The baddest turned out to be the best, beating ‘The Greatest’ to arrive at that point.
Mike Tyson scored a well-earned 12-round unanimous decision over Muhammad Ali in the eWBSS (World Boxing Super Series) Heavyweight Legends tournament finale, Sunday evening at Metro Manila Arena in Manila, Philippines.
Tyson was floored in the opening round but climbed off the deck to score two of his own in claiming a decision win by scores of 114-111 on all three scorecards.
It was fitting that the tournament championship was the only contest to make its way to the judges, with none of the preceding bouts making it past round seven.
The threat of a knockout surfaced early, although it was Tyson—one of the most potent punchers in boxing history—who was nearly taken out. The Brooklyn-born former heavyweight champ initiated a furious pace, of the belief that his perfect blend of speed and power would be too much for Ali’s all-around skillset.
He was very wrong.
Ali produced his own power game, catching Tyson with a left hook to send him to the canvas in the closing seconds of round one. The sequence came too close to the bell for Ali to capitalize, proving beneficial to Tyson who recuperated in a big way in round two. An overhand right clipped Ali on the temple, sending the only three-time lineal heavyweight champion in boxing history down on the mat.
With the fight knotted through two, Ali returned to combination punching in round three. Tyson never stopped coming forward, yet was outpunched on the inside and also struggling in round four to contend with Ali’s long right hand. One such shot had Tyson on wobbly legs, although he steadied himself and seized control in the second half of the frame.
Momentum carried over into round five. A left hook by Tyson had Ali on wobbly legs, with a straight right hand finishing the job. Ali—who suffered just one stoppage over the course of his legendary career—found himself on the canvas for the second time on the night, this time in serious trouble. The Louisville-born boxer once again beat the count and managed to make it a competitive affair for the balance of the round.
Still, it was a two-point swing which would ultimately cost him in the end.
Tyson continued to force a short-distance affair, fighting behind a tight guard and firing off left hooks upstairs and to the body. Ali didn’t quite resort to the ‘Rope-A-Dope’ strategy which befuddled George Foreman in the memorable ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, but spent much of the frame with his back often touching the ropes and fighting in reverse.
Ali managed more lateral movement at the start of the second half. Tyson was able to cut off the ring, though not always effective once arriving at his destination. Ali fended off a determined foe and fatigue to dodge the incoming and fire off counter right hands. It wasn’t quit enough to sway the judges, however, as Tyson added to his lead in claiming three straight rounds on the scorecards.
Tyson pushed through a right hand upstairs to score one of his own midway through round eight, as Ali held his ground while in search of a second wind. The pace slowed both ways in round nine, Tyson preserving his energy while attempting to force Ali to take the lead.
Action picked up as the rounds hit double digits, though the threat of a knockout no longer evident. Tyson—who had only been extended to the scorecards twice during his two title reigns—was content to take his chances with the judges, continuing to box while offering only the occasional fully loaded power shot. Ali managed to slip the shots, but wasn’t scoring enough in return to ensure the tournament trophy bearing his name would land in his hands.
The self-proclaimed ‘Greatest’ narrowed Tyson’s sizeable lead in the championship rounds, although he sorely needed a knockout by that point. Statistically, it was his best shot at a victory, as Tyson had never lost a decision in his storied career (5-0 in bouts to go to the scorecards) while suffering five stoppages and a disqualification among his six career defeats.
That statistic held true by fight’s end, much to the dismay of Ali who believed he’d done enough to claim victory. It wasn’t the case, instead leaving him with a far less favorable memory of his surroundings than his lone other career appearance in Philippines, a 14th round stoppage of longtime rival Joe Frazier in their unforgettable ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in 1975 which also served as the rubber match in their memorable trilogy.
A fourth fight between the two was on deck for the eWBSS semifinals, only for Frazier—who’d knocked out Lennox Lewis in the quarterfinals—to withdraw due to undisclosed reasons. Ali wound up facing late replacement Charles ‘Sonny’ Liston for a third time, adding his third stoppage over the former heavyweight king in halting him in five rounds just days after stopping Evander Holyfield in as many rounds in the very first bout of the tournament.
Tyson’s road to the finals was equally as potent, stopping overmatched Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch in two rounds in the quarterfinal round and then drilling Foreman in four rounds just 24 hours ago. His extended tour as the baddest man on the planet gave way to a well-rounded performance to claim the tournament crown.
Sunday’s championship streamed live on WBSS’ social media channel, which carried the entire simulated tournament.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox