How would Mike Tyson have fared in MMA?

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‘Iron’ Mike Tyson was a prodigy in boxing. Bagging the WBC heavyweight title at the tender young age of 20, the unstoppable Tyson was only just getting started. For the next three years, the young Tyson ruled the roost, picking up the WBA, IBF and The Ring heavyweight titles and leaving a pile of knocked out stars in his wake.

One of the hardest hitters the sport has ever seen, Tyson was challenged more than once to an MMA bout in his prime. Gracie brothers Royce and Rickson both expressed interest in fighting ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ throughout the ’90s. The UFC was in its early stages back then and nowhere near the commercial success of boxing. For the Gracies, Tyson was another target in their quest to prove that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu trumped all other martial arts, including boxing.

Despite expressing some interest in 1997, ‘Iron’ Mike stuck to pugilism and the proposed superfight never went through. Rumors of Tyson stepping into MMA surfaced again in 2003 when Bob Sapp – then at the height of his fame in Japan – challenged him to a fight in K-1. For a myriad of reasons, the fight never happened.

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A master of Queensberry Rules, Mike Tyson has little training in any other martial arts. In his early days, boxing was the undisputed king of combat sports and the only one that promised huge money. But if promotions such as the UFC had been the mainstream phenomenon they are now back then, would Tyson have gunned for the octagon instead?

Mike Tyson’s conditioning was perfect for MMA

Tyson
Tyson’s training put him in a league of his own

When it came to training, Mike Tyson was on another level. On a daily basis, the peak-a-boo fighter would run, spar, work the heavy bag, work the speed bag, shadowbox, perform hundreds of calisthenics, meditate and spend prolonged periods on a cycling machine.

Under Cus D’Amato’s tutelage, Tyson developed explosive power, speed and durability. Taking a page out of the wrestler’s playbook, Tyson would neck bridge for up to 10 minutes a day. The neck bridge, often considered one of the most dangerous exercises out there, strengthens the neck, trapezoid and lower back muscles whilst also promoting posterior chain flexibility and stability. For Tyson, it reduced the risk of whiplash and, by extension, getting knocked out in the ring.

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Tyson’s superhuman neck strength would’ve been a superb asset in the octagon. In addition, his muscular, stocky frame seems almost tailor-made for explosive grappling.

There is also his mental edge to keep in mind. Tyson would often undergo hypnosis to enhance his aggressive, fearless mindset in the ring. Regardless of the sport, charging in with such confidence, drive and intensity is a major asset to any and all athletes.

A prime Tyson’s mix of endurance, knockout power, speed and inner fire would’ve made him almost as dangerous in the cage as he was in the boxing ring. Even now, the former world champion packs a mean punch.

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So how well would Mike Tyson have done?

Could he have picked up more heavyweight gold?
Could he have picked up more heavyweight gold?

At 5’10 and approximately 240lbs for much of his career, Tyson would’ve fought in the heavyweight division just as he did in boxing. While his reach would not have been anything to write home about, his strength, coupled with his exceptional mode of defense, would’ve made him a deadly striker and counter-striker.

When it comes to punching power, few MMA fighters have come near the level of damage Tyson could do. The most obvious example of someone on that level would be current UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.

For Tyson, the sky would’ve been the limit provided he could master his ground game and grappling. As previously mentioned, his conditioning made him a perfect fit for sports such as freestyle wrestling. Had Tyson taken to them quickly, his strength would’ve allowed him to execute incendiary takedowns. Agile and mobile for his size, Tyson’s quick reaction time, ingenious approach to defense and knack for unorthodox angling would’ve ensured he was fearsome in the octagon.

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It’s perfectly plausible that Tyson, after a considerable period devoted to wrestling and lower body striking, would’ve been a dangerous, long-term heavyweight champion in MMA just as he was in boxing.


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Edited by Jack Cunningham

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