"Iron Mike" against "Smokin Joe"
By Allan Cerf
One of the fun things in boxing is “what if?” scenarios. Would a prime Sugar Ray Seales finally beat Hagler in a rematch? Would Vitali Klitschko and brother Vladimir break their mother’s heart and fight? Who would win? What would really happen if prime lightweights Duran and De La Hoya threw hands?
If you like these What If’s, holler. Tell us which mythical bouts you’d like to see. We’ll do our best to write about them. Also – tell us what you think, are we on the money, or miles off course in our judgements about these fantasy fights?
Final word: Each mythical matchup assumes all fighters have equal access to today’s nutritional and training advantages. It also imagines that each fighter was about the same age as his opponent. If Jack Johnson, in other words fought today, he would enjoy the advances of today - unavailable in his long-ago era.
In the case of our fifth mythical match-up, we’re going forward in time for one boxer, “Smokin” Joe Frazier. He’s meeting “Iron” Mike Tyson in the 1980s.
Date: Saturday, June 14, 1986. 12 rounds for a unified and undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.
Site: Atlantic City Convention Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Attendance: 21,785. Donald Trump, now a major player in boxing, has paid eleven million for this fight to take place in his chosen arena.
Prize money: A then-record of twenty-one million each, about forty-seven million in 2020 dollars.
Network: HBO PPV. Commentators are Jim Lampley, Sugar Ray Leonard and Larry Merchant.
The fight is such a high-demand item, that cable companies offer “amnesties” for fans that have previously ‘cracked’ their cable boxes to watch premium matches without paying. “Don’t do it for this fight and we won’t prosecute,” the cable companies promised.
Referee: The excellent Frank Cappuccino.
1980’s personalities from all walks of life are seated front row, including Tyson fan Donald Trump who says if Tyson gets a first round KO, he’ll give him a hundred grand. Three members of the “brat pack” are seated near the front row, completely unaware that their day in the sun is about to pass.
Frazier, a clothes horse, comes out in gaudy, metallic blue and yellow shorts and matching robe. Tyson, literally runs to the ring, per normal, a Spartan in black shorts, black shoes, no socks. His hair, razor short on the sides, is modeled after Jack Dempsey.
Cappuccino gives the combatants instructions. Tyson tries a stare-down but Frazier doesn’t blink. The two go back to their corners and there’s the bell. Most of the soldout crowd is already standing.
Round One: Frazier, wary of Mike’s fast starts, had really hit the mitts pre-fight in an effort to be ready. Both men have excellent jabs; Frazier’s is badly underrated – but Tyson’s stick is straighter and more hurtful.
It doesn’t take long for the two men to start throwing huge left hooks. Tyson, who has faster hands and more types of punches, vowed before the fight to “out hook, the hooker.” Both men land body shots. There is a lot of clinching. Suddenly Frazier clips Tyson with a hook as Tyson backs away. Infuriated, Tyson fakes a hook and lands a very hard straight right on the bell. Frazier smiles – he felt it.
In between rounds Yank Durham, Frazier’s long-time trainer, warns his man to match Tyson punch for punch. “Don’t let him disrespect us.”
Round Two: Frazier also has a decent right, seldom mentioned. He and Durham felt Tyson might be vulnerable to the body and the right might pay dividends.
Frazier jabs with Tyson, a war he’s losing and then hits Tyson with a powerful right and huge hook to the body. There goes Tyson– he’s down! He’s up at eight. As he would two years later in 1990, the hurt Tyson instinctively reverts to the peek-a-book defense taught him by Cus D’Amato. It serves Tyson well and he makes it through the round.
Frazier round 10-8.
“How are you, Mike?” asks Tyson trainer Kevin Rooney. “Fine,!” Tyson snaps.
Round Three: In his career, Iron Mike, like Mayweather, has gotten away with far too many forearms.
Round three begins with Frazier dominating while Tyson shakes off the effects of last round’s hook. Suddenly, Tyson drives Frazier to the ropes and smashes him with a vicious forearm which hurts Frazier badly. Cappuccino was out of position and missed it. Frazier wobbles and Tyson attacks with an amazing array of punches-hooks, uppercuts, looping rights. Tyson fans howl for blood and Mike’s delivering.
Frazier has vowed to never be dominated again – by any man not named Foreman - and waves Tyson in. Tyson obliges and is immediately clipped by a huge Frazier hook. Tyson wobbles but is upright while Frazier is still smarting from the forearm. Mike’s head clears first though, and he drops Frazier heavily with his beloved “6-4” combination; right hook body, right uppercut head.
At five, Frazier pops up like a man in a hurry to get to work. But his split lip, and leaking blood, means he’s in a brutal line of work. The bell saves Joe.
Between rounds, Durham yells at Frazier, telling him pick it up. In Tyson’s corner, predictably, Rooney says “Don’t be cautious with punches, let them go!”
Round Four: To the consternation of the crowd, Frazier is fighting a little more cautiously. He’s using a cross-armed style that former great Archie Moore, and conqueror George Foreman, employed. It lets him clear his head and frustrates Tyson big-time. But Frazier is Frazier and in the last minute of the fourth he steps to Tyson and starts firing hooks. Now he’s warmed up and really smokin!’ Tyson is over-anxious though he’s landed some hellacious shots. He’s looking again for the “6-4” combination but an instant before he unloads, Frazier lands a monster hook that floors Tyson for the second time. The Tyson element of the crowd fall into an eerie hush. Brat-packer Molly Ringwald, ringside, and a novice fan, asks Emilio Estevez “Was that supposed to happen?”
Now Tyson resorts purely to defense…back to the D’Amato’s peek-a-boo, to make it to the bell. What an incredible round.
Rooney tries to calm Tyson between rounds. But calm isn’t Mike’s thing. Panic is his thing, and when converted to action it’s helped Tyson, but now, it’s definitely hurting him. Durham meanwhile tells Joe, “Now would be a good time to end it, son. That dude is dangerous.” Frazier nods. Rooney tells Tyson, “Bait him in and use the uppercut."
There’s the bell.
Round Five: Frazier is smacking a panicked Tyson around good; even the underrated right is doing damage. Tyson is pawing with the jab; reaching in, the cardinal sin, and Frazier makes him pay with a body shot that does damage the same way Holyfield’s will do in Mike’s future. This time though, Tyson stays upright.
The pair grapple in the corner with about nine seconds to go. Tyson yanks at Frazier; Joe’s a trifle fatigued and suddenly Tyson finds the same uppercut which almost bailed him out in 1990 against Buster Douglas. Frazier goes down. Hard. But Frazier always gets up, and he does as the bell rings.
Round Six: Between rounds, Durham looked Frazier over carefully. He knows his man has the heart of a lion – two lions in fact, and doesn’t want him hurt. But Frazier’s head clears and the doctor says he can fight on. Yancey says: “Son, let it all hang out.” Frazier nods but has little left.
Frazier didn’t know that Rooney had told his man, Tyson, to take the round off. Both men seemed relieved but the go-go eighties crowd is all action and selfishly scream for fresh blood. Tyson starts up his jab in the last minute while Frazier tries to time him with the jab-right-left hook sequence. Mike’s stamina is questionable to Team Frazier. Frazier ties up deliberately. He notices Tyson is hesitant to break on referee Cappuccino’s commands. Frazier pulls himself free and lands two hooks that stagger Tyson. But Tyson is wily, too. He again clinches and then, a la Erik Morales, starts a right uppercut that turns into a right hook to Frazier’s left jaw. Down goes Frazier, again! This time he’s badly hurt, but he’s Frazier, and beats the count.
Round Seven: Rooney knows Tyson is beginning to fade and tells him, “Empty the damn tank, Mike, this dude is a killer. Let’s get out of here! Finish the guy!”
Tyson knows this is so and when the bell rings, he overwhelms Frazier with all manner of combinations. More Tyson onslaught, Frazier’s down again, but then he’s up, smiling. He glances at Durham as if to say, “don’t you dare.”
Tyson is almost out of gas. Frazier just manages to land a couple of hooks, but they’re not the same anymore and they only shake Tyson. Tyson has just one combination left in him. In desperation he throws two jabs, a left hook and a crushing right cross. Frazier is down.
Somehow he rises and while there’s no three knock down rule in effect, Cappuccino has seen enough and stops the bout.
Afterwards Tyson will say accurately to Merchant: “Larry it was sheer luck and I mean it. Anything can happen in a fight and if he got me with one more of those hooks, he wins. I’m devastated for him, he’s the best opponent I’ve ever had.”
Tyson TKO Frazier, 7