Imagine a KO tournament starring iconic heavyweights Tyson, Lewis, Fury, Joshua and Co. Our man JEFF POWELL assesses the mythical match-ups and concludes… Muhammad Ali is still The Greatest
First a confession. There are nights when I dream about fights between boxing greats from different generations and feel hugely frustrated if I wake up before knowing who wins.
Such is the curse of the workaholic hack with no big championship fights to report.
One panacea for all of us who live and breathe sport is to imagine contests we would love to see if age, money, death even, were not an impediment.
Tyson Fury was unable to bully Muhammad Alia in the same way he dealt with Deontay Wilder
The principal obsession is with the largest prize-fighters. Especially now, with the heavyweight division more vibrant than at any time since the ring’s golden age.
So here we go, with a fantasy tournament for the ages.
Compiled not exclusively from the all-time top eight in their prime years but comprising a cross-generation of fights for which we would have paid through a broken nose for black market tickets or triple the regular pay-per-view subscription to see on TV.
Lennox Lewis had style and movement but the best of all UK heavies would come up short
My choice of four mega-fights — all scheduled for the historic championship distance of 15 rounds — were then drawn at random into knock-out formation. This is how they would pan out…
1 Muhammad Ali v Tyson Fury
Fascinating encounter between the two most agile heavyweight movers ever.
Fury starts impressively but is unable to bring his size to bear, the way he brow-beat the less mobile Deontay Wilder. When the Gypsy King slows in the second half he cannot prevent the complete boxer and prolifically varied puncher pulling away.
Ali by unanimous decision.
Joe Frazier took on Iron Mike in an epic slug-fest which was ended by a thunderbolt right
2 Lennox Lewis v Anthony Joshua
Brit on Brit. Then and now. Joshua staggers a slow-starting Lewis twice early. Then the best of all UK heavies takes charge, breaks down AJ and nails that questionable jaw with a left-right combination in mid-fight.
Lewis by KO in 9th.
3 Joe Frazier v Mike Tyson
EPIC slug-fest between two of the heftiest hitters of all time. Iron Mike puts Smokin’ Joe down twice in the second. Frazier not only gets up but drags Tyson into the trenches, dropping him in the 10th. The ferocious 12th is one of the rounds of the century but Frazier takes the more damaging punishment and a thunderbolt right sends him to the canvas for keeps in the next.
Tyson by KO in 13th.
Anthony Joshua went on the attack early on but his questionable jaw would let him down
4 Joe Louis v George Foreman
Over-confident against the smaller Louis, Foreman scores a fourth-round knockdown as he goes for the early kill like he did in his ill-fated Rumble In The Jungle onslaught against Ali.
No Rope-a-Dope trickery from the Brown Bomber. Rather, immortal majesty as he outclasses and bewilders Big George before calling up his uncanny power to end the argument.
Louis by KO in 8th.
1 Lewis v Ali
Spell-binding danse macabre between two maestros of style, movement, intelligence, courage and concussive hitting. Ali dazzles from the first bell, dancing into an early lead. Lewis quickens the tempo in the middle rounds, proving two can tango.
But one of Ali’s unseen punches — a short, angled, whiplash right from nowhere — inflicts a flash knockdown in the 10th. This momentum shift proves to be the last. Anxious that the loss of those two points might prove decisive against him on the score-cards, in what his master trainer Emanuel Steward tells him is a close fight, Lewis goes for broke.
George Foreman went for the early kill like he did in his ill-fated Rumble In The Jungle charge
Ali, sensing the desperation, taunts him with his famous shuffle. That lures Lewis forward into the championship rounds.
There he finds Ali — far from tiring — remarkably accelerating his footwork and picking him off with quick-fire combinations. The withering effect on mind and body sets Lewis up for the left to the chin and right to the temple which leaves him lolling against the ropes.
Ali by TKO in 13th.
2 Louis v Tyson
Two of the most devastating punchers — despite not being the biggest of men.
A titanic collision. Don’t blink. Tyson is fastest out of the blocks and has Louis under pressure. A trademark sledgehammer right from Iron Mike decks the Brown Bomber in the sixth, just as he looks to be assuming control of a brutal encounter.
Mike Tyson (left) showed why he was unquestionably the Baddest Man On The Planet
Louis reboots and brings his superior technique tellingly into play, gradually pulling level on points and paving the way for a wicked straight right which sends Tyson down in the ninth.
Tyson, acutely aware of the urgency, comes out for the 10th with that peculiar donkey kick launching him into lightning attacks.
It is a scary sight for everyone in the screaming crowd.
Louis is not a legend to be intimidated and he stems the tide with a left hook from hell. It proves to be a temporary halting of Tyson in his thunderous tracks. It is that blinding speed of hand and foot rather than the Bomber’s ring mastery which proves decisive.
When the Iron express reaches full steam again it is with both pistons punching. Louis subsides again, beats a count but stumbles into the referee’s arms.
Tyson by TKO in 10th.
Ali v Tyson
The Greatest Of All Time against the Baddest Man On The Planet. The consummate boxer against the killer puncher. The watching world divided between Noble Art-lovers and bloodlust. Madison Square Garden melting in the heat of expectation.
They have bad-mouthed each other all the way here. Ali in tormenting rhyme, Tyson by crude menaces. No love lost, no quarter to be given.
Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston in 1965 (above) and he would beat Mike Tyson too
Michael Buffer gets us ‘Ready To Rumble’. Tyson needs no second invitation. As usual, he storms out of the gate. As ever, Ali is light on his feet.
There is only minimal contact in the first two rounds. Not an anti-climax, surely? Fret not.
Even as Tyson charges into the third, Ali changes gear and rattles out lefts and rights on the move. The Greatest shuffles and beckons him. The Baddest makes as if to comply but checks, comes again fast from a different angle, catches him with a bone-shuddering uppercut.
This is also The Chin versus The Punch. That jaw which so often carried Ali through — and would eventually be the strength which in part wrought the ruin of his health — survives the impact. But when he smiles Tyson knows he is hurt.
There will be more such pain for Ali to endure but it will come in spasms which interrupt the genius of his boxing. And the Chin v Punch analogy goes into reverse whenever Tyson feels the crisp accumulation of Ali’s brilliant combinations. Though never quite severely enough to send him to the canvas the way he topples Ali with a monstrous unleashing of lefts and rights in the 10th. Uproar.
Ali beats the 10 count by a split-second and is saved by the bell. He survives the 11th and 12th by dancing and clinching, but still absorbing blows which would have felled most heavyweights.
Again that phenomenal will reasserts itself, that God-given talent resurfaces. Ali edges extraordinary 13th and 14th rounds.
They are level going to the last. Ali mixes showboating with snap shots. Tyson lands a few, but we go to the cards:
141-143, 143-141, and 143-142. Ali still The Greatest. By split decision.
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