Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Was Tyson Really That Great?

Nostalgia has a way of coloring our opinions of people and events, be they historical figures or athletes who dominated our childhoods. Mike Tyson is an example of a public figure who, through time and hype, gradually become mythical and no one can really have a logical conversation about them. I wrote a while back about how Biggie wasn't really the greatest rapper of all time and you would have thought I had said Mother Teresa was a whore. I suppose a lot of Tyson fans have similar feelings about Iron Mike, and the argument for both of these childhood heroes is kind of similar as well.

Both were from Brooklyn and overcame physical traits that were unusual for their profession and would cause them to be picked on when they were younger (Biggie being fat, Tyson and his girlish voice), both achieved fame at a young age and were fairly dominant in their fields and both careers were cut short before they could totally realize their potentials leaving experts and fans to argue about them forever. The real huge difference here is that Biggie's career was cut short at 24 because of a senseless killing, and Tyson's boxing career never made it as far as it could because of his own doing. And there's always the argument that he wasn't that good to begin with and was the product of weak competition. But both benefit from nostalgia, Tyson even more so than Biggie (since BIG actually was great for a number of years).

With Tyson's recent induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame, there's been a lot of his old highlights shown all over the place, and no matter the competition, his knockouts are fun to watch. Tyson was so ferocious in his early years, knocking washed up or never was "tomato cans" (to use Hater J's favorite term), that it's easy to gloss over the fact that those guys were mostly bums that he was demolishing. One reason I'm glad that I was born in the 80s and not a decade earlier is I probably would have wasted a lot of time and money on 5 minute pay per view fights. Still, Mike was a phenomenon who tore into other fighters in a way that isn't seen too often, and he's probably the second most famous boxer in history. That's what makes it so hard to argue about him though, his public persona is so huge and he's become such a brand name (his Punch Out game is a classic for anyone born during the Reagan years) that arguing against him with a fan is pointless, despite the evidence.

When all is said and done, even if he never reached his full potential, or if you argue he wasn't that great to begin with and just dominated weak competition like the James Tilleses and Marvis Fraziers of the world, his impact can't be denied. Even now as he's basically a parody of himself, he's still an icon that inspires debate unlike any other boxer, as hard as Mayweather or some of the other new jacks might try to draw attention to themselves. He might not have been the greatest fighter who ever lived, but don't try telling a Tyson fan that.

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