Those of us who are true followers of boxing understand the difference between a skilled fighter and an unskilled one. Boxing technique is not merely throwing punches as hard as possible, but rather punch combinations, stances, head movement, defense, stamina, etc., all coordinated by intelligence. If a fighter has great punching power and technique to boot, there is a great advantage over his opponent. The first fighter that comes to mind is Mike Tyson, 50-6 (44), who had exceptional punching power and technique. He is arguably the most exciting former heavyweight champion ever. Inside the boxing ring he displayed speed, power, stamina, intelligence, and uncanny boxing skills. He also brought back excitement to the heavyweight division, which Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon, and Pinklon Thomas failed to do, after Muhammad Ali retired. He used his abilities under the guidance of mentor Cus D'Amato and trainer Kevin Rooney, to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever at the age of twenty one on November 22, 1986. At the beginning of his career, he was one of the most disciplined fighters in the ring boxing fans would ever see.
What made Tyson so unique? After all, aren't there other fighters who had the same aforementioned qualities? Absolutely! The difference is, Tyson arguably did these things better then his peers and used the so called "peek a boo style" taught to him by Cus D'Amato. The "peek a boo style", in essence, is constant head movement to evade the opponents punches; chin protected by the fighters gloves, and punch combinations to the head and body coming forward. Tyson's trainer, Kevin Rooney, a former D'Amato fighter, used a number system to instruct Tyson on what type of punches his opponent was susceptible to. As an example, '6-8-6' or '5-1-5' meant jab to the head, right hook to the body, followed by a right hook the head within a split second. Tyson would throw his combinations coming forward while bobbing and weaving away from his opponent's punches. Rarely would Tyson ever be hit accurately with an opponents punch.
Tyson appeared to be unbeatable. Most opponents lost to Tyson when they signed the fight contract, as in the case of Michael Spinks. Spinks was nearly scared to death when he stepped in the ring with Tyson on June 6, 1988 and was subsequently blown away in less than two minutes of the first round of their mega fight. The Spinks fight would be the last time boxing fans would see Tyson at his best. After the Spinks fight, Tyson fired Kevin Rooney for reported personal differences. Tyson went on to have sub par performances against Frank Bruno, Carl Williams, and suffered a shocking loss to the unheralded Buster Douglas in Japan losing his undisputed heavyweight championship.
What happened to Tyson? A fighter so feared, so exciting, so devastating in the ring, who appeared to be unbeatable. A few close to Tyson blame Don King, accusing the boxing promoter of misguiding his career and cheating him of his rightful share of money. Others blame Robin Givens, his ex-wife, for having him diagnosed as a manic depressive. There are those who say the night life and bad habits contributed to his downfall. Many attribute his rape conviction, of a beauty queen pageant contestant, in 1991 which resulted in a three year prison sentence.
This boxing writer agrees that all the aforementioned may have been secondary reasons, which may have contributed to Tyson's demise. The primary reason Tyson never regained his championship form is because he fired Kevin Rooney! I pose this question to all boxing fans reading this article: Have you ever seen any other boxer not taught by Cus D'Amato or his students fight like Tyson? Every other trainer brought in to train Tyson tried to change his style. Tyson has been using the "peek a boo style" since he was thirteen years old. Any smart good trainer will not completely change a boxer's fighting style, but rather fine tune the existing skills. Emmanuel Steward, famed Kronk boxing trainer and manager, said if a fighter had success with their style of fighting he did not look to change it, but rather look to improve the fighter's skills and minimize their weaknesses.
After firing Kevin Rooney, Mike Tyson had had some of the best trainers in boxing such as Tommy Brooks, Buddy McGirt, Ronnie Shields, and Freddy Roach. They all neglected Tyson's fundamentals. Rich Gaietti, the first trainer post Kevin Rooney, attempted to maintain the "peek a boo style." Kevin Rooney said Gaietti did not know the number system, of the "peek a boo style", and only he could effectively train Tyson. Years later, Rooney said Tyson would have beaten Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield easily had he remained with him. Rooney also said Tyson doesn't listen to these trainers because he knew they did not have the knowledge to train him. So in all fairness, these men could not really be blamed for not doing a good job training Tyson. The blame is to be given to Tyson for not resolving his differences with Rooney and rehiring him.
At nearly forty years of age, Tyson is a remnant of his former self. Tyson's last two fights have been losses to C class fighters (Danny Williams and Kevin McBride) he would have beaten easily in his prime. What if Mike Tyson and Kevin Rooney reunited sometime in the year 2006? Would it make a difference in a rumored Tyson comeback? What does Tyson truly have left in his boxing gas tank? Tyson's punching power has never left him. His reflexes are not what they used to be, but are good enough. Tyson could regain his timing and stamina. If Tyson gradually saw a resemblance of his former self once again by reuniting with Kevin Rooney, he could regain his desire to ascend to the top of the heavyweight division. Give Kevin Rooney eight weeks with a truly rededicated Mike Tyson and he whips any top ten heavyweight in the world active or retired. The world will then see more than flashes of the guy we once knew as the "baddest man on the planet".