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Lewis & Tyson: The Aftermath
What Next? Where Do They Rank Among the All-time Greats?
June 12, 2002
On June 8, 2002 in Memphis, Tennessee, Lennox Lewis exposed Mike Tyson for what he has become -- a hollow shell of the intimidating and destructive fighter that once ruled the heavyweight division. After being knocked out in the eighth round of the long awaited bout, Tyson - who shockingly demonstrated both professionalism and sportsmanship during and immediately following the fight - must be re-evaluated in terms of where he belongs both in today’s fight game as well as among the all-time greats. Lewis, on the other hand, finally has the career defining performance which he has long desired. Accordingly, it is also appropriate to have a look at what’s next for Lennox as well as where he belongs among the great heavyweights of the past.
What next for Lennox Lewis?
After destroying Tyson, Lewis should finally have won over his remaining detractors. With nothing left to prove - Lewis has effectively cleaned out the heavyweight division - retirement is definitely an option. However, boxers have a bad habit of failing to recognize the correct time to walk away so it's unrealistic to think Lewis will be any different. Assuming he does continue to fight, Lewis really has no option but to begin cleaning out the next generation of up-and-coming young heavyweights. Prospective opponents include Wladimir Klitschko, Chris Byrd, Kirk Johnson and Jameel McCline. None would provide a payday like a Tyson or an Evander Holyfield but by taking care of both his own generation of heavyweights as well as the next one Lewis could further cement his place among the all-time greats.
What next for Mike Tyson?
In any other profession, retirement would be a no brainer. In boxing, however, no brainer is more or less what's in store for a professional prizefighter who chooses to fight on despite the obvious deterioration of his skills. Tyson’s profligate life style and regrettable choice of entourage will likely require him to fight until he is either unable to get a boxing license anywhere in the world or dead, whichever comes first. If he was willing to rededicate himself to the sport, Tyson - now 35 - could still be a factor in the heavyweight division in the coming years. However, it’s almost inconceivable at this point that he would have the discipline to dedicate himself to recapturing any semblance of the skills of his youth. A more likely scenario is to become something of a latter day Earnie Shavers -- an aging, one-dimensional fighter whose one-punch knockout power allows him to remain an attractive opponent well past the time he should have hung up his gloves once and for all. Prospective opponents include Evander Holyfield, David Tua and - no joking - Butterbean. Yes, it’s come to that for the one-time "baddest man on the planet".
Where does Lennox Lewis rank among the all-time greats?
Lewis’ ranking among the greatest heavyweights of all-time must be looked at in two ways. Not only in the traditional way - in terms of dominance relative to his era - but also on a truly head-to-head basis with the greats of other eras. On the former basis, Lewis now deserves a spot right behind the four greatest heavyweights of all-time in terms of ruling their own eras: Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey. Right behind Lewis would be fighters such as Rocky Marciano, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman and Joe Frazier. If you think that is too high a ranking for Lewis, consider the following list of vanquished opponents (in order): Razor Ruddock, Tony Tucker, Frank Bruno, Tommy Morrison, Ray Mercer, Andrew Golota, Shannon Briggs, Evander Holyfield, Michael Grant, David Tua and Mike Tyson. Throw in a gold medal winning KO of Riddick Bowe in the Olympics and the fact he was able to avenge his only two pro losses - to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman - and it’s impossible to rank Lewis any lower and might actually merit placing him right behind Ali and Louis at number three.

The more debatable argument is where does Lewis belong among the all-time greats on a head-to-head basis? Especially when you open the discussion with this statement: At his best, Lennox Lewis would have defeated any heavyweight fighter who ever lived. Once you’ve recovered from the seeming ridiculousness of that declaration, consider two stats: Six-foot-five and 249 pounds. Lewis’ dominance of Tyson was as much a function of his overwhelming size advantage as his superior skills. Jack Johnson was 6-1 ¼ and 192 pounds. Dempsey was 6-0 ¾ and 187 pounds. Louis was 6-1 ½ and 197 pounds. Marciano was 5-10 ¼ and 184 pounds. Even Ali was "only" 6-3 and 210 pounds or so in his prime. The size advantage Lewis would enjoy over all of these great fighters would almost certainly have more than offset any edge the earlier fighters might have on a purely "pound-for-pound" basis. So there you have it: Lennox is one of the greatest heavyweights of all-time but would have to be considered a favorite against any fighter who ever lived on a head-to-head basis.


Where does Mike Tyson rank among the all-time greats?
There’s no question that for a brief time in the late 1980s Tyson was truly awesome -- as feared and dominating as any fighter who ever lived. But true greatness also requires longevity and wins over quality opponents and in these two categories Tyson is sorely lacking. Tyson’s prime really only lasted from his 1985 debut through the end 1989 -- just prior to being KO’d by Buster Douglas. During this time Tyson was an amazing 37-0 and became the youngest heavyweight champ in history. But his greatest victories were KOs against a flabby, over the hill ex-champ in Larry Holmes and a scared, blown-up light heavyweight in Michael Spinks. Tyson’s other "big wins" were over Trevor Berbick, Bonecrusher Smith, Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker, Tony Tubbs and Frank Bruno. Hardly the stuff of legends.

Using the Douglas loss as the turning point, Tyson is an extremely ordinary 12-4 with 2 no contests over the second part of his career. Against the great fighters of his era - Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Buster Douglas - Tyson was 0-4 (OK, I’m using the term ‘great’ very loosely here in order to make a point) and he never even faced Riddick Bowe, George Foreman, Ray Mercer or Michael Moorer. Given the stunningly short duration of Tyson’s meteoric rise and fall, along with his lack of truly significant wins, it’s impossible to rank Tyson among the top ten heavyweights of all-time. In one of the greatest cases of squandered talent in the history of sports, Tyson’s spot in the pantheon of greats belongs somewhere between numbers 11 and 20 -- right next to his twin from an earlier era, Charles "Sonny" Liston. Only time will tell if Tyson’s life continues to parallel the tragic arc or Liston’s or if he can somehow redeem himself and avoid a similarly early and mysterious demise.


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