“Iron” Mike Tyson was a boxing prodigy. The unstoppable Tyson won the WBC heavyweight title at the tender young age of 20 and was just getting started. For the next three years, young Tyson ruled the roost, taking WBA, IBF, and The Ring heavyweight titles, and leaving a bunch of knocked-out stars in his wake.
One of the toughest thugs the sport has ever seen, Tyson was challenged to an MMA fight more than once in its prime. Gracie brothers Royce and Rickson both expressed an interest in fighting “The Baddest Man on the Planet” in the 1990s. The UFC was still in its infancy back then and had not yet grown to the commercial success of boxing. For the Gracies, Tyson was another target to prove that Brazilian jiu-jitsu trumped all other martial arts, including boxing.
Although ‘Iron’ Mike expressed some interest in 1997, he stuck to the fistfight and the planned superfight never materialized. Rumors that Tyson would get into MMA resurfaced in 2003 when Bob Sapp – then at the height of his fame in Japan – challenged him to a fight in K-1. There was never a fight for a variety of reasons.
Mike Tyson is a master of the Queensberry Rules and has little training in other martial arts. In its early days, boxing was the undisputed king of martial arts and the only one that promised a lot of money. But if promotions like the UFC had been the mainstream phenomenon they are today, would Tyson have fought for the octagon instead?
Mike Tyson’s conditioning was perfect for MMA
When it came to training, Mike Tyson was on a different level. On a daily basis, the peak-a-boo fighter ran, trained the heavy bag, trained the speed bag, shadowbox, did hundreds of calisthenics, meditated, and spent extended periods of time on a bike machine.
Under Cus D’Amato’s guidance, Tyson developed explosive power, speed, and durability. Tyson took a page from the wrestler’s playbook and would do neck bridges for up to 10 minutes a day. Often considered one of the most dangerous exercises on the market, the neck bridge strengthens the neck, trapezoid and lower back muscles while promoting flexibility and stability of the rear chain. For Tyson, it reduced the risk of whiplash injuries and thus being knocked out in the ring.
Tyson’s superhuman neck strength would have been a great advantage in the octagon. In addition, his muscular, stocky body looks like it was made for explosive grappling.
There is also its mental advantage that should be kept in mind. Tyson often underwent hypnosis to reinforce his aggressive, fearless mindset in the ring. Regardless of the sport, it is a great benefit for any athlete to attack with so much confidence, drive and intensity.
Tyson’s mixture of endurance, knockout power, speed and inner fire would have made him almost as dangerous in the cage as in the boxing ring. Even now, the former world champion takes a mean blow.
How well would Mike Tyson have done?
At 5’10 and about 240 pounds for much of his career, Tyson would have fought heavyweight just like he did in boxing. His range wouldn’t have been special, but his strength, coupled with his exceptional defense, would have made him a deadly striker and counterattack.
When it comes to punching power, few MMA fighters have come anywhere near the damage Tyson could do. The most obvious example of someone at this level would be current UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
For Tyson, the sky would have been the limit, provided he could have mastered his floor play and grappling. As mentioned earlier, his conditioning made him perfect for sports like freestyle wrestling. Had Tyson come to them quickly, his strength would have enabled him to conduct fire-fighting operations. Agile and mobile for his size, Tyson’s quick response time, his ingenious approach to defense, and his talent for unorthodox fishing would have made him terrifying in the octagon.
It is entirely plausible that after a considerable amount of time devoted to wrestling and lower body strikes, Tyson would have been a dangerous long-term heavyweight champion in MMA, just as he was in boxing.
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