Legendary Boxing Trainer teddy atlas disputes Mike Tyson’s legacy: ‘I don’t know if he was ever great’

Mike Tyson

To many, ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson is one of, if not the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. To legendary trainer Teddy Atlas, he’s neither.

Scoring knockouts against his first 19 opponents, Tyson went on to become the youngest heavyweight champion in the history of the sport, a record that still stands to this very day. He is also the first heavyweight to hold the WBA, WBC, and IBF world championships simultaneously.

Tyson’s legacy and skills in the sweet science are undeniable, but speaking on the Lex Fridman Podcast, Atlas has one major gripe about the iconic pugilist’s career.

“I don’t know if he was ever great,” Atlas said. “I know he was sensational. I know he was the greatest mix of maybe speed and power ever. I know he was one of the greatest punchers from either side of the plate, left or right. There’s been great punchers with just the right hand like Earnie Shavers and Deontay Wilder and Max Baer. I don’t know if there’s ever been anyone who could punch as good as (Tyson) did on either side with either hand other than Joe Louis and a few others.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been such a combination of speed and power to that pure level that he had, and it was a pure level. I don’t know if there was ever as good a fighter as Tyson was for maybe one night he was great. He wasn’t tested, but he might have been ready to be tested that one night against Michael Spinks when he took him apart in 90 seconds. I think I saw a great fighter that night. I don’t think you can be great unless you have all the requirements of being great” (h/t MMA Junkie).

Disputing Tyson’s status as one of the greatest, Atlas offered his take on what he feels is required for a fighter to truly separate himself from the pack.

“To not rely on someone else’s weakness to be strong, to be strong on your own,” Atlas said. “Too often, (Tyson) relied on other people’s weakness, whether it’s by being intimidated or whether it was because his talent was so much greater than theirs that it was like putting a monster truck in there with a Volkswagen.

“The Volkswagen was going to get crushed. No matter how much horsepower the Volkswagen might’ve had under the hood, it was going to get crushed. The monster truck was not going to allow it to be a contest. To be able to find a way when your talent wasn’t enough – he didn’t find a way when his talent wasn’t enough.”

Atlas looks at Mike Tyson’s biggest career losses

As expected, Atlas pointed directly to the biggest blemish on Mike Tyson’s career; his 10th-round TKO loss to Buster Douglas in 1990. He also referenced Tyson’s back-to-back losses against Evander Holyfield, a fighter he believes was not on the same level as Tyson when they fought.

“A fight is not a fight until there’s something to overcome,” Atlas said. “Until then, it’s just an athletic exhibition contest. Yeah, who’s a better athlete? Who’s got more quick twitch fibers? Who’s more developed in those physical areas?

“But a fight is not a fight until there’s something to overcome. So, if you go by my definition, not Webster’s, pretend it means something, Mike Tyson was only in five (six) fights in his life. The fights where there was something to overcome, he didn’t overcome it.”

Tyson walked away from the sport in 2005 after losing three of his last four. He retired with a record of 50-6 with 44 of his wins coming by way of knockout. In November 2020, he returned to the ring for an exhibition bout with former four-division world champion Roy Jones Jr. After eight rounds, the bout was ruled a split draw.

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