The number of fights for a boxer is like the number of miles on a tire. The more fights, the more wear and tear, if not punctures and flats.
Now that Mike Tyson has accepted a guaranteed $15 million for trying to dethrone Evander Holyfield, assured of $30 million, as the world heavyweight champion on Nov. 8 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., it's time to check the challenger's mileage.
Once the youngest heavyweight champion in history, Tyson turned 25 on June 30, two days after his 12-round battering of Razor Ruddock in their rematch. But judging by the careers of several selected heavyweight champions, Tyson is an old 25. Much older than Holyfield, who'll be a young 29 on Oct. 19.
With a 41-1 record, Tyson has had more pro bouts by his 25th birthday than George Foreman (38), Jack Johnson and Floyd Patterson (each 37), Joe Louis (36), Muhammad Ali (27), Joe Frazier (22), Holyfield (16), Larry Holmes (nine) and Rocky Marciano (six).
Of the heavyweight champions whose records were checked, only Jack Dempsey, with 69 pro fights by his 25th birthday, had more than Tyson.
For all of Tyson's mileage as a pro, he has had only one flat: losing the title on a 10th-round knockout by James "Buster" Douglas in Tokyo early last year. But long before he turned pro, Tyson's mileage began the March day in 1980 when he walked into Cus D'Amato's gym across from the village offices in Catskill, N.Y.
"I'd been told Mike was only 13 years old," his former trainer, Kevin Rooney, then a welterweight contender, recalled. "But the first day he walked in the gym, he looked over 200 pounds, maybe 210. I thought, 'This is a pretty big kid for 13.' "
Starting at age 13, Mike Tyson's life was boxing for nearly a decade until, perhaps bored by the training regimen, he added even more mileage by emerging as a disco celebrity.
Of the other champions checked, only Ali, Louis and Patterson may have been that devoted to boxing that early, although Dempsey was a teen-age brawler in Colorado mining camps and Johnson was a teen-age terror on the Galveston, Texas, docks.
Tyson was 20 when he flattened Trevor Berbick for the World Boxing Council title in 1986 and earned a 12-round decision over James "Bonecrusher" Smith for the World Boxing Association belt. Shortly after his 21st birthday, he unified the title with a
12-round decision over Tony Tucker, then the International Boxing Federation champion.
By age 25, Tyson has piled up mileage quickly. Although he has had 19 first-round knockouts and six second-round knockouts in his 42 bouts, he has already answered the bell for 157 rounds.
At that age, Ali had 161 rounds, Louis 176, Patterson 200, Dempsey 264 and, nearly a century ago, Johnson an incredible 385, which included five 20-round decisions and two 20-round draws.
But by having to prepare for 42 bouts, Tyson has put on much more mileage in the gym than some of those selected champions did in fewer bouts.
With a total of 25 knockouts in the first or second round, Tyson has plundered opponents who were terrified or unarmed. But against a capable foe who can take his punch, Tyson has stopped only one opponent after the seventh round: a 10th-round knockout of Jose Ribalta in 1986. Even though Ruddock was battered after two early-round knockdowns in Las Vegas last month, Tyson was unable to finish him.
In contrast, Holyfield, with 21 knockouts in his 26-0 record, has two in the seventh round, two in the eighth, one in the 10th (Michael Dokes) and one in the 11th (Ossie Ocasio in a cruiserweight title bout).
Holyfield's trainer, George Benton, has been thinking about how the reigning heavyweight champion will fight Tyson ever since Holyfield stepped aside so Tyson could defend his title against Douglas.
"Tyson is very, very durable; he's like a tank," Benton said early last year. "I didn't want Evander backing into the ropes. I didn't want Evander tying him up by grabbing and holding. Evander had to tie him up slick.
"To me, Evander has two things that let him do all right with Tyson. No. 1, he'll be in real good shape. No. 2, he won't be scared of him. Evander's got ice water in his veins. He's cool and calm.
"He's not a great big guy but he's strong. Heavyweights don't have to be no great big man. Joe Louis, his best day, he was 205, and he was knocking out giants. Rocky Marciano, he was under 190 in all his title fights."
At age 25, Marciano, with six knockouts, had answered the bell for only 10 rounds as a pro.
At 25, Tyson has more experience than Holyfield, along with a bully's bluster that prompted his being installed as a 13-5 favorite because more money will be bet on him. But those factors can't erase the mileage on Mike Tyson's tire.