The original avenger: The day Mike Tyson made his hero Muhammad Ali proud
Muhammad Ali, arguably one of the greatest boxers of all time, reminded us time and again of how great he really was.
Ali was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and went on to win 56 of his 61 professional bouts. The 'Louisville Lip' became the only three-time lineal champion of the heavyweight division in boxing history. In 1975, Ali beat Joe Frazier by technical knockout in the famous “Thrilla in Manila” fight to become heavyweight champion of the world once again. Following the bout, many urged the American icon to quit the sport while he still reigned supreme.
Not one to concede, Ali chose not to throw in the towel until three years later in 1978, when he beat Leon Spinks at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas.
However, Ali realized he still had a lot left in him. He ended his retirement soon after and announced a comeback to face Larry Holmes for the WBC belt -- partly because the money was good. Following the announcement, the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) noticed Ali was struggling with vocal stutters and trembling hands. They ordered him to undergo a complete medical assessment in Las Vegas before they could even consider letting him enter the ring again.
While the notorious hitman was declared fit to fight on July 31, 1980, his decision to put on his gloves again would soon come back to haunt both him and one his greatest fans: Mike Tyson.
Holmes completely dominated Ali in the bout. It was disheartening for many of the latter's die-hard supporters -- some of whom believe this particular fight was responsible for the later onset of his Parkinson’s affliction.
At the time, Tyson was just 14 years old. On the fateful night, he was in Albany with his trainer and father figure Cus D’Amato, watching his childhood hero get brutally beaten by Holmes.
“I was offended by how bad he [Holmes] beat up Ali," Tyson told ESPN in 2011. "When we drove home to Catskill [about an hour from Albany], nobody in the car said a word, we were all so upset. The next morning, Cus was on the phone with Muhammad Ali after taking the beating from Holmes. He said to Ali, 'I have this young black kid who is going to be heavyweight champion someday and I want you to talk to him.'"
During the interview, Tyson remembered what he told Ali over the phone. “When I grow up, I’ll fight Holmes and I’ll get him back for you," he said.
Holmes was paired with Tyson seven years later, when the latter was just 21. He was defending his heavyweight championship against the former champion.
Just before the fight, Ali was invited onstage in an honorary gesture. Tyson recalled what Ali told him moments before the bout: “Remember what you said – get him for me.”
And the 'Kid Dynamite' followed through. Tyson had already dropped Holmes twice before he landed the final right hook in the 4th, knocking him down for good just seven seconds before the bell.
During an appearance on Michael Rapaport's podcast in March this year, Tyson spoke of his admiration for the 'People's Champion'.
"Splendid fighter - great left jab - but what made him more special than anything was his intestinal fortitude. He was tough as nails - knocked down, would get back up and fight you to death," he said. "That's the thing about Ali: Even when you're watching him get beat up as an old man or as a young kid - he's not going to quit, you've gotta kill him."
"While fighting Larry Holmes, Ali was getting the s**t kicked out of him every round - but the champ wouldn't stop - he would stay up and take the beating like a man," Iron Mike said, recalling the match. "I have so much admiration for a guy like that, but it's just not right to do yourself like that."
"I always like to think I'm a bad, vicious motherf****r, but that's where Ali overshines me: I can't understand a man that's willing to die for this," he continued. "You know, I talk that s**t, but he's the real deal."
Tyson then choked, overcome with emotion for his role model. "F**k me, Ali's a giant. There's no way other fighters can match him. I, myself, wasn't willing to die for this. That's real talk," he said, with tears rolling down his cheeks.
"Ali's a savage, an animal. He's a different breed of person. He's not like us."
'What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali' encompasses the larger-than-life character of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The film, produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment, is directed by Antoine Fuqua and debuts on May 14 at 8 pm on HBO.