In the latest of our mythical match-Ups Donal O’Doherty focuses on the heavyweights, pitting a prime Mike Tyson against King Wladimir Klitschko.
Mike Tyson stormed onto the boxing scene in 1985, destroying 15 unfortunate opponents in his first year as a professional. He knocked out a remarkable 26 opponents in his first 28 fights, 16 of these coming in the first round.The man who would come to be known as “Iron Mike” was exactly that. He possessed incredible knockout power in either hand, this combined with tremendous speed of fist made him a juggernaut of heavyweight boxing.
Mike Tyson was a delinquent kid but his natural athletic abilities and willingness to withstand physical beatings was noticed by veteran trainer Cus D’Amato, who on sensing he had a potential world champion on his hands invited the then 16 year old to live at his house. Training for several hours every day, the coach was determined to forge Tyson’s natural athleticism and aggression into championship material.
D’Amato had a rich pedigree in the sport of boxing, having crafted a heavy weight world champion already in Floyd Patterson and a light heavyweight champion in Jose Torres. He had a unique coaching style with emphasis on head movement and fast, tight punching combinations. He was also a makeshift sports psychologist in a time when the mental side of sporting success was very much ignored.
It’s rumoured Tyson trained four hours a day from the age of sixteen, enduring countless rounds on the heavy bag, pads and sparring, repeating the same drills incessantly, engraving the punches into his muscle memory. When he first stormed onto the fight scene, boxing analysts and fans alike were astounded by the speed and power of the youngster. He got his world title opportunity against Trevor Berbick in 1986. In a short one sided bout, the thirty one year old champion was shocked by the speed and power of the young pit bull who was eleven years his junior.
Tyson displayed incredible tenacity and sublime combination punching ability as he blasted Berbick with an array of right hands and left hooks for two rounds before the champion was left sprawling around the ring desperately trying to get to his feet in the second. The champion was counted out and Tyson had succeeded in winning the coveted WBC heavyweight title by second round knockout. He was the youngest heavywieght champion in history at just twenty years old.
It must have seemed somewhat surreal for all those watching the fight live, seeing someone who had just emerged from his adolescent years possess so much power and speed and to be so physically developed. No doubt it was a combination of a militant training regime and excellent genes.
Four years later Tyson would lose to Buster Douglas in Tokyo in what was one of boxings biggest ever upsets. Though Tyson spiralled down a dark path after he won the title and ended up greatly under achieving in the sport, he had the potential to become one of boxings true greats and in his prime seemed invincible.
Wladimir Klitschko had a very different rise to prominence. An accomplished amateur in the Ukraine, Klitschko represented his country in the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia. He went on to win the gold medal in the super heavyweight division and turned pro shortly afterwards.
The six foot six inch giant always had superb athletic gifts. He had a tremendously long reach even for a heavyweight, and had phenomenal power in his right hand. However he lacked discipline and structure in the ring which lead to him getting knocked out three times, the last time was in 2004 against Lamont Brewster.
However Klitschko’s talents were recognised by the astute veteran boxing trainer Emanuelle Steward. Steward’s most famous prodigy being Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, he was also the man credited with moulding Lennox Lewis into the heavyweight he was. Coincidentally, Lewis and Klitscko had very similar physiques, Lewis himself standing at six foot five inches.
Steward obviously felt that the same boxing formula that lead to Lewis’s success would work well for Klitscko. His impact was evident, and in a rematch with Brewster three years after the aforementioned knockout, Klitscko demonstrated to the world his tremendous progress under Steward, dispatching of Brewster in six one sided rounds.
Klitschko’s style, though somewhat robotic and monotonous to watch, is very difficult for opponents to overcome. He constantly stands in ring centre, cleverly maneuvering his opponents behind his pistol jab. As opponents attempt to launch an attack, they are brutally hindered with Klitschko’s long lever like jab to the face.
The jab is usually utilised for the first three of four rounds before Klitchko feels comfortable enough to bring his right hand into play. The opponent is then pulverized with immaculately timed right hands until their desire and capacity to continue diminishes and Klitschko takes them out.
Nicknamed “Dr Steele Hammer”, the Ukranians blend of uncanny natural ability and expert tutelage make the him two steps ahead of anything the heavyweight division has to offer at present. But how would he fair against “Iron Mike”?
Klitscko’s weakness has always been his chin, and that alone could make him very susceptible to Tyson’s dynamic and unyielding pressurising style. But if Klitschko could survive the early rounds, keeping Tyson at bay with his jab one would suspect he could possibly outpoint Mike Tyson.
However Klitchko has never faced an opponent with Tyson’s fleetness of foot. The way Tyson closed the distance on opponents wasn’t all that different to Philipino superstar Manny Pacquiao who we all love to watch. The famous “peek a boo style” Tyson perfected under D’Amato would make it very difficult for Klitshcko to land clean with his jab. If you prevent Klitschko from utilising his jab effectively, you take away Klitschko’s essence.
They are polar opposites both inside the ring and in life. Klitschko a qualified doctor and humanitarian, Tyson a convicted rapist and alcoholic. However they have three things in common. Both possessed tremendous power, both were moulded by veteran trainers, and both had styles that took full advantage of their athletic gifts, Tyson the close range bull dog, and Klitschko the long ranger sharpshooter.
I think Tyson wouldn’t have hesitated in attacking Klitschko, and Dr Steele Hammer would have faced a brutal array of left hooks, straight rights and body shots that would have surely had an overwhelming effect.
I suspect Klitschko would have made it further than Berbick but would have been dismantled before the fifth round. Tyson by brutal knock out would have been the outcome.
Donal O’ Doherty, Pundit Arena.