Inside my local betting shop is a huge photograph of Mike Tyson in the boxing ring circa 1986, the year he became the youngest Heavyweight Champion of the World, at just 20. The photograph captures the moment of impact between glove and bone, the sinew in Tyson’s shoulder muscles flexing beneath the skin, the jaw of his obscured opponent caving in calamitously. It is difficult not to stare too long without convulsing.
What the image misses however, and I had forgotten until this week when I bought Tyson: The Movie, was the speed at which his feet moved in the ring. Ali we all know about, so too Sugar Ray Robinson who was taught to Foxtrot by his second wife, Edna Mae Holly, a dancer on Duke Ellington’s tours. But Tyson was different. He was a knockout specialist, with 44 of his 50 wins coming from KOs. People watched him because he was utterly ferocious.
I had picked the DVD as a birthday present for my father – in 1989, along with my brother, we had listened to Tyson vs Bruno on a February morning so cold that the television lines froze – but I unwrapped it and started watching four hours of Tyson’s best fights.
Tyson’s weight could fluctuate between 15st 6lb and nearly 17st, and yet to see the way he moved on his toes suggests that not only had he done some serious homework on the lightweight boxers like Roberto Duran, but that he had spent hours with the skipping rope practicing shifting his torso around as nimbly as possible.
Size and shape are the most common excuses I hear from friends who think they could never run a marathon. I have stood with many of them at the barricades along the Embankment in London watching those like Antonio Pinto float like a sycamore seed along the tarmac, hardly making contact with the ground. No question that these are great runners, but 6′ something and 12st is no excuse not to take on 26.2 miles. After all the 6’2″ and 11st 11lb Scott Jurek is the greatest ultra-distance runner of the modern age. It just takes practice. And a skipping rope.
PS: Dad – your present is in the post.