Commentary

Which fights will Tyson be remembered for?

Will Mike Tyson go down as one of the best heavyweights? Here are 10 fights to help you decide.

Originally Published: April 29, 2008
By Graham Houston | Special to ESPN.com

Mike TysonAP Photo/Douglas C. PizacIn his prime, Mike Tyson, right, combined lightning speed with frightening power.
Mike Tyson's greatest wins were devastating displays of speed and power, but in other fights critics saw technical flaws and emotional frailty. Here is a look at 10 Tyson fights: five in which he looked like one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, and five that will have a negative impact on his place in boxing history.

The Best

KO1 Marvis Frazier -- Glens Falls, N.Y., July 26, 1986

Although Marvis Frazier had been stopped in one round by Larry Holmes, he entered his bout with the 20-year-old Tyson on a six-bout winning streak and was considered a good test. Once the bell sounded, though, it was clear that Smokin' Joe's son didn't stand a chance. Tyson crumpled him against the ropes with a series of uppercuts and referee Joe Cortez started to count, then waved the fight off just 30 seconds in. Frazier got a few laughs at the postfight press conference when he said: "Mike, you must have had a sledgehammer [in your fist]."

KO2 Trevor Berbick -- Las Vegas, Nov. 22, 1986

Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history by blasting his way though the experienced Jamaican Trevor Berbick, who had been viewed as the prodigy's toughest opponent. Long-serving sports columnist Jerry Izenberg wrote that Berbick "brings experience and a classic kind of awkwardness to the match." Berbick's experience and awkwardness didn't help him. The big left hook that ended the fight in the second round had an astonishing effect as Berbick twice fell back to the canvas before managing to drag himself up, for three knockdowns from one punch. Veteran British reporter Donald Saunders wrote in The Daily Telegraph: "The noble and manly art of boxing can at least cease worrying about its immediate future, now [that] it has discovered a heavyweight champion fit to stand alongside Dempsey, Tunney, Louis, Marciano and Ali."

TKO7 Tyrell Biggs -- Atlantic City, N.J., Oct. 16, 1987

Undefeated Olympic gold medalist Tyrell Biggs, with his height, reach, movement and boxing skills, was thought by some to have a good chance at upsetting Tyson. "We've just got a good gut feeling about this fight," Biggs's co-manager and co-trainer Lou Duva told reporters.

The fight proved to be a mismatch. Tyson showed boxing skills as well as punching power, even outjabbing the 6-foot-5 Biggs. Michael Marley wrote in The New York Post: "Hell, the kid from Catskill by way of Brooklyn wasn't perfect. He was better. He was pluperfect."

KO1 Michael Spinks -- Atlantic City, N.J., June 27, 1988

If anyone could beat Tyson, some in the fight fraternity believed, it would be the undefeated Michael Spinks, who in his last fight had chopped down the much bigger Gerry Cooney in five rounds. Spinks could box and move, had an excellent jab and hit hard with the right hand. Veteran writer Dave Anderson assured fight-day readers of The New York Times: "Sometime around midnight, Michael Spinks will be the new undisputed heavyweight champion. Probably in a 12-round decision. But possibly in a late-round knockout." The fight turned out to be a 91-second massacre. Colin Hart reported in the British tabloid The Sun that Tyson blew Spinks away "as if he were a twig in a typhoon."

TKO3 Frank Bruno -- Las Vegas, March 16, 1996

[+] EnlargeMike Tyson and Frank Bruno
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty ImagesTyson's ferocious power was on full display against Frank Bruno, right.

Britain's Frank Bruno had managed to rock Tyson before being overwhelmed in five rounds in a previous meeting. This time, Tyson smashed right through him, and referee Mills Lane rescued the bloodied, battered Bruno 50 seconds into Round 3. It was Tyson's third consecutive win after his four-year layoff because of a rape conviction. Ken Jones reported in British newspaper The Independent: "If not entirely Tyson reincarnate, he had looked a considerable heavyweight, still devastatingly quick and powerful."

The worst

W10 James "Quick" Tillis -- Glens Falls, N.Y., May 3, 1986

The fight with veteran James "Quick" Tillis was the one that first raised doubts about Tyson. He won a unanimous decision but struggled after dropping Tillis with a left hook in the fourth round. For the first time, there was a sense of disappointment about a Tyson performance, Richard Hoffer noting in the Los Angeles Times: "Tyson did not do as much damage inside as he normally does, and he was strangely inactive in the final three rounds."

W12 James "Bonecrusher" Smith -- Las Vegas, March 7, 1987

It was difficult for Tyson to look good against the clutching tactics employed by Bonecrusher Smith. The crowd started booing as early as the third round. Tyson resorted to rough tactics, including landing punches after the bell. Ominously, Tyson was wobbled by a right hand in the last round. Among those critical of Tyson's performance was Hart, who wrote, "the image of Tyson the Terrible took a knock. Who knows? It's possible he could turn out to be Mike the Myth."

L-KO10 James "Buster" Douglas -- Tokyo, Feb. 11, 1990

The stunning loss to Buster Douglas stripped away Tyson's aura of invincibility. Douglas landed jabs and right hands, pounding Tyson's left eye shut and surviving a knockdown to win in spectacular fashion in the 10th. Despite the closeness of two scorecards, Douglas seemed to have dominated the fight. Tyson just plodded in, trying to land one big punch at a time.

"Technically and emotionally, he was not into the fight," reported Phil Berger in The New York Times.

L-TKO11 Evander Holyfield -- Las Vegas, Nov. 9, 1996

[+] EnlargeTyson Holyfield
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty ImagesChew on this: Evander Holyfield, right, proved the way to beat Tyson was to stand up to him.
Faced with an opponent of immovable will in Evander Holyfield, Tyson was outfought, outgamed and outlasted. Tyson's harshest critics will point to this fight as one in which he was exposed as a power-punching front-runner who would wilt when faced with a determined and skilled opponent who refused to go away when hit. Anderson wrote in the Times: "In the MGM Grand, where 'The Wizard of Oz' is part of the film heritage, the 34-year-old Holyfield turned the brute known as Iron Mike into the Tin Man."

L-DQ end of 3 Evander Holyfield -- Las Vegas, June 28, 1997

In the ultimate fall from grace, Tyson was disqualified by Lane after twice biting Holyfield's ears. The widely held view is that Tyson, sensing another long, tough, losing fight was ahead of him, in effect took an easy passage out of the bout. "Fear causes people to do things to get out of it," Holyfield said afterward.

Tyson argued that he was retaliating after being cut from what he felt was an intentional head butt. USA Today's Mike Lopresti was one of many who were not buying the excuse, remarking in a scathing commentary on Tyson's shocking conduct: "There is not the slightest honor left, if there was any before."

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.

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