By Dean Berks – Fantasy fights between heavyweight greats have been one of the most debated subjects amongst the fight fraternity. Ali v Louis, Louis v Dempsey and Ali v Tyson are probably the three most discussed fights around tables or on social media. But what about one of the greats versus one who had the potential for greatness? Mike Tyson is widely credited as one of history’s finest heavyweight champions. But for Riddick Bowe the opinion is different. This was a fighter who seemed to possess all the ingredients to add his name to an illustrious list. But a lack of focus and discipline became his undoing. From being touted as a potential all-time great, he became a what if, just another fighter who had it all in the palm of their hand but let it slip away. But Tyson himself was also guilty of this. In 1988, he destroyed Michael Spinks in the then richest fight in history. His star was never brighter. But managerial and promotional issues started to affect his career. And to add a ton on top, his vastly less than spartan lifestyle started to rapidly erode his skills and talent. Just two months into 1990 his title and aura of invincibility were gone, courtesy of a tenth round knockout defeat to James ‘Buster’ Douglas. His performances that followed displayed the erosion in his abilities. And then incarceration followed. Three years of his life and career taken away. He returned and captured two world titles, but was no longer the intimidator of old. But the public’s fascination with him kept him at the top for years after. Bowe had eaten himself out of the title and could never regain the momentum he had when he had produced an outstanding performance to outpoint Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight title in one of history’s greatest fights. Two defences followed before he came in heavy and passed the title back to Holyfield. He would go on to capture the WBO belt, becoming the first heavyweight to have held all four versions of the major titles, but by 1996 he was officially done (a later comeback not withstanding). The boys from Brooklyn seemed to share a few similarities within their careers. But to find out who would have won this intriguing match between the two means we would have to place them up against their best. So we will place the Tyson of 1988, fresh off his knockout of Spinks, versus the Bowe of 1992, the young pretender who had just captured heavyweight glory against Holyfield. These were their finest moments and neither would reach those euphoric heights again.
Style & Attributes
Standing at a listed 5ft 11 inches tall, but believed to have been shorter, and with a 71-inch reach, Tyson had mastered the aggressive bobbing and weaving style associated with his teacher Cus D’Amato. With his speed and power he tore through the heavyweight division, capturing the WBC title in just under two years as a professional, and becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history at just twenty years of age. Title defences had seen him knockout Pinklon Thomas, Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes and Tony Tubbs, although he had outpointed both James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Tony Tucker to win the WBA & IBF titles respectively, becoming the first undisputed champion since Leon Spinks in 1978. At this time his record stood at 35-0, with 31 KO’s.
At 6ft 5 inches tall and possessing an 82-inch reach, Bowe, not surprisingly, liked to work behind his jab, using it to both control and open up his opponent. A strong combination puncher, he developed tremendously under the tutelage of the great Eddie Futch, blasting out fringe contenders Tyrell Biggs (tko 3) and Smokin’ Bert Cooper (tko 2) on his way to his coronation against Holyfield. For such a big man, he was fantastic on the inside, with his right uppercut being one of his main weapons. At 32-0, 27 KO’s, with 1 DQ, he looked like he was headed for heavyweight greatness.
Power and speed. Tyson was one of the hardest punches in history and his incredible hand speed delivered devastating blows in frightening combinations. Throw in his head and upper body movement too.
Bowe’s jab was a jarring punch that set up his powerful right, thrown as a cross or uppercut. He put his punches together fluidly and his inside game, as stated, was superb.
Tyson’s outside the ring activities became his biggest downfall. Between the ropes though, there had been brief glimpses of frustration when opponents messed him around, and he had a tendency to hold as opposed to work on the inside.
Question marks about Bowe’s dedication hung over his head like a black cloud. And his temperament was questioned after a fracas with Elijah Tillery. He had also been wobbled by Tyrell Biggs.
The build-up to the fight features several memorable moments at the press conferences as the pair exchange trash talk and have to be separated on many occasions. This carries over into the ring when the pair engage in more verbal taunts as the referee gives them their instructions. Both men are in top condition as the first bell rings. Tyson surprises the bigger man with the sharpness of his jab, but Bowe surprises him by not backing off or conceding ground. Futch has drilled it into Bowe to fire his right as soon as Tyson dips to his left, disrupting his rhythm. Tyson bobs and weaves under Bowe’s jab, trying to work the body. Bowe tags Tyson with an uppercut but is caught with a thudding overhand right, shaking him to his boots. He ties Tyson up before returning fire. Punches are thrown after the bell as the corners of both drag their men back to their stools.
Bowe starts to add a little more movement, creating space for his right. Tyson fires a right to the body before whipping a left hook to Bowe’s head. The punch moves Bowe back as the crowd cheer the sound of its connection. Bowe tries to punch back but is caught again. Futch is urging Bowe to stick to the game plan and to keep a cool head.
He comes out for the third snapping out his jab. When Tyson gets close Bowe pivots to the side landing one-two’s. Up close he ties Tyson up before creating space to land his uppercut and hooks to the body.
Round four follows the same pattern as Bowe grows in confidence while the frustration appears in Tyson. He is used to opponents being intimidated and not punching back. Bowe starts pushing Tyson back in the fifth, a sight fans have rarely seen, landing straight rights and left hooks. Tyson is looking a little bemused by Bowe’s attacks.
Coming out for the sixth, Tyson is sporting some puffiness around his left eye, courtesy of Bowe’s right. Bowe is pumping his jab out now, boxing like a man in control. Tyson is struggling to close the gap as Bowe moves away from his left hook. Things start to unravel in round seven when Tyson is shaken for the first time, Bowe connecting cleanly with a short uppercut then a long right as Tyson pulls back. It is the first time he has been in trouble in his career and fans are wondering how he will now react. He tries to blast Bowe with a right but Bowe steps in with his own. Tyson is in serious trouble as the bell sounds, his corner rushing him back, feverishly trying to clear their man’s head. Eddie Futch urges Bowe to go for the go for the finish, feeling that Tyson is ready to go.
Bowe keeps Tyson behind a solid jab, still wary of his power. But as Tyson moves in, he is met with a heavy right uppercut that buckles his knees. Tyson cups his gloves tight to the side of his head as Bowe opens up. A heavy right sends him to the ropes before a powerful combination sends him down to one knee. He rises at six as Bowe looks to bring matters to a conclusion. Another combination drives Tyson back before a right high on the head buckles him again. This time the referee has seen enough, jumping in to rescue the beaten fighter. Bowe raises his arms high, victorious in the “Battle for Brooklyn’s baddest man”.