WHEN Mike Tyson was at the peak of his powers he entertained the challenge of Tony Tubbs, a deceptively portly stylist who once owned the WBA strap.
Back then, Tyson, 33-0 (29), was considered invincible and Tubbs, while a top contender, not much of a threat. But despite going down from a left hook at 2-54 of the second, 30-year-old “TNT” put up a scrap beforehand that could be placed among “Iron” Mike’s most testing to that point.
Tubbs fought on until 2006, defeating most yet knockout losses to the unfancied Lionel Butler and Jimmy Ellis – plus a highly contentious points defeat to an emerging Riddick Bowe – thwarted his hopes of snaring another title shot. His final record reads 47-10 (25).
Here, he reflects on that March 21, 1988 night, when he took on the invincible man in Tokyo.
How do you go about preparing for a peak Mike Tyson? Can you remember the fighters you sparred to get ready?
Dang! That’s a long time ago [laughs]. I can’t remember the names, but with Tyson, you had to have good, strong sparring partners; which I definitely did have. But the thing with Tyson was, he was so fast. He was real fast! When I fought him, okay, yes, he beat me, he caught me with that left hook. But I was already an older fighter. Matter of fact, all the other heavyweights were older fighters [compared to Tyson].
Everything I’d done, becoming WBA champion, beating guys like Bonecrusher [Smith] and [Greg] Page and [Tim] Witherspoon – because you know I really won that one [he was judged a loser over 15 rounds] – Tyson cared nothing for any of that. But even though our fight lasted just two rounds, I gave him a good fight; far better than anyone else had given him at the time. And I tell you this, if we’d met when we were the same age, that would have been one helluva fight; a real blast!
You were not intimidated by Tyson. What was your plan going in? How did you think you’d beat him?
I figured if I could take him past five rounds, I’d box him, beat him. I knew that if I could take him there I’d have been able to beat him with my jab alone. I was the last of the 15-round fighters. He was fast, but I was faster. In that first round, he couldn’t touch me, he couldn’t hit me. I boxed him, I fought him on the inside. But he was awkward as well as fast. In that second round… the thing is, I never walked to an opponent. I boxed them, I didn’t go right at them. But I was up against it against Tyson and I had to take my chances, and a whole lot of them. Tyson caught me with that left hook. If I could fight Tyson again, I’d have stayed on the outside, I’d have used my jab a lot more and I’d have kept him at bay. It would have been just like Ali against [Joe] Frazier!
You went to Tyson’s body, when no one else really had done so before.
Yeah, I was the first one. I did that because I knew I was faster than he was. I should have doubled up on my left hook to the body. He could hit, but if I’d taken him past five rounds, I’d have shown him a jab he could not have beaten. And my jab, I got that from Muhammad [Ali]. I was on Muhammad’s [sparring] team.
What do you say to the critics who say you were overweight at 238 pounds for Tyson?
I was a little overweight. But at 238, as a champion, I knew what I could do, that I could step it up a notch. I never got the chance to get tired, because he caught me [laughs]. But what a fight it would have been had it gone long. I’d have been in and out, never letting him get set. In just two rounds, I hit Tyson more than anyone else had ever done then.
When you fought Tyson, did you think he was already a great fighter?
I can say Tyson was a great champion, yes. But at the same time, he was a coulda, woulda, shoulda fighter. He wound up getting clipped himself and losing. Tyson got caught himself. But that’s boxing – you win some, you lose some; all of us get old. But yes, Tyson was a great fighter. I sparred the Klitschkos, Lennox Lewis, I beat Riddick Bowe but was robbed, but Tyson, he could hit. He could hit!
Finally, where would you place Tyson in terms of the all-time great heavyweight champions?
Muhammad [Ali] is always number one, let’s get that straight. Then [Rocky] Marciano, and then I think I’d put Tyson at number three. He beat me, and a lot of other good fighters, fair and square.