My very first impression of Muhammad Ali came in the den while sitting with my late grandfather. He loved him. He thought of him as far more than a boxer, rather, a fighter for mankind.
He wasn’t kind in his description of Mike Tyson.
Long after the day I watched a replay of Ali’s emotional and turbulent destruction of George Foreman at age 7, we discussed the prospect of Tyson facing Ali right before he was set to enter the ring with Larry Holmes.
As is the case to this very day, HBO will provide an insightful background piece as a prelude to war.
It was during this that Holmes uttered the famous remark, “I’m going down in history- not Mike Tyson. He’s going down in history as an SOB.”
Cameras caught a scowling Tyson pacing back and forth in the dressing room, as Holmes made him wait to enter the ring. He punched holes in the walls and came to the ring drenched in sweat, his hands on his hips, and completely ready to maul Holmes. He was a 21 year-old portrait of icy menace and the fistic symbol of what became gangster rap.
I idolized him.
When Tyson violently knocked out Holmes, I looked at my grandfather with a face that said “What!” He then said to me that it didn’t mean anything, and that Holmes was as dead as Ali was when he faced Holmes. I laughed.
In the summer of that year, 1988, Tyson had reached what I now know was the apex of his greatness. His 1st round demolition of Michael Spinks, a fight I saw live in Atlantic City, punctuated my feeling that Tyson was some sort of figure from Greek Mythology.
Convinced I’d just seen the greatest heavyweight who ever lived, my walls were adorned with tributes to Tyson, as my grandfather was subjected to the relentless hubris of a jaded teen.
“There’s no way Ali would’ve survived this Tyson, he too complete, too powerful.” I surmised. Raising his famous cup of tea with lemon for a sip, as a mint rolled around in his mouth, I’ll never forget what he said next.
“You’ll survive long enough to kill that thought.”
MUHAMMAD ALI VS. MIKE TYSON
The world will never again see anything like Ali.
He became a member of the militant and defiantly “Pro-Black” Nation of Islam during the openly racist 60’s, fought the United States government, the Vietnam War, poverty after being stripped of his title, and the toughest assortment of competition in the history of Boxing.
Just thinking about him is an inspiration.
Cus D’Amato was well aware of all of this, and inculcated lessons of “The Greatest” into the impressionable mind of Tyson.
The Tyson who walked to the ring to assault Spinks, accompanied by the most eerie noise he chose as music, was 35-0. He knocked out 31 of those men.
It is this Tyson, which I imagine against the 1966 version of the Ali that completely dismantled Cleveland Williams.
There is no doubt in my mind that Tyson would come out very strong against Ali, as he always did against anyone. He had an extra edge and polish to him against Spinks, who many felt would beat him and he prepared like it. But this would be personal.
He would really be prepared for Ali, who called him every name in the book and gave him the nickname “The Monkey”. He would’ve had a monkey doll and played games with it right in front of Tyson.
The first 2 or 3 rounds would be very difficult and dangerous for Ali, as Tyson would be a lion to Ali’s cheetah. He’d withstand Tyson’s perilous attack with his magnificent footwork, angles, grace, and ability to clinch. He’d slip in damaging jabs and right hands, while absorbing Tyson’s punishment and pretending it doesn’t hurt him.
But he was so superior to Tyson mentally, who was really an insecure bully, and he would gradually do things to take his will and make him quit.
Tyson was a tremendous front-runner who lost confidence if you resisted him and this is exactly what would happen. Ali was about 213lbs for Williams to Tyson’s 218lbs for Spinks, and Tyson had a tremendous chin so he wouldn’t be easily stopped.
But Ali’s length in reach, his 6’3 height, his jab, and his beautiful movement would all be too much of an elixir for Tyson to swallow.
In hindsight, I learned a great deal about Tyson from the 4 men who went the distance with him by June 1988. They were James “Quick” Tillis, Mitch “Blood” Green, Tony Tucker and James “Bonecrusher” Smith.
They were all able to tie him up and frustrate him easily, as did many opponents throughout his career, and none of them were nearly as talented as the great Ali.
Ali would’ve thoroughly beaten Tyson mentally, emotionally, psychologically and physically, before stopping him by TKO in the 11th round.
And yes grandpa, I did bury that thought. (Love you man. RIP)