys point out that Tyson looked great against the bums he fought in 85 and 86, and even when he became champ, such was the dearth of genuine talent in the division that he was still being fed glorified bums like Frank Bruno. They say that as soon as he ran into a decent fighter with a game plan (Buster Douglas), he came unstuck. The great fighters can lose and come back, like Ali did, but Tyson never really came back from that loss. He'd beat a few bums and look good doing it again, but then when he had to face an Evander Holyfield or a Lennox Lewis, he'd be beaten again.
Those who believe Tyson was the greatest ever or at least a contender point out that he destroyed journeymen like no other teenage heavyweight before or since, and that it's unfair to point to Douglas as the first good fighter he faced. In late 86, he destroyed Marvis Frazier, who had a 16 and 1 record at the time, having some good scalps including Joe Bugner and Bonecrusher Smith, and whose only loss was to the then undisputed champ Larry Holmes. Later still that year, he captured the WBC title destroying Trevor Berbick. Berbick wasn't top class but wasn't far off either: he'd beaten Ali (admittedly the Parkinson's version in his last fight), gone the distance with Larry Holmes (but lost every round on one of the judge's scorecards). Certainly not the kind of man you'd expect to see destroyed in two rounds (though again, critics point out he was 32 and past his best when he fought Tyson). Tyson's other successful defences were all against top notch fighters of the time: a points crushing of Bonecrusher Smith, a 6th round knockout of Pinklon Thomas (the man Berbick had taken the title from), a comfortable win on points against Tony Tucker (who came into the fight 35 and 0, and a knockout win against Buster Douglas, the man who would eventually defeat Tyson), Tyrell Biggs (who came in with a 15 and 0 record. However, no big scalps, and Biggs lost later in his career to Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and Tony Tubbs), Larry Holmes (the former champ, one of the all time greats, but 39 by the time he fought Tyson), Tony Tubbs, Michael Spinks, Frank Bruno and Carl Williams. The Spinks fight is one the Tyson supporters cite in particular. Spinks was the man who had dethroned Larry Holmes (he beat Holmes twice), came in 31 and 0, and had a great knockout punch. Tyson destroyed him in 91 seconds and he never fought again. Tyson detractors claim that all these fighters were guilty of buying the hype that had grown up around Tyson and climbed into the ring physically terrified, which always makes for a losing fight. They say that Douglas was the first fighter who analysed Tyson rationally, saw the obvious weaknesses, and exploited them. The Tyson supporters claim that Tyson was undone not by Douglas (a B list fighter who quickly lost the title), but by the death of Cus Damato and the machinations of wife Robin Given.
This is what makes Tyson so difficult to be objective about: the role of his entourage, and your attitude to it. The supporters say that Tyson was indulged and led astray, and got bored by the lack of challenges in boxing. The detractors say that the great champs are great not just because of their boxing skills, but also their ability to focus on the job in hand and find a way to win when things aren't going their way.
Anyway, there you have way more background than you probably wanted before I gave my own opinion. In my view, Tyson at 19 or 20 (85/86) was the best ever in the division for his age. Better than Ali, better than Foreman, but still not the complete article.
The more interesting question is if he had the potential to be the greatest ever for any age. His defence needed sharpening, and he was particularly vulnerable to the jab. This is a damning weakness because the jab is the bread and butter punch: even a very limited and clumsy boxer like Kevin McBride was able to jab his way to victory against Tyson in Tyson's last fight. Douglas destroyed Tyson with jabs. Douglas was also the first fighter to see and exploit Tyson's offensive weakness. Tyson threw everything into his punches (as smaller men usually do) and threw combinations, so if you side stepped one, he'd hit you with the other. Most fighters tried to duck and sidestep Tyson. Douglas simply leaned back, out of Tyson's comfortable range, and then stopped him getting through with a well-timed jab. Every fighter Tyson fought to and lost since has essentially adopted this game plan, all of which underlines the fact that Tyson never displayed the intelligence or ability to learn from defeat. But on the other hand, by the time Tyson started losing, it was perhaps too late for him to learn new tricks. Had Cus Damato survived longer, he'd almost certainly have worked on the remaining Tyson weaknesses. I think Tyson would have been a better fighter, and might even have retired undefeated given the lack of truly great heavyweights in the last two decades, but I still don't think he'd ever have been as good as Frazier, Ali, Foreman. For that record, I don't think he was or would have been as good even as Larry Holmes, a very underrated and intelligent fighter, and the last great heavyweight in my view.
The truly great fighters possess boxing skills, physical courage and intelligence. I think Tyson fell down on the last two. If he wasn't beating the crap out of you, if you were able to hurt him back, he didn't really want to know. I think a lack of intelligence clouded his life outside the ring and meant he never learned the lessons he should have inside it, unless he had a gifted teacher like Cus to drill it into him. Ali never needed anyone to tell him how he should approach a fight, and he never shirked a battle where he had to take a lot of punches. His tragedy of course is he took so many he ended up brain damaged, but Ali in his prime was a most beautiful combination of style, elegance, athleticism, grace and intelligence.
The textbook definition of Damn-He-Nice