Tyson's legacy is on ropes as he keeps fighting

Ex-champ faces McBride, his historical rank unclear

Boxing

June 11, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Mike Tyson will no doubt be remembered, but the question as the aging fighter nears the end of his career is how history will rate him as a boxer.

Will it be as one of the sport's all-time great heavyweights or as the ear-biting bully who sometimes lost his heart when a rival hit back?

Tyson is now on a quest to regain the heavyweight title after an 11-month layoff that began when he was knocked out in the fourth round by journeyman Danny Williams of England. Tonight at MCI Center, Tyson (50-5, 44 KOs) meets unheralded native Irishman Kevin McBride (32-4-1, 27 knockouts) of Brockton, Mass.

Tyson was already on a quick ascent when, in November 1986, he sent Trevor Berbick reeling with a second-round knockout to become the youngest heavyweight champ at the age of 20. Tyson was already a three-belt titlist before adding to his mystique in June 1988, when he rose to 35-0 with a 91-second demolition of previously unbeaten Michael Spinks.

But Tyson has never been the same since February 1990, when 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas scored a 10th-round knockout, leaving Tyson on all fours, groping for his mouthpiece on the canvas and struggling in vain to put it back in.

In the years since that defeat, Tyson, who turns 39 on June 30, has twice been in prison, once on a rape conviction. He's endured two highly publicized divorces and filed for bankruptcy after grossing an estimated $300 million. In 1996, Tyson suffered dramatic beat-down against Evander Holyfield, who pinned Tyson on the ropes, pounded him and forced the referee to rescue Tyson in the 11th round.

As a result, boxing historians have begun to reassess Tyson's legacy.

Was Tyson ever as good as many of them believed, when they compared him favorably to Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali? Or was he overrated because of easy wins against intimidated rivals and the boxing world's pursuit of a charismatic, dominant heavyweight champion?

Boxing historian Thomas Hauser said Tyson's career is defined by age. "If you put the young Mike Tyson in the ring with the current Mike Tyson, the young Mike Tyson knocks him out in three rounds," Hauser said. "The young Mike Tyson would have been competitive with any heavyweight who ever lived."

Others agree, and believe the older Tyson is still capable of winning a heavyweight title.

Jose Torres, who authored a book on Tyson called Fire And Fear, met Tyson when the latter was 12. They were introduced by trainer Cus D'Amato, who had earlier guided Torres to a light heavyweight title.

"Mike Tyson was a terrific fighter," said Torres. "But when he began to get hit, he lost that determination, started to lose confidence in himself.

"Even at age 39, he is still good enough to be champion of the world if he can take blows and not get discouraged."

Former heavyweight champ and top-ranked contender Hasim Rahman, a Baltimore native, said Tyson's decline can't be ignored from a historical sense.

"The first block of his career, he seemed destined for the greatness of Ali, Louis, Marciano, Johnson, [Jack] Dempsey," Rahman said. "But if you take the second half, he falls into the second tier of heavyweights, in line with guys like Floyd Patterson."

For Tyson, a two-time champion and 20-year professional, a victory tonight might not be certain, considering his loss to Williams last July 30. But it would keep alive his hopes of meeting World Boxing Council champion Vitali Klitschko.

"What Mike had in his early 20s, he's not going to have today," said Shelly Finkel, Tyson's adviser for his past nine bouts. "But the division has four champions, and it's not the strongest. Maybe he can pick one [of the titles] up and be champion again. Hopefully, he can do that and still be great."

D'Amato made Tyson a professional fighter in March 1985 at the age of 18, determined to make him the sport's youngest heavyweight champ. By the next January, Tyson had flattened 12 of 16 rivals in one round, two more in the second round and one each in the third and fourth.

"Cus already had taught him about timing and accuracy, punching in combinations, hitting and not getting hit," said Torres, 69. "Mike Tyson punched like a mule. I couldn't see anyone surviving in the ring with him. He looked invincible when his mind and body were working together."

That November, 13 months after D'Amato's death, Tyson obliterated Berbick. It was his 26th stoppage in 28 bouts without a loss, and he won the WBC crown.

In succession, Tyson lifted the World Boxing Association crown from James "Bonecrusher" Smith; defended it by flattening former champion Pinklon Thomas; earned his third belt with a decision over International Boxing Federation king Tony Tucker; and handed former Olympic gold medalist Tyrell Biggs his first loss with a seventh-round knockout.

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