George Foreman has claimed that Muhammad Ali once told him that a prime version of himself would not have gotten past Mike Tyson.
Almost universally considered to be the two greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, it’s been debated for decades at this point on who the better man was, or would have been.
Muhammad Ali Jr believes his father would have “kicked Tyson’s butt”, but the man himself wasn’t convinced. Foreman ended up commenting on the matter when interviewed by Fiaz Rafiq, who just published Muhammad Ali: The Life of a Legend earlier this year.
Foreman declared: “I said to him (Ali), ‘do you think Tyson could beat anybody?’ Ali replied, ‘man, he hits so hard.”
Foreman continued: “He felt Tyson hit harder than anyone he’d faced. He told me once that he didn’t have the confidence he could have beaten Mike Tyson.”
Veteran promoter Don King, who worked with both of them, also gave his take on the matter:
“They were both great heavyweights. Muhammad Ali had the blinding speed and he was a dancer in the ring. He was a fighter. He was a combination of things.
“He was emulating and imitating Sugar Ray Robinson, who was one of his idols. Ray Robinson, I think, was the best boxer of all time.
“Muhammad Ali made a heavyweight look like a middleweight the way he was fighting. Then he would coin all of his phrases and predictions. They would become exciting up to the countdown to see it. The people hated him or loved him.”
King then turned his focus to Tyson:
He continued: “Mike Tyson had awesome, devastating power. He was not the boxer that would be boxing and laughing – he was menacing. He was the guy that came in that they feared. You would be shivering in your bones. He would go out and seek and destroy.
“Ali would go another way. He would win with his skill, charm and wit. So these two guys were both great fighters. Mike Tyson, same thing – love him or hate him. But he was the menacing, devastating guy that wants to punch you so hard and put your nose up your brain.
“He was the kind of guy not to be loved like a guy like Muhammad Ali ended up being. But it was not that Ali wasn’t in the beginning, because he was excoriated and vilified, but he was still at a time when he was making a move to become recognized by people.”
Ali ended up calling it a career in 1981, just over three years before Tyson debuted as a professional. As confident, some would even say arrogant, as Ali was with himself and his skill set, this is very interesting to hear.
This could be partly due to the fact that Tyson defeated Trevor Berbick for the WBC Heavyweight Championship five years into his career, who Ali lost his last fight ever to. Tyson also defeated Larry Holmes just over one year later, who defeated Ali in his second-to-last fight ever.
The thing about this though, when Ali lost to those two men, his professional career already spanned over 20 years, which is absolutely insane for a combat athlete.
Ali opened his career up with a 31-0 record, going 11-0 in world title fights. He’d then have his first career setback, where he lost a unanimous decision to Joe Frazier. He then won his next ten fights before dropping a split decision to Ken Norton.
Ali would avenge that defeat to Norton in an immediate rematch, where this time around he was awarded the split decision victory, before avenging his losses to Frazier in their rematch and trilogy. The rematch of which he won a unanimous decision, and the trilogy of which he stopped Frazier at the end of round 14.
Ali would then have his trilogy bout with Ken Norton, and he made it convincing this time, picking up the unanimous decision victory. A couple fights later and Ali was 55-2, and had avenged his only two losses, winning the second and third fights both times.
He then lost a split decision to Leon Spinks, before winning a unanimous decision in the immediate rematch. Ali then lost his last two fights to Holmes and Berbick, and his career was all said and done, finishing off with a record of 56-5.
As you see, Ali in his prime was a very, very special individual. It is estimated that Ali, at the end of his career, had absorbed 200,000 blows to his head, thus resulting in Parkinson’s disease, and ultimately his death in 2016.
It would have been very interesting to see these two face off in their primes, but given the timeline, it just wasn’t possible. You have the short 5’10”, stocky, 220 lb Tyson, and the taller, leaner 6’3”, 235 lb Ali.
Tyson would have given up seven inches in reach, but from watching his career, he knew how to get on the inside and uncork his bombs. The same could be said for Ali however, he knew how to keep his opponents at the end of his punches and pick them apart.
Who do you think would have won this epic heavyweight battle?