Is Mike Tyson an All-Time Great?

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“Iron” Mike Tyson will forever be known as one of the most ruthless and formidable punchers in heavyweight boxing history.

His sheer explosiveness, aggressive nature and high number of KO’s on his boxing record just go to prove how hard the man hit back in his heyday and there’s no denying that he was a World class finisher.

However, in a recent podcast with Joe Rogan, former trainer and friend to Mike Tyson – Teddy Atlas – seemed to think that he was not as great as many made him out to be…

Atlas Vs. Tyson

Back when “Iron Mike” was only a teenage protege, Teddy Atlas helped to train him, alongside Cus D’Amato and Kevin Rooney…

Teddy Atlas pictured with Tyson, in “Iron” Mike’s amateur days

Atlas worked alongside the famous Cus D’Amato as his assistant trainer, after his own amateur career was cut short, as a result of a back injury.

However, things soon turned sour between the teenage Mike Tyson and the passionate Teddy Atlas, as the young fighter was said to have intimidated and “grabbed” Atlas’ 11-year old niece inappropriately.

15 years old at the time, but built like a fully grown man already, Tyson should’ve known better and upon hearing of his unacceptable behaviour, Atlas acted in proper Teddy Atlas fashion…

The former trainer supposedly put a gun to Mike Tyson’s head and threatened to kill the future Heavyweight champion if he ever touched his family again.

After this altercation, Atlas was dismissed as assistant trainer to D’Amato’s fighters and that was the end of that.

Atlas on the Joe Rogan Podcast

Many people find Teddy Atlas a little bit too much. I, however, absolutely love the man and find his passion quite inspiring. Especially having listened to him on this brilliant episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast!

His random outbursts of passion and emotion can make me laugh, but also when you really listen to him and strip away any pre-concieved opinions on the guy, he makes some real; solid points!

Anyway, throughout the podcast episode, a lot is covered.

Obviously, Mike Tyson was mentioned and in the video at the bottom of the post, you can find everything that Atlas had to say on the youngest ever Heavyweight World champion.

Essentially though, Atlas says that Tyson was not a “great” fighter, because every time he faced a truly challenging opponent in the ring, he fell at that hurdle.

He doesn’t dispute the man’s exceptional talent, ferocity, power and ruthlessness, but what he does dispute is whether or not you could really classify “Iron Mike” as a “great” fighter…

Challenger Evander Holyfield (R) knocks down WBA heavyweight champion Mike Tyson during the 6th round of their title fight November 9, 1996 in Las Vegas. Holyfield won the championship with an 11th round TKO. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn PP05060142 GMH/CMC Reuters / Picture supplied by Action Images *** Local Caption *** RBBORH1996110900001.jpg
Tyson gets knocked down by Holyfield in their first fight

Reflecting on “Iron” Mike’s Record

Inside his first 25 fights as a pro, Tyson fought only 2 guys who’s names are widely remembered by boxing fans today.

These 2 fighters being…

  1. James Tillis a fighter who challenged for the World Heavyweight title 5 years before his fight with the up and coming Tyson.
  2. Marvis Frazier – a fighter known mostly for his father’s legacy, as opposed to his own.

However, after winning his first Heavyweight world title Tyson’s opposition gradually increased in terms of quality and this is when Atlas goes in to his main reasons as to why Tyson was not “great”.

In the podcast, Atlas says something that really made sense to me and made me understand his point, despite initially thinking “WHAAAAA?!” – it’s this….

“A fight is not a fight, until there’s resistance. Until there’s something to overcome.”

With this quote from Atlas in mind, he went on to discuss why Tyson fell short against all the fighters that provided that resistance he speaks about.

Tyson becomes the youngest ever heavyweight champion of the World, defeating Trevor Berbick – who many regarded as a “weak” champion at the time

The way that Atlas backs up his side of the argument, is that in all of the former champions’ losses, he was forced out of his comfort zone and things were not totally in his control.

He couldn’t just blast these guys out of there with his athletic prowess and his scary power and to me, Atlas raises a great point!

However, what we must also bare in mind, is that “Iron Mike” did still beat some big names – getting wins over the likes of Larry Holmes, Tyrell Biggs, Michael Spinks and Frank Bruno. 

(Although some will say that some of these guys were past their primes by the time Tyson fought them.)

Larry Holmes Vs. Mike Tyson – Holmes was 38 years old at the time that the 2 fighters met and had been absent from the ring for 21 months

The Losses

Throughout his professional career, “Iron” Mike Tyson had 50 wins and 6 losses. If we take a look at these 6 losses throughout his career, then maybe we can understand a little more deeply, the points that Teddy Atlas made.

  • Loss #1 – James “Buster” Douglas
  • #2 – Evander Holyfield
  • #3 – DQ – Evander Holyfield (When Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear!)
  • #4 – Lennox Lewis
  • #5 – Danny Williams
  • #6 – Kevin McBride

I won’t go into depth on each fight, as we’ll be here forever, but the common theme with all of these guys who got the win over Tyson, was their ability to take Tyson’s best punches and keep coming forwards, making it a hard nights work – on each occasion – for one of boxing’s most infamous fighters.

Lewis Vs. Tyson – it came later than fans may have hoped, but was still a thrilling fight that saw Lennox Lewis stop Mike Tyson in the 8th round

Despite these losses, we must bare in mind that the final 2 fights of his career in particular were not fought to cement his legacy or because of his love or passion for the sport; these were merely for the money.

Is “Iron” Mike Tyson an All-Time Great?

Is Mike Tyson, an all-time great? When you look at it the way that Atlas said it, then no. I guess he’s not…

However, when you look at it in terms of his exciting style, his legacy and the success he had in regard to PPV events, as well as earning himself the accolade of the youngest ever Heavyweight champion of the World, then I guess he is?

Was Mike Tyson an all-time great?

Whatever way you see it, none of us can dispute the value and interest that Tyson bought to boxing, particularly in the heavyweight division after Muhammad Ali’s retirement.

Whether or not he was a great fighter, Tyson will always be remembered for his concussive punching power, his tremendous KO’s and will be known forever, as a great entertainer for sure!

Could Mike Tyson Have Been “More”?

In the podcast, Atlas says about how Tyson was “mentally weak (for a fighter)” and that he was a great athlete, but not a great man.

Aside from the fact that Atlas and Tyson’s relationship ended on bitter terms, I still think that Teddy’s insight speaks volumes about the mental state and vulnerability of the legend that is, “Iron” Mike Tyson.

If you delve into a fraction of what we know about the childhood of Tyson, it’s easy to see why this man had so many flaws mentally. Which potentially held him back as a fighter – in the long run.

Tyson with his trainer – Cus D’Amato – who adopted Tyson after his mother passed away

His childhood was unimaginable to many of us and whilst being one huge cause for him to get into boxing, his childhood was also probably the most significant cause of him never excelling quite as much as he could’ve done!

With diligent training of his mind and regular sessions with a psychologist, I think it’s fair to say that Tyson would’ve been a “great” fighter – according to Teddy Atlas’ definition – and may very well have ended his career with a few less losses and a few more wins.

What Do You Think!?

Please leave your own thoughts in the comments below or over on facebook where this post is shared.

I’d be intrigued to hear your thoughts on what Teddy Atlas said about Tyson and also what you thought about Atlas’ stories if you watched the full podcast! 

Teddy Atlas on the Joe Rogan Podcast

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  • Whenever you try to measure Tyson’s greatness you must put an asterisk beside it. The prime of his career was spent in prison and by the time he fought Holyfield and Lewis he was a shell of his former self. Even before then he was declining due to his work ethic.

    With his childhood, Cus passing away, living a crazy lifestyle, and going to prison I’m really not sure how to rank him. I would maybe rank him fourth in his peer group behind Lenox Lewis. Evander Holyfield, and Riddick Bowe in that order.

    • That’s a fair comment & ranking of him Cory! Unfortunately he’s one fighter who we’ll never know how great he could’ve been…

      With more psychological support & no jail time – I think he could’ve gone on to be one of the greatest.

      • We are in Bristol,Tennessee. There used to be a lot of boxing gyms in this area but they have all closed. But you can find a MMA gym on every corner. I like MMA but it doesn’t measure up to the sweet science of boxing.

        • Ah that’s awesome. If you guys ever have any ideas for us to discuss then let me know!

          It’s great to know guys from the US are tuning in

          I like MMA too, but like you say, nothing compares to Boxing!!

  • I like the passion Atlas brings to boxing too, and I can understand people not liking his delivery, but don’t know how they can discount his opinions, as they always seem to be agreeable to the facts.

    After reading the article and the points Atlas made about why he shouldn’t be considered an all time great, it does put his losses and ability to bounce back from them in perspective, as well as quality of opponents in comparison to some of the other boxing greats like, and it’s hard to disagree with the points he’s making.

    That being said, I would without a doubt consider Tyson to be one of the all time boxing greats, particularly if the effect he had on boxing outside of the ring is considered, and how much he helped draw interest into it via his thunderous punching power, which led to the Nintendo video game, which possibly drew a lot of people towards boxing that may have not ever had the boxing seed planted. The nintendo game definitely tuned me into boxing at the time, and in the early 90’s led to an order of two pairs of boxing gloves from Everlast, so that my older brother and I could mimic some of his movements (on each other, and friends).

    When thinkin of Tyson’s place as an all time great, a small comparison might be made to Joe Namath making the hall of fame. His career stats were absolutely horrific, and he was a below average QB, but he made one bold Super Bowl prediction, (which he played well in) and parlayed that into making the hall of fame, because the bold declaration tuned so many fans into the NFL, and helped make it mainstream.

    • That’s why I love Atlas. Because he’s so genuine, he’s totally himself and he does back up his arguments even if they seem sometimes strange!

      I agree. Tyson will always be a great – not only because of what he achieved as a fighter but also because of the way he impacted the popularity of the sport. Like you say!

      Watching and listening to the JRE Podcast however, really made me learn so much about Atlas in particular and I think the same could be said for him as a trainer.

      Many wouldn’t consider him to be a “great” trainer – but the success he’s had with a few fighters & the way he gets people talking about the sport is commendable.

      I love(d) having these debates about Tyson & Teddy Atlas with people – there’s so many great comments & opinions from people

Let me know what you think

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