Mike Tyson’s Defense

Not long after posting yesterday’s entry, I received an email from an individual who questioned the significance of skill if one possessed extreme power and strength. He then attempted to use Mike Tyson as an example of a dominant boxer who thrived on power, not skill.

I wasn’t surprised by the comment, despite disagreeing with it. Many younger boxing fans are only familiar with short highlight videos of Mike Tyson’s one punch knockouts. They fail to understand or appreciate the skill behind those knockouts.

Mike Tyson was actually an extremely talented defensive fighter. His head movement and ability to make opponents miss is often what left him in position to land the knockout punch. Tyson wasn’t effective simply because he was strong or naturally powerful. He was also a talented boxer with a vast range of skills.

The video below highlights his defensive prowess.

Ironically, a friend of mine who sparred with Tyson when they were both accomplished professionals has named a few fighters that he believed hit harder than Tyson. I won’t bother listing the names here, as most are fighters that no one has ever heard of.

In summary, no one will deny the potential importance of power, but don’t make the mistake of assuming it overrules the significance of skill. If you wish excel at a sport, you must practice and perform it. Supplemental training must not interfere with your development in the sport. Focus on the sport first and foremost, and then make small additions to enhance your development. In time, your ability to handle greater workloads will increase, thus you’ll be able to perform more supplemental training. The process often takes years, not weeks or months. Either prepare yourself for the long haul or be prepared to fail.


“What we don’t understand we can make mean anything.” – Chuck Palahniuk


  1. Didn’t Tyson have to learn like 6-punch combinations on some heavy bag with numbers placed on it by Kevin Rooney or Cus D’Amato? Great head movement also, no doubt this was practiced countless hours in the gym on the slip bag and with the mitts. Tyson may have had some of the fastest hands ever for a heavyweight. His hand speed was right up there with people like Ali and Floyd Patterson. He had to have been a great defensive fighter in his prime, when you consider he was getting inside those huge guys like Mitch Green, Bonecrusher Smith, Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, and overwhelming them while at the same time receiving little punishment in return. All of those guys were around 6’4″-6’5″ compared to Tyson who is listed at 5’11 1/2″ but many claim he’s probably more like 5’10” with only a 71″ reach, that means Tyson was probably giving up about a foot in reach to these guys also. Another fighter who a lot of people don’t realize how great of a defensive fighter he was because like Tyson he was more renowned for his offense was Roberto Duran. The fight against Iran Barkley really showcased how underrated defensively Duran was and how he used all those skills he had learned and practiced in gyms for decades in defeating a huge middleweight who probably was more like a light heavyweight by fight time.

  2. If “power” determined who would become champion than Earnie Shavers would have been champion. Shavers was knocked out by club fighter Ron Stander. Stander was probably best known for challenging Joe Frazier in 1972 for the Heavyweight Championship. Stander put up a valiant effort despite being stopped in the fourth round, prompting Stander’s wife to say “You don’t enter a Volkswagon in the Indianapolis 500 unless you know some shortcuts.” Shavers was also blitzed by Jerry Quarry, losing to Quarry by a first round knockout in 1973. Shavers would also lose to Bernardo Mercado, Randall “Tex” Cobb, James Tillis, Ron Lyle, as well as to Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes twice. Freddie Roach said that Wlad Klitschko actually hits harder than Tyson but that Tyson was a more explosive athlete.

  3. Great video and great words about being in it for the long haul or be prepared to fail. That’s so true in life as well and words to hold on to.

  4. Apropos of the thread whether boxers should/should not lift weights, Tyson did lift weights, altho lifting seemed to be the minor part of his workout. But he didn’t lift light, either.

    Tyson was also analytically gifted, would have made an excellent coach, trainer. He attributed his power to knowing how to accelerate ALL parts of the body, in delivering a punch.

  5. You could call David Tua a “poor man’s” Mike Tyson. Tua probably punched as hard or even harder than Tyson, but he just wasn’t quite on Tyson’s level on other things like counter punching, defense, speed, and maybe even stamina. Granted Tyson wasn’t super effective in the later rounds but Tua seems like he gassed much easier than Tyson. This would have been an interesting matchup in the late nineties when Tua was peaking and Tyson had seen better days. Perhaps Tyson being less than 100% peak Tyson, and Tua at his peak, would have made this a Ron Lyle-Earnie Shavers or a Ron Lyle-George Foreman type of slugfest that the public always loves. Tua is a great example along with people like Earnie Shavers, who could probably knock down walls but proved to be very beatable.

  6. Good post.
    Tyson’s elusiveness and speed are more prominent than his actual power (which was indeed significant).
    But his mastery of the peek-a-boo style enabled him to leverage his defense to unload powerful combinations.
    Footwork, explosiveness, and serious torque from his movements…all skills he had to develop and master.

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