It’s easy to seem strong when your opponent is feeble.
This is the claim made by renowned boxing trainer Teddy Atlas, who respects former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s physical attributes. He points out that Tyson has a unique combination of strength and speed from “both sides of the plate.”
Despite his impressive record, Tyson’s career was marked by notable challenges. This is particularly true against opponents like James Douglas and Evander Holyfield. These boxers stood their ground against Tyson’s intimidating presence and relentless attack.
Atlas questions whether Tyson’s sensational performances truly equated to greatness, given these pivotal moments of vulnerability.
Atlas said on the Lex Fridman Podcast, “I don’t know if he was ever great. I know he was sensational. I know he was the greatest mix of maybe speed and power ever. I know he was one of the greatest punchers from either side of the plate, left or right.”
“There’s been great punchers with just the right hand like Earnie Shavers and Deontay Wilder and Max Baer. I don’t know if there’s ever been anyone who could punch as good as (Tyson) did on either side with either hand other than Joe Louis and a few others.”
“I don’t know if there’s ever been such a combination of speed and power to that pure level that he had, and it was a pure level. I don’t know if there was ever as good a fighter as Tyson was for maybe one night he was great.”
“He wasn’t tested, but he might have been ready to be tested that one night against Michael Spinks when he took him apart in 90 seconds. I think I saw a great fighter that night. I don’t think you can be great unless you have all the requirements of being great.”
Reflecting on Tyson’s career, Atlas recalls a specific instance that might have showcased Tyson’s true potential for greatness. The match against Michael Spinks where Tyson won just in 90 seconds is highlighted as a moment where Tyson’s capabilities as a boxer were fully realized. But Atlas suggests that greatness in boxing is not just about physical prowess but also about overcoming adversity, a test Tyson faced infrequently.
Tyson’s journey in the 1980s was nothing short of meteoric. He amassed an impressive streak of 37 wins, becoming a cultural icon and elevating the sport’s popularity. However, his career was not without its lows. Personal and professional setbacks led to a decline in his standing in the heavyweight division, marked by losses of WBA, WBC, and IBF titles.
He stated: “Too often, (Tyson) relied on other people’s weakness, whether it’s by being intimidated or whether it was because his talent was so much greater than theirs that it was like putting a monster truck in there with a Volkswagen.”
“The Volkswagen was going to get crushed. No matter how much horsepower the Volkswagen might’ve had under the hood, it was going to get crushed. The monster truck was not going to allow it to be a contest. To be able to find a way when your talent wasn’t enough — he didn’t find a way when his talent wasn’t enough.”
In Atlas’s view, a real boxing match is defined not just by physical attributes but by the ability to overcome challenges. By this definition, Tyson’s true tests were few. In those instances, he often fell short. This challenges the conventional understanding of what constitutes greatness in the sport of boxing.
He went on to say: “A fight is not a fight until there’s something to overcome. Until then, it’s just an athletic exhibition contest. Yeah, who’s a better athlete? Who’s got more quick twitch fibers? Who’s more developed in those physical areas?”
“But a fight is not a fight until there’s something to overcome. So, if you go by my definition, not Webster’s, pretend it means something, Mike Tyson was only in five (six) fights in his life. The fights where there was something to overcome, he didn’t overcome it.”