The news last week that Mike Tyson had been voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and will be inducted in June was greeted with almost universal approval by those in boxing, but with something else from “mainstream” sports outlets.
ESPN in particular aired a segment during which sports reporter Skip Bayless submitted the theory that the thinness of Tyson’s resume, among other things, should disqualify him from entrance to the Hall.
With the passage of time and with his many weaknesses eventually exposed by Evander Holyfield and later Lennox Lewis and even Danny Williams and Kevin McBride, it is easy to forget how dominating Tyson was at his very best.
“I voted for Tyson, and he's a definite first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood told me. As editor of KO Magazine and also former editor of The RING, Farhood covered Tyson’s pro career from the earliest stages.
“Those who don't think so are practicing revisionist history,” Farhood said. “I laugh when I read how Tyson was an underachiever and should have been dominant for much longer. First of all, he was not only the top heavyweight in the world, and the first undisputed champion in years, but he was the No. 1-ranked fighter in the game, pound for pound. And to secure that position, he beat the No. 2, Michael Spinks.”
Think about that. The top fighter in the game, pound for pound — a heavyweight. As good and as dominating as Wladimir Klitschko is, he wouldn’t be the game’s best fighter pound-for-pound if the planes carrying Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez and Juan Manuel Marquez all crashed into one another on the way to the annual Boxing Writers Association of America dinner. It’s almost unheard of for a heavyweight to be seen as the world’s best fighter.
If there’s one thing missing from Tyson’s resume that his detractors single out, it’s the lack of a win over a single other great heavyweight that was in his prime. This was Bayless’ primary problem with Tyson being inducted. Others have pointed to that too when discussing Tyson’s legacy. HBO’s Larry Merchant has been known to address questions about Tyson’s place in history by saying: “Show me the great fighter he beat.”
Certainly it’s true that the biggest names on Tyson’s resume are Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks, an aged former champ well past his prime and a light heavyweight, respectively. The rest? Frank Bruno, Carl Williams, Tony Tucker, Tony Tubbs, Marvis Frazier, Jesse Ferguson, et al, are a rag-tag group to be sure, but you can’t hold that against Tyson any more than you can hold Larry Holmes’ poor era against him.
“Who were the great fighters around at that time?” asked Hall of Fame promoter and historian J Russell Peltz. “And by the way, what great fighter did (Rocky) Marciano beat who was in his prime when he beat them? And I’m a big Marciano fan.”
Peltz is dead right. The biggest names on Marciano’s record were a seriously faded Joe Louis, and Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles, essentially the two greatest light heavyweights ever, both of whom were past their prime when Marciano got them. Also, arguably the best fighter Joe Louis ever beat was Billy Conn — another light heavyweight.
This isn’t to say Marciano and Louis weren’t great. Of course they were. We’re not saying either that Tyson was on their level, historically. But there are more things to consider when analyzing a fighter’s Hall of Fame credentials than just the opponents on his record.
“There’s more to getting into the Hall of Fame than just the flat-out ability of the fighter in the ring,” Peltz told me. “It’s what they meant to the sport and the way they galvanized the sports community. I mean, Tyson made HBO, as far as I’m concerned, when they latched onto him when he was coming up. For what he meant to boxing at the time he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”
“One other consideration that doesn't apply to too many fighters is impact on the sport,” Farhood said. “Tyson's impact — not all of it positive — was huge. He transcended boxing in a way only in relatively recent years Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Foreman, De La Hoya, and perhaps Pacquiao have.”
For those who weren’t around to experience it, it’s hard to articulate how important a Tyson fight was, and the degree to which he transcended the sport and became part of the larger popular culture. Look at it this way: He hasn’t fought in five years, hasn’t been a force in the heavyweight division in a decade, and lost the undisputed heavyweight title 20 years ago; he still has greater name and face recognition than the Klitschko brothers combined.
Don Elbaum, a long-time matchmaker and promoter who worked with Sugar Ray Robinson at the end of Robinson’s brilliant career, didn’t have to think twice about whether to vote for Tyson.
“He fought most everyone around then,” Elbaum said. “Who did he duck? He fought everyone they put in front of him and destroyed them. Him and Sonny Liston and Joe Louis were the most-feared heavyweights ever.
“Sure I voted for Mike Tyson. He’s the youngest ever to win the heavyweight title, and he destroyed everybody in there with him. There are absolutely no ifs, ands or buts about it; he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m 100 percent for it and have no second thoughts about it.”
And one more thing for those of you opposed to Tyson’s induction on moral grounds, such as writer Mickey Zezzo, who wrote in the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun, “Mike Tyson belongs in the boxing hall of fame as much as I do.”
As Elbaum pointed out, Don King is in the Hall of Fame. Bob Arum, too. Liston had a long criminal record, as did Matthew Saad Muhammad and Dwight Muhammad Qawi. George Foreman was no angel. Ditto for Jake LaMotta and Rocky Graziano. Bernard Hopkins will be eligible one of these decades. He’ll get in too, as he should.
Mike Tyson in the Hall of Fame? It’s a no-brainer.
Some random observations from last week:
Abner Mares and Vic Darchinyan put on a hell of a good scrap despite the best efforts of pacifist referee Robert Howard to turn their fight into a fencing match. That was the most egregious case of over-officiating I’ve seen since, well, the last time Joe Cortez refereed a fight.
Which brings me to this: During Amir Khan‘s thrilling win over Marcos Maidana, Cortez was in the way more often than your girlfriend’s chubby, unattached roommate. And he’s headed to the Hall of Fame!…
I stopped counting at 311 the number of times Roy Jones said Victor Ortiz’s nine-pound weight advantage was the reason everything was going Ortiz’ way against Lamont Peterson. Funny how quiet Roy became once Peterson got his mojo going. And for what it’s worth, from my couch, I scored that fight 95-94 for Peterson. The draw was no robbery. …
Speaking of Jones, enough with the God-talk already, all right? If I want to hear a sermon I’ll go to one of those places people go to, to, you know, pray and stuff. The building with the pointy roof and candles all over and whatnot. You know the place. …
Kudos to Fernando Montiel for blowing out Giovani Soto Friday night to set up the showdown with Nonito Donaire, the second greatest fighter in the history of recorded time, according to a recent poll taken in the Philippines. …
Kudos also to Joseph Agbeko for putting on an absolute clinic against Yonnhy Perez. Who knew he had it in him? …
Remember that guy who was supposed to fight Jeff Lacy early in Lacy’s career but skipped town after getting a look at Lacy at the weigh-in? How dumb do you think he feels now, after hearing Lacy dropped a decision Saturday night to 25-19-7 (4 knockouts) Dhafir Smith — in Florida no less, Lacy’s backyard? …
I don’t know quite what to expect from next week’s Jean Pascal-Bernard Hopkins fight, but I’m pretty sure it won’t set any punch-stat records. Clinch-stat records maybe. Not punch-stat.
Stumbled on a late-night showing on ESPN of the 1980 slugfest between Randy Cobb and Earnie Shavers. What fun!Especially the fascinating commentary of Gerry Cooney, Ken Norton and a past-his-prime Don Dunphy. …
Be sure to check out the next edition of Ring Theory, which will be posted later this week. Our guest will be Jim Lampley, HBO‘s voice of boxing.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org