Mike Tyson Wanted to Be Like Muhammad Ali’s Rival: “Because Muhammad Ali Did Not Come From Where I Come From”
“Get up and fight, suck*r!” Captured by Neil Leifer and considered one of the most iconic images in sport, he stood there in high spirit. Like an art piece by Michelangelo, his glowing, athletic figure throbbed with encapsulated vigor. He was far from being a stationary target on that night of May 1965. In the middle of the civil rights movement, it was not anymore that outspoken Cassius Clay. Rather, it was the introduction of a new chapter called Muhammad Ali.
One of the most intimidating fighters of his day, Sonny Liston, was defeated only four times. Twice is Muhammad Ali held accountable for Liston’s defeats in boxing.
The love and respect Mike Tyson had for Muhammad Ali is well known and merits no introduction. However, that Tyson aspired to be more like Sonny Liston and not Muhammad Ali is a story seldom heard.
“I wanted to be mean like Sonny Liston”: Mike Tyson opens up about his role model and the difference between him and Muhammad Ali
In an old interview, British columnist Steve Bunce once asked Mike Tyson who he aspired to be. But just when someone from the audience shouted “Muhammad Ali,” this is what Tyson surprisingly said
“I didn’t want to be like Muhammad Ali. Because Muhammad Ali did not come from the world I came from. I came from filth, scum, and sewage. So I wanted to be mean like Sonny Liston and Jack Dempsey.”
In the language of Parsons, and according to Mike, “filth, scum, and sewage” comprised a great deal of the latter’s ‘action frame of reference.’ His surrounding determined his choice.
Given the unpleasant environment he, in his younger days, was a part of, Tyson felt deprived and deeply enraged. Therefore, with the urge to snatch his comfort and glory, Tyson contemplated being ferocious and mean. As a result, although he strongly admired and openly acknowledged his respect for Ali, he felt a powerful inclination towards figures such as Dempsey and Liston.
“I wanted to be ferocious; I wanted to kill you with my stare. I wasn’t like Muhammad Ali. I love and respect Muhammad Ali. But Muhammad Ali is not like me. He don’t come from the world I came from.”