In the world of sports, you always find yourself asking what if? What if Diego Maradona’s Hand of God never counted?
What if Ayrton Senna didn’t crash in San Marino and continued to race? What if Michael Jordan never quit basketball for baseball?
Boxing is no different. For years, fight fans have created their ultimate fantasy fights and according to the WBC, Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder is top of that list.
Although we are not quite sure why when both fighters remain active…
Below, we take a look at what would have been the biggest fight in boxing history had both fought in the same era – Muhammad Ali vs Mike Tyson.
When you look at the two fighters, the biggest difference is the height disparity. Ali was billed at 6ft 3inches compared to the smaller man in Tyson – who at 5ft 10ins – gave up five inches to Ali.
Similar to the height, ‘The Greatest’ also has the advantage of reach, coming in with a span of 78 inches whereas Tyson’s reach is measured at 71 inches.
Although height and reach can often not tell us how a contest will end, it’s always useful to know to see how a contest will play it. With Ali having the advantage on both measurements, you can imagine him wanting to keep Tyson at long range the whole fight, not letting the smaller man get into the inside.
‘Iron Mike’ fought all of his career as the smaller man but knocked out guys taller than Ali, including Tyrell Biggs for the WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight belts in 1987 at 6ft 5inches.
Therefore, Tyson would be used to having to work to get beyond the jab and taking a punch to give one just to get into close range.
They say boxing is as much physical as it is mental, and Ali’s mentality and psyche were some of the strongest you will witness in boxing history.
Before the fight even starts, Ali would have the ability to get into the head of Tyson with his mind games.
Despite the intimidating persona of ‘Iron Mike’, Ali successfully played mind games with some of the most intimidating of his time including Sonny Liston.
His trash talk would help gain Ali an advantage over Tyson in this fantasy fight.
Over his 20-year long career, fans fell in love with the power of Tyson and believe it to be the biggest deciding factor when it came to one of his fights. Yet what many seem to forget is the punch resistance that Ali had.
In the late Ali’s five career losses, it was only his penultimate fight that saw him lose before the final bell rung as Larry Holmes retired him on his stool in the tenth. At that point, Ali was 38 and reaching the end of his career.
Admittedly Cassius Clay – as he was known when fighting both Henry Cooper and Sonny Liston – was knocked down by both of those fighters, yet he still managed to continue the fight to win inside the scheduled distance.
The biggest evidence of the punch resistance of the former Olympic gold medallist came in his fight against Ken Norton. In the fifth round, Ali suffered a broken jaw and but continued onto the twelfth round where he narrowly lost a split decision.
So, there is evidence that Ali can deal with power and continue in a contest which doesn’t bode well for ‘Kid Dynamite’. But we can’t mention the power of Tyson without talking about the consistency of Ali’s power.
In his career, 18 of ‘The Greatest’s knockout wins came in the final round. Whether that was round 12 or 15, Ali carried his power through every round.
Now, this could be down to his stamina or just his pure punching power, but it just shows that he can be dangerous at any time in the fight.
The final point to make about the success Ali could have is by looking at a weakness of Tyson’s. If we look at the opponents of prime ‘Iron Mike’ who caused him the most trouble, we would have to look at Evander Holyfield and James ‘Buster’ Douglas’.
Both are similar to Ali’s measurement wise who would move whilst applying pressure to Tyson – not allowing him to get onto the inside. This would be the same tactic Ali would apply when fighting Tyson.
So as shown by the likes of Holyfield and Douglas, if you keep the 5ft 10ins man at long distance, it will be a frustrating night for him.
Keys to victory for Mike Tyson
What made Mike Tyson so feared was his intimidating and unearthly power. Although earlier we mentioned the punch resistance Ali had, even with that it’s impossible to count out just what the left hook of Tyson could do to someone.
The stats alone show how important power was to ‘Iron Mike’s game, with 44 of his 50 wins ending inside the distance – as well as 23 of those knockouts coming within the first three minutes.
With those kinds of figures, you can’t ignore the importance of his power. Although Ali may be able to withstand the punching power, it will at least have some kind of effect on him – whether that be slowing him down or making him wearier to engage.
It’s all well and good having power though but as long as you use it correctly. Ali was known for his famous hands down style, relying solely on his reactions to defend.
This would be difficult for someone who loves to headhunt, but Tyson was also great at working the body.
The somewhat lazy and arrogant defence of Ali would leave plenty of opportunities for ‘Iron Mike’ to pulverise the body of ‘The Greatest’ which will neutralise his work and could even reduce his engine and power in the later rounds – an advantage of Ali’s we touched upon.
The final point to bring up involving Tyson would be his speed. Ali has the advantage of speed when it comes to movement, with the older generation fighter being known for his graciousness in the way he moved around the ring. Tyson’s hand speed is by far the more advantageous, however with him being able to throw deadly combinations in the blink of an eye.
The best example of showing this is when looking at Ali’s first fight against Frazier. Despite having the quicker feet, the pressure Frazier was putting on Ali saw him find it hard to adjust his feet completely, resulting in Frazier taking over the fight and inflicting the first loss of the late world champion’s career.
With Tyson constantly trying to get on the inside and applying the pressure onto Ali, it could see mistakes in the fast footwork of Ali allowing ‘Kid Dynamite’ to come inside and make the most of his devilish hand speed.
Who would win?
When it comes to fantasy fights, everything is purely opinion based which is why it leads to great debate. The opinion Planet Sport has on this fight is that Muhammad Ali will have his hand raised and this is how.
Ali will settle quickly into the early rounds, getting into his rhythm and boxing on the backfoot, pot shotting Tyson when he comes forward with that peek-a-boo style.
‘Iron Mike’ is a momentum fighter and when things don’t go his way, he can quickly lose motivation and lose his head by becoming wild. While one punch can change everything, the better boxing fundamentals of Ali will be favoured in the contest.
Planet Sport predicts that Ali would be the victor via a later round stoppage.