Tyson is 30 for 30, a knocker-out of 27 of his opponents, half of whom did not survive round one. He has been an instant favorite to destroy any witless adventurer who climbs into a ring with him. At the age of 20, he is being applauded as the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing's history.
It is that championship claim, too widely and too naively accepted, that is the annoying one. Tyson, for all his impressive conquests, has no genuine claim to being champion of the world's heavyweights; certainly not as long as Michael Spinks is out there sporting the only valid heavyweight crown, honestly won and never lost to any man.
Spinks' title is certified by two victories over Larry Holmes, the man who unified all heavyweight titles extant by winning 49 fights in a row, and beaten by nobody until Spinks came along. Until somebody licks Spinks, there is no other champion.
Tyson's so-called title is the three-dollar bill of heavyweight titles. It was confected of a series of victories over boxing's nobodies who held trashy titles awarded on whim by laughingstock boxing groups with high-sounding names like World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association, both self-appointed with self-interests.
Tyson's claim as the new, undisputed champion was first shouted by Home Box Office, the outfit for which he has been working. It is to the shame of so many sportswriters and the army of untaught radio and TV sports commentators that they suspended all reason and embraced the Don King/HBO party line.
Tyson, for what little it means, is recognized as champion by the WBC and the WBA. Larry Holmes, who was formerly recognized by those groups, demonstrated the importance of their endorsement by telling them to shove it, and then helped found the new International Boxing Federation, proclaiming himself as its champion. The IBF has proclaimed a new champion of its own, Tony Tucker, who has been fighting on undercards.
They attempted to take the title away from Spinks when he wouldn't join the HBO-Don King elimination series aimed at producing Tyson as a counterchampion. The WBC, WBA and IBF put in with the HBO and King and likewise proclaimed that Spinks no longer existed. But a few days ago an odd thing happened. The ghost of Spinks gave Gerry Cooney 29 1/4 pounds and flattened him, in five.
Tyson's "title" is as spurious as a one-inning no-hitter. Among the most important guys he beat were Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tubbs, Bonecrusher Smith and Trevor Berbick, who as heavyweights would be flattered by being termed undistinguished.
Tyson's latest conquest, the one that brought him the WBC title as well as the WBA's, was against Berbick, the latest foil fed him by King. In evaluating WBC champs, it is significant that their man, Berbick, went into the ring as a 6-to-1 underdog. He was a disgrace and rarely threw a punch after the first few moments. Tyson knocked him bowlegged in two rounds.
Inevitably, the Spinks-Tyson match will be made. There is too much money out there for it to be otherwise. Conceivably it could top the Hagler-Leonard gross. When it does happen, the savvy Spinks will probably lick Tyson, cut him up, knock him out; walk out the winner by crook or hook.
Tyson's muscle is undisputed. He has knockout power in either hand. And as far as it has been tested, his chin is suitably of iron. There hasn't been as aggressive a heavyweight since Dempsey, or since Joe Frazier came out smoking. He is the most exciting heavyweight of this generation.
And he seems to be a splendid chap, doing the nice things like getting out and telling kids not to go wrong. Altogether commendable. However, as a fighter he is unlettered in the finer arts of boxing, a steep contrast to the clever Spinks. Has no lateral movement, exposes too much of his chin. He can hit hard with either hand, but in essence is a one-dimensional fighter. He deals in roundhouses, and straight punches are foreign to him. Three opponents have gone the limit with him and if the man in front of him doesn't crumble from his assaults he doesn't know what to do next. This may seem harsh toward a kid who has won 'em all, but it is what has been observed.
Tyson is the kind that Spinks could probably eat up: little mobility and not yet ring wise. He offers the same target as Cooney, who fell to Spinks after enjoying a couple of warm-up rounds. When Spinks had Cooney in trouble later, he was the classic, two-handed knocker-out.
Spinks was generous toward Cooney in the postfight talk, also saying of his bulky opponent, "He gives you a lot," meaning Cooney was there to be hit. It is this that Spinks would be looking for against Tyson. When their match is made, Spinks will be spotting Tyson only seven or eight pounds. Can Spinks stay away from Tyson? He is the consummate escape artist in the ring. Holmes couldn't find him in two fights that went the limit and Cooney's attempts were abysmal.
The postulation here is that Tyson won't be able to locate Spinks inside that 20-foot ring, until Spinks himself wills it. And then Tyson won't like what will probably occur next; specifically those sharp combinations Spinks throws when he perceives that the time has come.
Spinks' combos carry poundage and are accurate, and Tyson will be in trouble for the first time in his career.