Muhammad Ali is often considered the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, but the legend himself once wondered if he could have withstood the power of Mike Tyson.
In 1989, on the Arsenio Hall show, Ali and Tyson – along with Sugar Ray Leonard – shared the couch with the late-night host and the question was asked: who would have won if they fought in their premiums?
“I was the dance master and I wasn’t that powerful,” Ali began. “But I was so fast. If he hits me… [falls asleep]. [But] that’s if he catches me.
Tyson, who has always maintained Ali was his hero, remained humble and praised “The Greatest.”
‘Iron Mike’ claimed: “I’m vain [laughs], I know I’m awesome, but can I tell you something? In this situation, every head must bow, every tongue must confess: [Ali] is the greatest of all time.
“He may be modest, humble and kind, but this man is a big one,” Ali replied. “I don’t know what would have happened if he had hit me.”
Although he twice praised Tyson’s power, he insisted Ali actually dealt with punchers even more powerful than him during his prime.
Tyson said this at a time when he was considered “the baddest man on the planet.”
“You know, I don’t believe that,” Tyson said of Ali’s comments. “Field [Ali] is very modest because I’ve seen him in the ring with killers.
“As [George] Foreman, [Ernie] Razors, [they] hits much harder than me. He takes the biggest hits from these guys and that’s what made him such a champion.
“Even though I heard him say he doesn’t believe me, he wants to believe me because watching Ali gave me a lot of confidence and a deep inner belief that no man can beat me, to have him listened to all these years since I was a little boy.
“Every prediction he made came true. He used to take his character and use it to brainstorm against his opponents and he made them think he was invincible,” Tyson said in a thunderous applause.
Ali, always the one who has the last word, added: “It’s very nice of him to give a good compliment, but the man is great.”
Both fighters will forever be cited as all-time great heavyweights.
Inside the ring, both were undisputed world champions [Ali twice]both were multiple-time world champions but, just as important, both had a profound impact on boxing in the mainstream.
Ali’s charisma and trash-talk changed the face of promotion, not just boxing but all combat sports.
Tyson’s wrecking ball style became a box office sensation and he was the most famous man alive in 1990.
At the time of this interview in 1989, Tyson was the undisputed champion of the world and the youngest heavyweight champion in history.
Ali had his last fight of a glittering career in 1981, but the late icon was dubbed “The Greatest” for a reason.
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