Andre Ward was all of two years old at the time a teenaged Mike Tyson began his meteoric rise to heavyweight immortality.
The legacy left behind by the one-time baddest man on the planet, however, is legendary enough for the former two-division world champion to have become well versed on the subject.
“I was obviously a baby when Tyson was on his way to a title shot. I became more acquainted post-prison Mike Tyson. The reputation preceded him,” Ward noted while hosting an ESPN-televised marathon of Tyson fights on Saturday, along with fellow network commentators Joe Tessitore and Mark Kriegel. “It caused me to study and want to find out who this figure was, and I’ve followed him ever since.”
The four-hour marathon chronicled nine fights spanning a four-year period, beginning with his 2nd round knockout of John Alderson in July 1985 and concluding with the first of two knockout wins over England’s Frank Bruno, having stopped the Brit in five rounds in July 1989. By fight’s end, Tyson boasted a record of 36-0 (32KOs), amassing such a mark by age 23 and just four-and-a-half years into his pro career.
“It wasn’t just the fact that he fought often,” Ward noted of Tyson’s mystique. “It wasn’t just the fact that he was in the public’s eye often. It was how he got those knockouts. I’ve never seen in the history of the sport a guy like Mike Tyson who won the majority of fights before he ever stepped in a boxing ring.”
A 2nd round knockout of Trevor Berbick to win his first heavyweight title in November 1986 was preceded by a breakneck schedule where he crammed 27 fights into a 20-month period, including a ridiculous eight fights in just over four months from May-September 1986 while barely having time to celebrate his 20th birthday during that stretch.
It was the type of sacrifice he was willing to make in order to land in the history books as the youngest ever heavyweight champion. Three fights later, Tyson laid claim to every major heavyweight title at the time, even if historians needed him to still conquer lineal heavyweight champion Michael Spinks in order to prove his true claim to the throne. Tyson needed just 91 seconds to accomplish the feat, coming three days shy of his 22nd birthday.
By that point had well established himself as pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world and without peer.
“I think there’s a lesson for today’s fighters,” notes Kriegel, one of the few active sportswriters today who had the privilege of covering the prime years of the legendary Hall of Fame heavyweight. “You can’t build a mythology, you cannot become iconic unless you fight. That year that led up to [the championship], Tyson fought 13 times in [eight] months on his way to becoming the youngest ever heavyweight champion.
“For the guys who look at this today, you don’t become a champion on the internet. You don’t become champion by picking fights with someone on Instagram. You do it through deed.”
Tyson retired in 2005 with a record of 50-6 (44KOs) and two no-contests. Two title reigns came over the course of his career, gaining enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June 2011, elected in his first year of eligibility.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox