Whether you’re a casual boxing fan or a hardcore follower of the sweet science, everyone knows the name Muhammad Ali. While it’s been more than 40 years since he last stepped into the ring, the former heavyweight champ still stands tall in sports history; even today, he’s simply known as The Greatest.
Despite that legendary career, Muhammad Ali wasn’t sure if he could have beaten one man. According to George Foreman, The Greatest thought he had met his match in Mike Tyson.
Muhammad Ali’s legendary life transcended the world of sports
In 2020, it’s become more commonplace for professional athletes to use their star status and speak out about social issues. Muhammad Ali, however, was ahead of the curve.
Born as Cassius Clay, Ali started boxing as a teenager after someone stole his bike; once inside the ring, he showed an uncanny natural ability. After making a name for himself on the amateur circuit, the young fighter claimed a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. Four years later, he announced himself to the world by upsetting Sonny Liston and winning the heavyweight title.
While Ali won the rematch and retained his title in controversial circumstances, he would soon take on an even bigger foe: the United States government. The boxer refused to be drafted into the US Armed Forces and fight in the Vietnam way; he was stripped of his title and barred from fighting in all 50 states.
In 1970, however, times had changed, and Ali returned to the ring. While he lost the Fight of the Century to Joe Frazier, The Greatest won the rematch; he then defeated George Foreman to claim his second heavyweight title.
While his fighting ability eventually faded, Muhammad Ali is remembered as much for his personal beliefs as for his athletic accomplishments. In an era of racism and discrimination, the heavyweight champ was never afraid to stand up and speak out, even at the cost of his career.
Mike Tyson was a fearsome fighter in his own right
Based on his various controversies and stint behind bars, it’s safe to say that Mike Tyson’s character is a bit different than Muhammad Ali’s. Iron Mike, however, was still a fearsome fighter during his prime.
After linking up with ‘Irish’ Bobby Steward at the Tyron School for Boys, a teenage Tyson started working with Cus D’Amato. While the aspiring fighter had plenty of raw punching power, the legendary trainer helped him add some defensive steel to his repertoire. That combination proved to be unstoppable.
While there were plenty of notable missteps along the way, it’s impossible to argue with Iron Mike’s boxing resume. During his time on the ring, he earned the title of ‘baddest man on the planet’ for a reason; he piled up a 50-6 record, knocking his opponent out 44 times.
Muhammad Ali wasn’t sure if he could have beaten Mike Tyson
For better or worse, no sports fan can resist debating historical greatness; everyone wants to know who deserves the title of GOAT. In the world of boxing, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali both have a legitimate claim to that crown.
While the two men never squared off in the ring, the hypothetical Tyson-Ali bout is a well-trodden topic. Iron Mike himself has even addressed the topic, saying that he thought he wouldn’t be able to defeat The Greatest.
Ali, however, might have held the opposite position. According to George Foreman, he wasn’t sure if he had what it took to go toe-to-toe with Tyson.
“[Ali] felt Tyson hit harder than anyone he’d faced,” Foreman continued. “He told me once that he didn’t have the confidence he could have beaten Mike Tyson.”
What would happen if Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson faced off in a heavyweight bout? The world will never know. Based on the two men’s resumes, not to mention their high opinions of each other, though, it’s safe to assume that we’d be in for quite the fight.