Who Wins the Epic Showdown Between Heavyweight Greats Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson?
Boxing fans love to dream up scenarios of fighters from different eras competing against one another. It has much more meaning to it, then, say, wondering what batting average Albert Pujols would have had against Sandy Koufax. There’s an infinite number of bouts discussed, and one of the most commonly discussed is Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson. For many boxing fans and aficionados, this is one of the dream bouts, and it falls in the glory division of the sport, between two distinguished champions who reigned over different periods of time.
Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson – Tale of the Tape
Muhammad Ali aka The Louisville Lip aka The Greatest; formerly Cassius Clay
- Height: 6’3″
- Reach: 80″
- Prime Weight: 210 lbs
- Record: 56 (37) – 5
- Stylistic Notes: Adaptable, movement/footwork, good jab, head hunter, high ring IQ
- Title Reigns: 3-time world champion with combined 19 title defenses; youngest heavyweight champion (at the time)
Mike Tyson aka Iron Mike aka The Baddest Man on the Planet
- Height: 5’10”
- Reach: 71″
- Prime Weight: 220 lbs
- Record: 50 (44) – 6
- Stylistic Notes: Peek-a-boo defense/high guard, bobbing and weaving, killer hooks and uppercuts
- Title reigns: 2-time world champion with combined 10 title defenses; youngest heavyweight champion ever
Breaking Down Ali vs. Tyson: “The Greatest vs. The Baddest”
A match between Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson is intriguing for any number of reasons. Ali was tall and lean, with slick offense, adaptability, fantastic footwork and movement, unorthodox defense based first on his athleticism and second on his ability to absorb punishment, and of course, he had that big mouth. Tyson was short and obscenely muscular, with a singular focus to seek and destroy his opponents, great power, and yes, that big mouth of his, too.
For better or worse, both of these fighters were full-time head game specialists. Ali broke down and angered his opponents months before they ever met in the ring, while a prime Mike Tyson intimidated foes, grown men and champions, with an angry glare.
Styles, of course, make fights, and while Tyson eventually showed a susceptibility not only to larger fighters, but also to bullies, the perfect style to battle Muhammad Ali was displayed by Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Frazier was all pressure and fire, will and grit, perpetual forward motion and a mean punch.
Adding more intrigue to the Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson fight is the point that much of Tyson’s style was built on the style of Frazier, who as described above was not only Ali’s chief rival, but also a heavyweight of similar frame and build to Iron Mike. Frazier had his characteristic left hook, high guard, and bob-and-weave defense, all of which Mike Tyson, particularly in his early title run, displayed. Frazier had more heart and tenacity, while Tyson had significantly more raw power, raising interesting debates on the merits of each men in their own right. [In fact, it makes for an interesting hypothetical match between the two; so check out our Frazier vs. Tyson heavyweight fantasy fight].
Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson – The Fight Begins
For months leading up to the contest, Ali had dubbed Tyson “Rusty Mike”, a play on his Iron Mike nickname, foretelling that he would fall apart and crumble when Ali started working his magic. Ali gleefully shouted at every chance, “Iron turns to Rust, and I promise to bust, that fraud champion Tyson to dust, in this you should trust!” Tyson did his best to intimidate Ali at the final press conference and weigh-in, getting in his face and shoving him around, only to be met with smiles and more Ali taunts and rhymes.
At long last Ali vs. Tyson is set to begin, and the bell for Round 1 dings. Tyson charges to the center of the ring and lunges with a lead left hook which hits nothing but vacant space as Ali immediately begins shuffling and circling, hands by his waist, smile on his face, and his chin held high straight in the air. He flicks a few jabs as he continues to circle, and Tyson follows him around the ring, unsuccessfully heaving ferocious hooks and uppercuts. The pattern continues for a full three minutes, and as the round ends Tyson can be seen shouting at Ali to “fight like a man instead of dancing like a scared, punk girl!”
Tyson is instructed to stop following Ali around and to stop being so distracted by his showboating. “Cut him off and go to the body,” he’s told, and Iron Mike obliges, coming out with a storm of energy in the second. Ali, still all smiles, is caught off guard when Tyson successfully traps him by the turnbuckles and sinks a hard right hand deep into his midsection.
The blow momentarily stops him in his tracks and Tyson hammers him with a left hook to the side, followed instantly by another that lands on Ali’s right temple. The thundering punch, perfectly placed to destroy Ali’s equilibrium, sends him crashing to the canvas. Tyson stands over Ali, who seems both incapacitated by the body shots and glossed over from the left hook to the head, and taunts him while threatening to throw more shots.
Tyson thinks he has his man knocked out, but with his taunts he inadvertently gives Ali a precious extra five or six extra seconds to recover, as the referee must separate Tyson from the scene and move him into a neutral corner. With the count finally starting after the intervening pause, Ali gets up to a knee by the count of six, grabs the rope and pushes himself up by the count of 9. Without his legs or his bearings, he holds onto Tyson for the remainder of the round, getting beaten up on the inside with more brutal body shots, and a few elbow and forearm shoves to the neck and head thrown in for good measure.
In rounds three and four Ali adjusts to the new battle, respect for his opponent fully earned, and begins firing off stiff jabs one after the other as he circles and circles the ring. These aren’t the pawing jabs he was testing the waters with earlier, he’s throwing these with tenacity, and you can see it on his face as he flashes his trademark grimace with every punch thrown. Tyson has no answer for the lightning quick shots but to shake them off and keep trudging forward. Ali throws his right hand sparingly and never stops moving, and instead just keeps on shooting off that jab.
By the end of the fourth, a glance into Tyson’s corner shows not only the makings of a badly swollen left eye, but also that some of his confidence, commitment and energy seems to be wearing off. Meanwhile, across the ring, Ali never even sits on his stool in between these stanzas, instead leaning against the ropes and shouting towards Tyson, “I’m coming Rusty Mike, I’m coming, you better be ready!”
In the fifth, Ali decides it’s time to open up his offensive arsenal a bit. Instead of a steady diet of nothing but jabs, the first time he throws a punch in the round he unleashes a quick five punch combination, a double jab, followed by a right hand, and then a straight 1-2 down the pipe. Confidence firing on all cylinders, Ali can be seen talking to Tyson as he circles, as he stops just long enough to land a three or four punch combination, and then dances away before any return fire comes his way.
The scene continues to play out through the middle of the sixth, when after eating a jab and a right to his already damaged left eye, Tyson goes low with an uppercut, grabs onto Ali and then starts battering him with rights to the face, while shoving his head into Ali’s throat, with the referee desperately clamoring for a “BREAK!” to no avail. Ali emerges from the scrum with a bloody nose and a mean streak ignited.
Tyson is re-energized for the seventh and begins applying pressure, throwing as many head butts, elbows and forearms as he does punches. Ali’s offense has been stifled, and mean streak or not, Tyson is getting the best of him and the damage seems to be piling up. But Ali isn’t breaking down, he’s biding his time.
He breaks free from the roughhousing long enough to circle to Tyson’s left, feint a pounce in and launch a distracting, pawing left jab, waiting for the inevitable Tyson counter left hook to come in his direction. With his head leaning back a mere quarter of an inch beyond the reach of Tyson’s glove, and his body already in position after throwing the jab, The Greatest puts all of his force into a straight right which lands on the completely exposed cheek of Iron Mike, sending him careening to the canvas.
Tyson gets up with a five count and walks forward only to be thrown backwards into the ropes by a nonstop barrage of Ali punches. One-two. A left hook followed by a right hand and another one-two. The punches keep coming and Tyson can do nothing but cover up, eventually falling into the ropes for a second knockdown. Ali runs away to the corner, glove in the air, and continues dancing around, but Tyson gets up by the count of eight and the bell rings.
Bloodied and battered, Tyson looks resigned in the corner, slumped over on the stool, while for his part, Ali seems winded too, gasping for air and perhaps a bit disheartened that the fight isn’t over yet.
The eighth begins, and while Tyson walks forward, the zip is off of his punches and his legs still seem a bit wobbly and uneven. The two clinch and when Tyson pushes off, Ali fires an immediate, short right hand, repositions his feet, fires a left hook, and sends Tyson down for good. The referee comes in but no count is needed, he stands over Tyson’s sprawling body, waves off the fight, and watches as Ali and his team raucously celebrate.
Final Ali vs. Tyson fight results: Ali KO8
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