After 5-years of waiting, we finally saw a half-decade hypothetical become reality in the ring this month when Floyd Mayweather won a decision over Manny Pacquiao. The (as it turned out to be) underwhelming spectacle needed to happen because it could. So, it got me thinking about something a friend recently said to me: “If Ali and Tyson fought, both in their primes, Tyson would kill Ali!” Undoubtedly, if you’ve spent any time in a sports bar over the years, somewhere along the line, you’ve overheard this debate. Unlike May-Pac, era separation could never provide us proof. What we’re really talking about here is Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali in the ‘60s, before his 3-year banishment from boxing vs. Iron Mike in the late 1980s. Beyond their acumen in the Sweet Science, both were magnetic figures outside of the ring. But let’s forget about the charming Ali and the menacing Mike. This is about the squared circle. And your winner is, by unanimous decision: Muhammad Ali. Why? We’ve seen this fight already. It’s called Clay-Liston. Cassius dances and moves and Tyson can’t ever catch him to deliver THAT shot. Ali through the years was more versatile and yes, tougher. Not that Tyson couldn’t take a punch... his chin wouldn’t be the issue. His stamina would. Think about the brutal Ali marathon slugfests throughout the 70s. Tyson wouldn’t last. So if he couldn’t hang with Ali in THAT decade, he’d be toast in Ali’s prime.
Tom James is a 2-time Edward R. Murrow Award-winning sportscaster, who does play-by-play & studio work for the ESPN Family of Networks (including ESPN Wide World of Sports, ESPN3, college football, basketball, & a wide array of other sports), CBS Sports Network, Lax Sports Network, & Pro Watercross. Tom also hosts and produces sports documentaries & is part of the weekly regionally syndicated college football radio show, "Southern Pigskin Tonight."