As a young fighter, Mike Tyson’s mentor Cus D’Amato used to show him films of all the previous heavyweight champs. The legendary trainer would break down their styles, offering Mike detailed analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.
When they got to George Foreman, Cus is reputed to have told him that no swarmer, come forward aggressive fighter (Dempsey, Marciano, Frazier) ever beats Foreman. He was too strong, and would push them into the range of his deadly uppercuts, as seen in his two round blitz of a previously undefeated Joe Frazier in 1973.
Trying to box Foreman wasn’t easy, either. The former champion possessed a hard jab, and could cut off the ring quickly and trap opponents on the ropes. Ken Norton fell victim to this and suffered a brutal KO in just two rounds. Ali was forced to adopt the rope a dope when Foreman was able to easily trap him on the ropes despite Muhammad’s excellent footwork.
And when he was landed on, George Foreman held a sturdy chin that served him two decades later in the 90s, when even as an old man the young fighters were wary of mixing it up with him on the inside. Add this up with his punching power, and it’s easy to see why pundits expected Foreman to reign for a long time in the mid 1970s.
Mike Tyson, contrary to popular belief, did not excel at in-fighting. He retained a bad habit throughout his career of stopping his offense anytime he was clinched. This was unlike his idol Jack Dempsey and others like Rocky Marciano and Joe Frazier, who would punish opponents in clinches: whether through legal punches or foul shots to the kidney, hips, or groin.
Tyson’s lethal game was at mid-range. From there he could rip off hard combinations. His great head movement and weaving prevented him from absorbing punishment, and kept him in position to crash home counters on his usually larger opponents.
Against Foreman, this would be crucial. Tyson would not want to get too close, as Foreman would simply push him back by his shoulders and smash him with uppercuts and hooks. At mid-range, Tyson would have opportunities to counter the slower Foreman. Although Foreman shook off several Frazier left hooks in their two bouts, Big George would have never faced someone like Tyson, who was blessed with dynamite and speed in both hands.
With all that said, there’s one other Tyson flaw that I feel would sink him against Foreman, and that is Iron Mike’s inability to fight going backwards. His offense is 100% forward, and when any fighter has forced him in the other direction he loses most of the leverage on his punches. George Foreman is likely the strongest heavyweight champion physically, edging others like Jim Jeffries and Jack Johnson. At many points during the fight, he will move Tyson backwards. It will be bullying, but not involve all the grappling that Holyfield did against Mike in 1996. It will be shoving coupled with hard punches. And on the backfoot Tyson doesn’t have the capabilities to make Foreman pay like Ali and even Jimmy Young did.
This is a shootout and a great fight to debate. To add more allure to this matchup, rumors persist that Tyson refused to fight Foreman in 1990 mostly due to what Cus D’Amato had instilled in him about Foreman’s abilities.
So who are you going with, Tyson or Foreman?
Foreman vs. Norton